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Adia Trischler left New York City in 2007 to join her partner for a three-month stint in his native Vienna. Ten years, two children, a Vienna Stylist of the Year Award, and more than a dozen acclaimed experimental films later, she has grown into one of the city’s most recognizable creative leaders and an advocate for diversity within fashion, film and television. Adia’s life in Vienna is a lesson in cultivating community: She’s made it her mission to unite the Viennese fashion scene around the idea of personal style, championing radical self-expression in the face of an increasingly homogeneous fashion elite.

She mentors aspiring designers, both formally as a lecturer at the local fashion institute Modeschule Hetzendorf, and informally as a consultant, muse and creative director for independent Austrian designers. She’s also art directed and co-produced genre-bending music and fashion films, earning accolades for her poetic use of sound and movement. Most recently, she’s joined the cast of Vienna Now as the television show’s host, where she’s been responsible for introducing the cultural scene in Vienna to an international audience.

The TV show you host immerses you and your team in a variety of typical Austrian cultural experiences. What’s it like representing Vienna?

Viennese culture is quite staid and old-fashioned, and part of the reason they hired me was to help shift the perception of the city away from a holiday destination for old people. So here I come: I’m American, I’m black and I’m very loud. I think it has worked, but they didn’t know at first whether it would. The team dynamic and energy has been good, and I get to do all sorts of fun things like go to “gay Oktoberfest” or get into a coffin or bungee jump off a building. As long as I avoid reading the horrible, trolling comments online, I love the work.

You’re growing into something of a public persona. How do you navigate between the public and private parts of your identity?

To be honest, I’m not altogether comfortable with being a public figure. A lot of what I do on this show is based on my personality, so I want to come across as genuine—that’s why I usually work without a script. But the more I’m in the public eye, the less I can “put myself out there,” so to speak. In terms of social media, this means I can’t post pictures of my children. I have to protect my family and my relationship from scrutiny.

When I go out or to an event, I’ve got to be prepared to give it 100 percent of my energy, and if I can’t do that it’s better not to go out at all. As a result, I’m not very out on the scene, because if I am then I’ve got to be the public version of myself all the time, and that takes a lot of energy.

What’s the biggest difference between being employed full time and working for yourself?

When you freelance, every job is also a job interview. You have to be on all of the time because the client doesn’t know—or want to know—what other jobs you have or what’s going on in your personal life. Working full time as part of a team has its own set of challenges, but it provides a certain degree of emotional stability. I feel confident that I’m trusted, I know what I’m doing, the team respects my work and I’ll be paid on time. Most importantly, I’m not constantly arguing on my own behalf, and I don’t have to convince anyone of my value or sell myself constantly. Working on television and in film demands a huge amount of energy, but provides a solid foundation and a strong sense of camaraderie.

When you worked as an independent stylist, did you not feel that stability?

Freelance work, particularly in fashion, is its own ecosystem. It’s easy to lose touch with reality when you’re constantly immersed in it. When I first moved abroad and was working so hard, and getting bigger and bigger clients and projects, there was a point when I felt I was finally gaining a lot of traction. Around that time, I was having dinner with my Viennese mother-in-law and the subject of how much I was earning came up. A big commission had just come in that was very high profile but unpaid. For me, it was a great job and something of a lucky break. But she was horrified at how much work I was putting in with no financial return. To her, if you aren’t making a wage off something, it’s a hobby, not a career.

How much does your “Americanness” play a role in your expectations from work?

The idea of the American dream is so deeply ingrained in the American psyche. That you can be successful if you just try hard enough, for long enough; and the flip side, that if you fail it’s your own fault. It’s the opposite mentality here in Vienna: People strive for a nice life—not fame, or riches or prestige. There’s no social safety net in the US like there is here in Austria and in Europe more generally, and that has an enormous impact on the level of fear people live with. I live with that deeply programmed fear of failure, but the people around me don’t seem to. It’s one of a multitude of things that makes me feel foreign and other in Austria. It’s a double-edged sword: On one hand, there’s a lot of opportunity in the US. If you do make it, you can make it big, and you’ll have all this money behind you. On the other hand, there’s no other version of success, and there’s not enough room for everyone to reach that goal.

And success tends to perpetuate itself, necessarily excluding others…

To see examples of that you don’t have to look further than many of the so-called “style icons” who have a full-time stylist working for them, pulling free clothes from all the major houses. And they can just send it back after they have worn it once. That’s not accessible to the regular person. You have to be so fully embedded in that economy in order to have that opportunity. And that’s not what style actually is. Style is making do with what you have, and being really good at putting things together. This reminds me of what the Studio 54 door policy used to be: mixing celebrities with completely unknown people who just seemed really interesting, and they were all in this space together. That ideal doesn’t exist in many industries anymore.

Has social media changed the fashion landscape, in terms of who is inside or outside that world?

People are accessible in a new way today, which makes it seem as though everyone is equal in every way, no matter how old they are and how much experience they’ve had. But it makes young people in creative fields feel bad about themselves, even though most of those in established careers have been working hard for 15 to 25 years or more. It’s a setup for disappointment to graduate from college and then step out into the world thinking you deserve immediate recognition, and that if you don’t get it there’s something wrong. It’s a false promise that’s been made possible by social media.

