Katia Kuethe loves mirror selfies and has an inspiring Instagram Account. An interview with the graphic designer
For a long time, Katia Kuethe was only known to me as the name she uses on her Instagram account: “BirkenKK”. So I really didn’t know who the person behind it was, the woman that regularly photographed herself in reflective store windows on the way to work in New York and in the meantime had also started filming via Stories. Her recurring pattern of taking the selfie to another modality, that I liked.
At some point Veronika forwarded an email to me with creations from Katia’s design studio, Studio von Birken. And then it came full circle. I learned that she studied Communication Design at the Staatlichen Akademie der Bildenden Künste in Stuttgart. Her professor Hans Georg Pospischil taught in freestyle, shared anecdotes with his students from his time as the art director at FAZ magazine, and sharpened their sense for “all things cool and charismatic”. Thankful for this time, she moved to New York in 2002 and has worked since for brands like Gucci, Yves Saint Laurent, Estee Lauder, and J.Crew as well as publications like Arkitip und Teen Vogue. Instagram is her visual outlet, which in her opinion she doesn’t have an exact concept for:
“There are repeat topics, for sure: fashion, books, my son. I aim for imperfection and there are things I purposefully avoid because I find them to be embarrassing. For me, it’s important to not feel too boxed in. I want to be able to post any kind of content that excites or inspires me – especially when it’s not fashion – without worrying that people won’t “like” it. I am always ok with it when a pic gets three likes, and also to lose followers. Ideally though, I would like be a source of inspiration: I listen to the people I hang out with and work with closely; I pay attention (superficially) to what’s going on in the world; I keep up with culture; I like to observe and absorb all the time. There is no wrong kind of inspiration, and for most creatives it never stops. Travel is the best. It’s when you see and experience a ton of new or different things in a condensed time frame and it can change your perspective, literally. Inspiration and creativity are fascinating. I never really understand how they work exactly.”
We think that’s also exactly the way it should be. We’re excited to get a glimpse into your world, Katia!
Translation: Melissa Frost
Please describe your style in three words?
Faux effortless, tomboy, cool. But also clean and classic. I like to think of myself as well-dressed. Getting dressed every day – sometimes multiple times – is the source of a lot of excitement for me. Any workout look needs to have a solid color palette, but at the same time can’t look over-styled. Maintaining the allure of effortlessness while still dressing over-the-top is a lot of work.
First fashionable memory?
Playing with my mom’s round, golden, fluted clip-on earrings on the cream-colored carpet in our living room in Brussels when I was maybe 7 years old. They were very Krystle Carrington. I remember studying the details on these earrings, loving how the sun fell on them, thinking how beautiful they were and how well they worked in the room (with the brown velvet curtains and brown leather sofa and all). This memory is my first recollection of an object fetish – the realization that you can truly like and appreciate an object and not just for its beauty or for how it can transform you, but also for how it looks in the context of your life, side by side with other beautiful objects. Today Katja Rahlwes or Richard Burbridge would shoot these earrings very well!
Your ideal breakfast?
The reality: I am just now in the process of weaning myself off of my morning croissant. I’m two weeks into making myself instant oatmeal with raisins instead, and I don’t mind it so far. I get my coffee across the street every day for $2 at La Bergamote – first of all, because I love the taste, but also because I’m 42 and still can’t use any kind of coffeemaker yet. I think I tried…I don’t think I have ever really tried, but it’s a nice goal to save for later in life. I’m impressed when people make their own coffee at home. The most important thing for me is having personal time in the morning. I get up early so that I am ready for my son and have had a moment to myself. I can’t be in a rush in the AM.
The song that makes you dance?
White Horse by Jessica 6.
The book you’ve re-read many times?
There are only a few books I have re-read. I am not really into re-reading books – I like reading all of an author’s books if I liked one a lot. I love Philippe Djian, Patricia Highsmith, Bret Easton Ellis, Martin Suter, Michel Houellebecq. Marie Kondo says not to keep fiction books and to give them away, but I am keeping these authors’ books although I know that I will most likely not re-read them.
Lt. Uhura from vintage Star Trek, played by Nichelle Nichols. I identify as Lt. Uhura.
Piece(s) of jewelry you wear every single day?
A silver Hermes Nausicaa bangle on my right arm. On my left arm, I used to wear a beautiful vintage silver and salmon men’s Rolex Air King. Together, they were a good display of tasteful status symbols, but eventually I realized that just wearing the bangle was even better and gave the watch a rest. I wear a simple gold coin on a red string most days as well. I love clean, simple, personal jewelry. Amy Astley is a great example of impeccable taste in jewelry.
