Katia Kuethe has come quite a ways from where she began. Quite literally, the German-born creative now lives in Chelsea, Manhattan and heads up her own multidisciplinary design firm. She studied Communications Design at the Staatlichen Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart and, in 2002, moved to New York to work for brands like Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Estee Lauder, J.Crew, Abercrombie, Kate Spade, and Teen Vogue. She’s a trusted visionary in the beauty and fashion industries with a no-nonsense approach to the task at hand (and life in general, so it seems). We spent the day with her chatting, as she was trying on clothing, and sifting through her shelves and shelves of old magazines.
With over 15 years of experience working in a creative capacity within the fashion industry, you’ve held many covetable positions. Which brought you the most joy?
Becoming the Creative Director at Teen Vogue was the biggest step for me, career-wise, and was a dream job. I admire Amy Astley on many, many levels. Her taste level is sick and extends into all areas of her life; she has had a great influence on me and working for her was certainly the most rewarding. I appreciate a great female role model at work–and I love women who are bosses yet make time for themselves and their families.
Had you always wanted to act as Creative Director or did you begin your career with other aspirations?
I started my career in creative packaging. Having studied design, I began by designing fragrances and beauty collections. It’s something that I enjoy doing very much to this day. I love beauty, and designing a beautiful fragrance is something that lives on for years.
What are you most proud of?
My son Paz. He has taught me so much and is the center of my life. I am also proud of having made myself helpful to people as much as I possibly could while I held the more "influential" positions. Not helping people, when you’re able to, is bad Karma.
What was the biggest challenge or is the most challenging aspect of being a creative director/consultant?
Being a woman, unfortunately. Words like "bossy" and “demanding" or being called a bitch–especially when you're not–can’t faze the aspiring female Creative Director. There is still a very weird double standard. That can definitely be frustrating.
Who have you enjoyed working with the most over the course of your career?
My Ex, who I’ve collaborated with creatively for years, has taught me how to be more assertive and trust my gut, which has almost never failed me. I have always admired Anna Wintour for her decisiveness and ability to request a high level of perfection and professionalism from those who work with her. My friend Katherine Kordaris, who is such a great role model, on having a life outside of work and the fashion industry. She surfs, she cooks, and I admire all of that. I can be a bit mono-minded. I have learned, very recently, to create some distance between my work and my personal life.
What drove you to go out on your own and start Studio von Birken?
I founded Studio von Birken in 2002. It helped me obtain a work visa without being bound to an employer. I’ve always had Studio von Birkin on the side, regardless of the day job. It’s good to have your own creative projects, even if they’re small. Career-wise, it has often been those projects that got the most recognition and felt most fulfilling.
What aesthetic are you most drawn to?
I love a clean aesthetic overall. Sometimes I take on things that feel busy and layered, but somehow everything ends up looking very clean and organized.
How would you describe your personal style?
I’m all about that faux effortless look. At 42, it takes consistent beauty upkeep to look good while undone in jeans and a t-shirt.
I edited my wardrobe very significantly over the last 3 years and now only have things that I absolutely love. It's still a lot, if I’m being honest, but I don't experiment that much anymore. I have been wearing tone on tone looks for the last 4 years. I imagine myself as a gentlewoman. I think I look the best in very minimal looks. I hardly wear anything trendy.
Who is making waves in the digital world right now? Is there anyone or any brand, magazine etc. that we should look up/be aware of?
Honestly, I don't love the differentiation between digital and non-digital. I think it's all kind of one and the same. I find most brands shockingly unimaginative and boring in the digital and social space. I personally love Bess and I enjoyed the Louis Vuitton/SIX GIRLS collaborations with Yoann Lemoine and Woodkid.
What are you currently working on?
I’m working on creative concepts and packaging redesigns for a high-end Japanese beauty brand, which I’m enjoying. I also have an ongoing collaboration with a Japanese department store, Estnation, which is love-focused. I’m just beginning to get into my first film title project, which has been a longstanding dream of mine. Aside from all of that, I am working with the super hot and beloved Jason Aston from Wondermob on an online zine called About, which we imagine as sexy tech.
Photos by Heather Sten