Buying smart, well made, comfortable and trendy shoes is a nightmare if you are a lady with an uncommon shoe size. Designer Monica Kusinska for years squeezed her feet into shoes that were too small because her size wasn’t available, resulting in foot problems that required surgery – so being a US size 12 shoe size wearer herself and as part of her search to find comfortable, well made shoes that fit, Monica created Autograf New York. Without further ado, please welcome onto the blog this lovely, bubbly lady …Hi Monica!
Hi, I am Monika Kusinska, a New York Shoe Designer. I devoted my life to fashion ever since I graduated from Middlesex University in 1998. Shoes is my passion.
As a small girl, did you always want to design footwear?
My fashion dreams started at the age of 7. I adored Barbie dolls and endlessly made clothes. Then over the years I taught myself how to stitch and make my own clothes. By 18 I wanted to be a professional designer. My passion for shoes grew over the years because of my experience with shoes and not finding my size and eventually moving to the shoe industry.
Your latest shoe range is looking to cater for women who wear uncommon large shoe sizes – from US sizes 10 through to 15 (UK 8 – 15; European 41 to 49; Japanese 27-34). You yourself are a size US12 so that must have been the inspiration for starting your own brand! How difficult was it for you to find shoes to fit and how difficult is it to produce a shoe for the larger foot?
When I turned 17 my foot grew to size 41. The biggest size available in Poland in late 1980s was size 40. I tested my body and wore high heel pointy shoes for 2 or more years. This fraction of time was long enough to injure my bones permanently. I guess this painful event led my career into the footwear industry and in 2000 I attended Parson School of Design in New York to learn about shoe making.
You graduated from Middlesex University in London with a BA in fashion and first class honours. In 1998 you won Best Women’s collection at the BHS Graduate Fashion Week, selling your entire collection within a week of launching. How did you feel being awarded that accolade in front of around 2000 London Fashion editors?
It felt incredible and fulfilling. My education was sky-high expensive for my parents working in Poland to support me. It made all the hard efforts so worth it. I wish my father could have seen it. Unfortunately he passed away 6 weeks before I graduated and I was not able to see his face happy with pride. It was a very difficult time for me and I dedicated my graduate collection and the award to him. This also sealed my commitment to my profession. I knew from that point on that no matter what, I am married to my so dreamed-about occupation. Today even when I struggle as a mature designer, mother and a talented individual – I remember my own private vows from 1998. That surreal moment of me walking down the catwalk in front of 2000+ people, cameras, photographers cheering and clapping hands was the biggest crowning I could have received at the age of 26.
In 2000, you moved to the USA doing couture beading and then in the embellishment division at Ann Taylor until 2004. You also attended the Parsons School of Design concentrating on footwear. Was it a difficult transition from fashionwear to designing shoes?
It was a natural transition for me. When you dream deeply about something and have been trained to draw and paint since the age of 16, and all your life revolved around art, composition, colors and design – you can then apply your passion into any creative venue. Education helps, but persistence and personal believe that this is our own path are the keys of a successful journey. In a way you need to train yourself, dream big then relax if you can and immerse yourself in a trade of a kind. I did that in 2004 when I accepted a lower position of Associate Designer just to break in the industry. But it has been such a fascinating journey and I am so fortunate to be able to walk my chosen path and I am acutely aware of my luck. Luck of knowing what I want to do, knowing my talents, knowing my mission. But it took all my life to be comfortable about it and to be able to call myself today a New York Designer. I earned it dearly. I worked over 10 years in a corporate environment from New York, Dallas and all the way to El Paso, Texas. I worked in a huge office overseeing Bryant Park off Times Square, then in the middle of a factory in El Paso in a windowless office shaking from all the machines and heavy duty equipment making 700+ western boots! Ask me which one made me happy?! El Paso of course! I mean if you could just see the happy faces of the Mexican workers who after 30-40 years in the industry are artisans in their own trade.
I simply love the smell and feel of handcrafted authentic footwear.
Since 2004 you have worked in the footwear industry, travelling to places like India, China, Brazil and Italy. Where was the most unusual place you’ve visited? Which country inspired you the most?