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The designer you would love to wear head to toe when you are a granny?
Wearing just one designer is really unimaginable to me – I’m so dependent on mixing. I dressed like a granny in my twenties and wore a lot of mid-length, pleated Prada and Miu Miu. As an actual granny, I think I would like to see myself wearing a lot of classic minimalism. I would like to wear a lot of jeans and t-shirts still, and I would love to wear neutrals. I will need rustic men’s lambswool sweaters, too. My older-age role model is Jane Goodall – she slays.
Grey and navy, but also a bright red.
In the summer, a simple low block heel sandal with an ankle strap – modest, slightly sexy, and walkable. In colder temperatures, I appreciate a penny loafer. Now I’m wondering if I should bring my Patrick Cox Wannabes back for fall…I wear Adidas Rod Lavers or my Nike workout sneakers in white, neon pink, and cool grey – so cool. I have been all about comfort for the last few years. I don’t feel like myself anymore if I am ever in heels.
What’s your dream car?
Mercedes Benz G-Class or a Tesla. I would probably go with black for the ease of outfit matching. If I was a housewife in LA, I would get a C-Class.
Our childhood dog Arko, a boxer.
Lily of the valley.
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Top three things on your wishlist?
A sunny two-level loft with a view and a walk-in closet in Gowanus, Queens, or Berlin; a great 5th grade school year for my son, Paz; health for the whole family. I still need a light day-to-day camel hair coat, too. The one I have is oversized and a bit heavy.
Most inspiring movie?
I am movie-crazed. On average, I try to see one movie a week in the theaters and a couple more at home. I recently saw Disorder with Matthias Schoenaerts and Diane Kruger, which I thought was great. My go-to inspirational, evergreen fashion movies are the Antoine Doinel series by Francois Truffaut. I have modeled parts of my wardrobe after Antoine Doinel’s ex-wife.
I loved the costume design in A Bigger Splash. I find costume design in movies so fascinating. Werner Herzog’s Lo and Behold was great. In terms of costume movies, the period pieces, I am so into a Dangerous Liaisons look at the moment. I love the make-up, the pearls, the cleavage, the satin, the brocade – Glenn Close and Uma Thurman look amazing.
A movie that I am really looking forward to seeing this year is Moonlight, a black coming-of-age drama – the trailer gave me goosebumps. White Girl was good. My favorite movie of all times is Barry Lyndon and my one extremely strong, unfulfilled career dream is to work on movie titles and film credits. Hopefully sometime soon – I am well prepared for when the day comes.
Montauk, for an early Sunday morning dune hike in the summer, ideally in a bikini, camping socks, and Nikes. I always struggle with the sun hat – I haven’t found the right one, yet.
I like Raoul’s in Soho, primarily for the ambiance – I’m not a foodie. I feel like this makes me an outsider because everybody is a foodie these days.
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eBay. I have a lot of patience when it comes to fashion and I rarely have to have it now. I can wait for a specific item to come up after years of looking for it and I am only happy when I got it for cheap.
Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Fashion-wise, I hope to have made some progress in my efforts towards more fashion minimalism. I would hope to have been a great mother until then – my son is going to be 20 in ten years, and the most important thing for me personally is wanting to have a great relationship with him.
Work-wise, I would like to do what I am doing now, but I would like to have branched out a bit more. I would possibly like to do more design and creative direction in non-fashion fields. I would like to be a good person with a slamming body and grey hair.
Last (cultural) discovery that blew your mind?
I started practicing Muay Thai this past spring, and as a consequence started going to watch live MMA fights this summer. Being a real Libra, I dislike any kind of confrontation – I need peace and harmony at all times. There is something very human about watching live fights, though. It’s the opposite of scrolling through Instagram on a Friday night. I admire the months and months of preparation and discipline that go into these fights, and then the actual fight lasts just a few minutes. What fascinates me is the NOW component: it’s all happening right then and there. My job is so different. I work on creative for weeks (or months) and am always behind the scenes. By the time we get to set, there are very few surprises left. In a set of 10 fights, you usually only get to see one female fight. For me, watching women fight was a cultural discovery that blew my mind.
Photos: Instagram @birkenkk
Julia co-founded one of the first fashion blogs in Germany in 2007 and became a freelance consultant for digital strategies after publishing her first book in 2010. After an eventful four years with Condé Nast working mainly in the digital department of Vogue Germany, she decided to launch her own online magazine with her dream partner, Veronika Heilbrunner. She is based in Berlin and loves to read books.