Adia Trischler projects a life of glamor through her work as a television host, creative director, stylist and film producer. Julie Cirelli hears about life on set and the difference between having it all and doing it all.
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.