I think I already answered that. Definitely El Paso in Texas. I had a secret crush on Western Boots. Don’t ask me how I got it. I just wanted to design western boots ever since I can remember. My dream came true in 2009 when I was at the time working in Fossil, launching a new women’s footwear line. I was approached by a New York headhunter to move to the legendary Boot Company in El Paso. At first I was not interested but after flying in for an interview I was totally sold. For the next 3 years I would commute by plane once a week to El Paso and work in the factory in the middle of the desert. I was also influenced by INDIA. I loved the colors and the deep heritage of the country. It is somewhat difficult to swallow the beauty surrounded by social divisions of the class system in India. It blows your mind to see homeless people wondering amongst dirt and holy cows on the streets of the big cities and then walking into 5 star hotels with food and luxury, dripping with wealth. I guess this is what is most dear to me, after working with the beading houses, knowing what goes into handcrafted beading or block-printing. It supports families and villages specializing in this rare craft. I would love to be involved in creating workshops which would provide income and education for young girls. I believe in education as the only way to change the world to be a better place. Women are also genetically equipped to protect, nurture and provide shelter. We need to get the power to protect this planet and secure a clean environment for future generations.
Personally, I LOVE all your shoes and boots from your winter range but I have a soft spot for the Regina Italian Handcrafted Denim Cashmere Suede Flats. Have you got a favourite out of all the shoes you’ve designed?
I love them all. I also wear all my collection to test and so far have not had one complaint in my head. I am very critical and having had foot surgery at age 23 it has made me acutely sensitive to shoe-related pain. I will rather take shoes off than suffer. My favorite right now is Massima and Cara. I love the SOLES. Unit soles made out of hi-tech PORON material makes these unbeatable in comfort. When you pick up the boot, your first impression is shocking. It is feather light! It looks heavy but it is super light. Comfort beyond belief! My hair stylist recently broke her ankle and can’t wear much fashion due to the pins still holding her ankle in place. I introduced her to Massima and she was literally shocked at how comfortable and light this construction was. She owns now a few pairs and is my advocate at Vidal Sassoon on 56St and 5th Avenue. I will try to win my consumers with comfort and reliability. Once your wear my shoes you will come back for more because I personally test each style and think about my consumer first before fashion. Fashion is only a tool to make an otherwise functional product more attractive.
What shoe or boot style was the most popular this winter with your clients?
Definitely SIMONA in Cognac. Immediately this classic riding boot has became a favorite. It is very simple and effortless. Well made and durable and will last many years. I found that women are happy that the boot is plain and classic – a few complained that the boots today are overdesigned and that they have been looking for a simple riding boot that will hold the look and value. Once they saw Simona they wanted it. ZARAH also blew everyone’s expectations. It is a fully stretchy shaft boot and the secret is in the Fit-All-Calf! It hugs a skinny calf and will stretch twice its width to accommodate a wider calf. I intend to carry this boot for a few seasons. Once on the foot there is no need to market, women will fall head over heels for this style.
What famous lady would you like to see parading around in your designs?
Angelina Jolie. I appreciate her ultra classic and sublime chic style. Her effortless style enhances her natural stunning beauty. It would be such an honor to have her wear Autograf New York classic styles.
You’re launching new products for Holiday & Spring 2015 – what designs and colours look to dominate from your point of view?
I have been playing with masculine inspiration for years. I made a chukka boot in mirror GOLD – this is literally a show-stopper! I revealed a few pictures from the photo shoot via Instagram and was blown away with immediate requests and love. I think this style, SIENA and flat Mary Jane in the same Mirror metallic gold will be a hit. I also brought light turquoise and Laventini – a color I called after my favorite drink, Lavender Martini.
What are your goals for 2015? Any plans in the pipeline?