Film and television by nature rely on tight, well-functioning teams. How do you keep group dynamics healthy?

Almost every project I work on these days has collaborative elements, so I’ve had to learn how to be completely okay in acknowledging that I don’t know everything and I can’t do everything by myself. When my role is creative director or producer, I try to set a general tone with people from the beginning, letting them know that I appreciate criticism and I tolerate it. If you don’t agree with me, you can tell me, and vice versa.

“I’ve had to learn how to be completely okay in acknowledging that I don’t know everything and I can’t do everything by myself.”

Do you say it explicitly?

Definitely. In the pre-production phase, there’s more time to preempt future problems. But once I’m actually on set or shooting, then I’m going to be very direct when I talk to people. So I think it’s important to let my team know before things get stressful what not to take personally. People who work on set or in other kinds of groups are used to this dynamic. But there are plenty of people who mostly work alone, and they tend to be more sensitive to short-mannered speaking.

What are some of the red flags to look out for when entering a collaboration?

I take my cues from the first round of communication about the project: Is the attitude positive and upbeat? Do people seem to feel optimistic about the work? There are usually little cues as to whether or not the collaboration is going to be successful, and it’s a mistake to shrug those off. Collaborations between groups of people aren’t that different from a marriage: You want a basic foundation of dealing with stress similarly, being relatively optimistic and flexible, and knowing how to problem-solve quickly and without drama. If I can already tell from the first meeting that someone is excessively negative, or our values are not aligned, I don’t take the project further.

How do you balance a rigorous work schedule with finding time to rest and regroup?

There’s a large part of me that is a perfectionist: I want to be a great mother, I want to be a great wife, I want my house to always be perfect, I want to be the best at my job—I want to do all of those things. This is, of course, a perfect recipe for burning out. It’s why I force myself to turn down projects if I don’t feel I have enough time or energy to devote myself fully. In general, my life has so much multitasking already built into it that if I tried to balance multiple big, creative projects at once it wouldn’t work.

Does having two children force you to keep things simple?

After I pick up my children from school, I give all of my time and attention to them. They help me decompress, have fun and not take things too seriously.

What’s a typical evening like for you?

An evening at home, for example. Almost every afternoon starts in the huge park near our house, the Vienna Prater. The kids run around and play, climb trees and meet friends. I usually start dinner as soon as we get home. We’re finally in a phase where everyone is willing to eat the same food, so I’m not cooking for a pre-teen and a baby and two adults. My older son has reached an age where he can appreciate subtleties, so I enjoy exposing him to good music and film. I might put a kid-appropriate experimental film or music video on while I get dinner going, and I tell them about what they’re watching while I’m cooking.

When the children finally go to bed we’re like YES! Free time! But all we ever want to do once they’re in bed is talk about them and look at pictures of them on our phones. We’re so lame! Especially when we tell them we need some time by ourselves, and then all we do is keep prattling on about them once they’re asleep.

“I need some time by myself to think about you.”

Exactly! Right now, I spend quite a few evenings working, but also reading a lot. I have a strange fixation with the history of the European monarchy, so I’ve got a stack of books about the 12th century and I know a lot of trivia. No one ever wants to discuss it with me, though, and my husband thinks I’m weird. We don’t watch TV. We did the whole Netflix thing, but I stopped watching Netflix when I realized how time-consuming it was. The list of things to watch just kept getting longer and longer. It started to feel like a never-ending to-do list instead of entertainment or inspiration. After a long day, there’s a tendency to put on something pointless and just tune out while it plays, but that’s not how I want to live my life.

Do you find it easy to let go of work when you’re at home with your family?

I can be very hard on myself and my days are long. I wake up at 5:45 every morning and by time the kids go to sleep, I’m tired. I know there are emails to reply to, but I can’t. I’m done—really, really, really done. Yet I find myself having to fight the urge to feel guilty when I’m resting because there’s always something to do. I could be washing clothes, I could prepare the stuff for school tomorrow, I could write or respond to mail. But to actually sit back and think that it’s okay if that doesn’t get done—I’m not great at that. My husband is better at it, and as a result, he is a more peaceful person. I tell myself that you cannot do everything perfectly all the time. I am saying this. I am repeating it. But I don’t totally believe it yet.

Some have an easier time with this than others…

I feel like I see this with women a lot, particularly with some of the women in my family. They cannot chill. Just a generation ago, the men in my family were still not expected to lift a finger around the house. The women worked and did the housework and took care of the kids. That’s not how it works in my household: My husband cooks, cleans and is an incredible father.

There’s subtle messaging to women—to everyone, really—that if you’re not using all of your time to the fullest, that other people are better than you are or have it more together than you do.

It’s also like, wait a minute, I’m working hard all day and doing a good job. Why is it not okay for me to just sit still sometimes, and not feel ashamed of that?

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This story is from Kinfolk Issue Twenty-Three

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