2015 is super important. I realized that over the past 90 + days since I launched my website that actually my 15+ years experience in fashion is golden but I need to think outside the box. I tried to apply everything I have learned but what is different in the market today is CONNECTIVE ECONOMY. I think few people realize how it will revolutionize the way we live and think. It is a positive shift in human mentality to open up and make friendships and business with people we can’t touch. But it connects us through our passion and common hobbies and dreams. Once I realized that, I decided to improve and push my social media presence. I can only reach a handful of women today but I have been growing steady followers on Instagram and FB and Twitter. Recently I left my SHOEBOX (literally a shoe closet turned into a tiny office) and started walking the streets of New York to get my product in front of consumers. I have been welcomed by Brooklyn boutiques and I realized the power of the Indie and fashion undercurrent. I belong in the underground. I have been always striving to provide unique, original and authentic footwear and the mass department stores do not support that ideology. Williamsburg is my next home. I have placed Autograf New York products in a few boutiques and we are working on the Summer 2015 collection. I realized this unique potential. In a way I will become their private designer manicuring mini collections for their needs. The beauty of working with Italian factories is that the orders can be super small compared with Asia. I will be able to target each venue differently offering unique colors and themes. I am thrilled about this perspective of 2015!
Personal now – what outfits and shoes would you normally be found wearing ?
I am a mother of 2 young children so my life is constantly on the run. I get up early and do some work before they get up and then run all day between schools, daycare and Williamsburg or Soho boutiques. I am also 5ft10 so I wear flats and flat boots. I have a collection of boots dating back to my days at El Paso so most likely you will find me in BOOTS of all kinds, form western to riding to traditional rain boots (Aigle not Hunter). I respect legacy and what each brand offers. I do not like to wear brands without a story behind it. I like to think that there is or was a great idea behind each company making a statement.
A friend recently called me Bootress! I think that name fits me.
Do you have any favourite shops or online sites ?
I have respect for Net-a-Porter and AGL. I have been following Net-a-Porter for few years now and I like that they made luxury on-line shopping accessible. I like that they keep an unique fashion profile. AGL shoes is my favorite shoe brand apart from my own. I appreciate their flair and Italian dedication to modern design. The three sisters are also branding themselves now and it is good to see real faces behind a great fashion brand. This motivated me to expose my face behind Autograf New York. After talking to a few Brooklyn boutique owners it was clear that people want to see the face and hear the story. It will make the icebreaking purchase easier and it will motivate to stay loyal supporting a local New York designer. This is what I intend to do on branding going forward.
What’s next on your clothes/shoe wish list?
Nicolas Ghesquiere Spring 15 LV bag. I have not invested any pennies in a good bag recently and I admire Nicolas so it makes sense to own one of his pieces. I like the fact that fashion is turning the spotlight on designers again. What value is it to just buy a mass-produced LV handbag without a great brain and creator behind it? Fashion became polluted with famous names scoring license deals with big houses. Luckily on a street-mass level. Not on a serious designer level. But it did open the door of all kind of wannabe-followers to buy a name on a cheaply made accessible product. I can’t identify with this mentality and I want to invest in important pieces. This collection of LV Spring 15 is important.
Boots or Shoes?
BOOTS! Boots have an unique history. Two main categories of boots, English and Western are both Riding Boots. Both genres have a lot in common: to protect the rider, be well made and durable and have legacy of culture and lifestyle. By default it is lifestyle of privileged classes, those who own horses. But what a boot gives you that the high stiletto shoe does not, is the SWAGGER! When a woman wears boots, she walks like a man, she is the equal. When a woman tip-toes in high heels she is vulnerable, can’t run and becomes an object of admiration and fantasy. I like to own my life and feel equal. I am not an object. I respect when the high heel wearing becomes an asset of a wise woman in power. But I disagree with the otherwise sexual attachment to high heels and how it portrays a woman in a men’s world. I like to dress to manifest my personal beliefs and boots represent my life mantra.
Links you would like to share e.g. website/facebook etc so that my readers can learn more about Autograf New York
FB >> https://www.facebook.com/monika.kusinskapaez
Twitter >> https://twitter.com/AutografNY
Instagram >> http://instagram.com/autografny/
Google+ >> http://goo.gl/GM200d
Pinterest >> http://www.pinterest.com/AUTOGRAFNY/
Fantastic to know that you are a fellow boot lover!! Thank you so much for chatting to us tonight and I wish you and your business continued success in 2015 and beyond. Now, dear readers, you have no excuse if your feet are on the large size – Monica has come to the rescue! Have you got a favourite style? Do tell!
All photos have been published with kind permission from Autograf New York (Monica Kusinska)