We had the good fortune of connecting with Katja Schmolka and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Katja, can you tell us more about your background and the role it’s played in shaping who you are today?
I am a native of Austria, born and bred in Vienna, which had a huge and wildly positive impact on me in the sense of who I am as a creative and a human being. You know, I´m very proud of my culture, especially when it comes to our café culture. For us, a café is like our “second living room”, classic music, art, the art of baking – delicious, sweet dishes, cakes, and deserts, their recipes reaching back to the times when Austria still was a monarchy – the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Everything has a story. I am intrigued by the old – by history and I love – the new world, and the combination of both, which can be found so magnificently in Los Angeles, mirrored in the Art Deco movement and Bauhaus among the typical L.A.-style bungalows. I love the slow pace in Los Angeles and that people are taking care of themselves as the Viennese do. Pleasure is a powerful word; if you have pleasure in your private life, you also have it in your work. Being in fashion as an editor, stylist, & journalist, beauty surrounds me all the time. When you walk on the streets in Vienna, there is one beautiful building and park after the other. When you walk in the streets of L.A., you see these gorgeous rows of palm trees, cute, small shops, and people in their yoga or running outfits. This beauty of both worlds has been channeled into my work in fashion and also into my wellness and lifestyle brand Scent Clouds, which is inspired by Vienna, Los Angeles, Art Deco, and my grandmother’s lush and beautiful garden, where I would spend the summers as a teenager.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
I’m lucky to have lived in different parts of the world. I was born in Vienna, have lived in Milan, New York City, and now in Malibu, Los Angeles, which have all influenced my creativity and the look and style of my work in such a beautiful way. With every move, you meet new, interesting people, with electrifying stories, new cultures, street style, and languages. All that feeds my imagination and creativity. I´m really proud of my online magazine – ZIP Magazine, which I founded 10 years ago in NYC. It was one of the very first online magazines out there, telling stories about fashion, art, culture, & interviews. I named it ZIP Magazine with the notion in mind to open the zipper and look behind the scenes. You learn about secrets and people’s stories, and that their way was not always smooth, but they still did it. Also, the way I put fashion looks together, or how I write about fashion and conduct intimate interviews for magazines – and even the look of my brand Scent Clouds and ZIP Magazine are influenced by my travels and my native background. I have been in fashion since I was fourteen years old. It started with my education at a high school for design & fashion engineering in Vienna. My dream, back then, was to become a fashion stylist and to work primarily for magazines, which I have been doing all this time. I am not an inventor of something new, like scientists, but I am fascinated by putting things that do already exist together in a new context – creating intriguing looks for the self-confident woman who is in charge of her own life and spirituality. I present these looks in fashion editorials and fashion trend pages I curate. Of course, I´m very much influenced by European fashion designers, like from Milan and Paris, and also my Viennese background, with all its costume design, art, and history, plays a role in my creativeness. I like unusual colour combinations, fabrics, and textures that are side by side in a new extravagant look and feel. My career journey wasn’t always easy for me. I had to work really hard to get recognition. My first obstacle was my age, always being on the younger side in the fashion scene back then. Then it was about fitting in in another country, staying true to myself, and at the same time being open to the new culture and language and also to understand what it is really about. Networking is super important, so with every move to another country or city, I had to build my new network again. Lessons I have learned: always listen carefully, and if you are not sure about a task, don’t be shy to ask again. Don’t feel ashamed to ask for help. Especially women don’t do that. I think it’s in our DNA. My openness and joy in doing what I really love have helped me a lot. It really opens doors. Always being grateful for what you have right now – and being happy for other people’s success. For me, everything is about honesty and humanity, which is also mirrored in my brand, magazine, and work in fashion. The outside world can be really tricky, especially the internet. One doesn’t know what is true and what is fake anymore. We have to trust our instincts. I have always trusted my gut feeling. It has been working really well!
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
If my friend was visiting, I would start our get-together with a lovely breakfast at Malibu Café at the pier in Malibu. They have the best Swedish mini pancakes and chamomile-coconut tea. I love the breeze of the ocean. Sometimes the dolphins swim by, which I love! Then, I would hang out at Zuma beach and observe the surfers and we would have the greatest fun boogie boarding. For a fancy dinner, we would dress up to dine at Little Beach House under the moon and the stars. They have the best oven pizza in all the land! On the next day, a hike at Solstice Canyon would be a pleasure. There is a stone house with abundant graffiti all the way at the end of the trail. We would go shopping at Abbot Kinney in Venice and have lunch at the Butcher’s Daughter. At Universal Studios, we would enjoy ourselves at the Harry Potter world, which is super fun! You really think that you are in the movie. It´s so nicely done! The Fashion and Flower district in Downtown L.A. is a world all its own and is really striking. It´s completely run down and still, you can make the greatest and most beautiful finds there. It feels like a bazaar. It has its very own culture reminds me of a bit of NYC. The LACMA museum is a must! I love their exhibitions and small outdoor cafe. Such a great, chill vibe there. Families, kids, dogs – everyone is mingling around there. I would bring my friend to Silverlake and Echo Park. There are the sweetest cafés in town with the most delicious healthy foods. One of my favourite cafés is Cafe Lady Byrd. You drink your coffee in small greenhouses filled with flowers right on their patio. And we would visit all the cool thrift stores in Silverlake and Echo Park. For a relaxing spa weekend, we would drive to Ojai and stay in the Ojai Valley Inn. We would also ride bikes to the famous bookstore Bart’s books nearby. It is an outdoor bookstore – really enchanting! They have a vast collection of antique books of fashion, art, fairytales, and design.
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My shoutout is dedicated to my mom who always believed in me and supported me with all her love and power. Nobody in my family ever worked in the fashion industry before and Vienna has never been the capital of fashion like Paris or Milan. So, when I came up with the idea to attend a high school for design and fashion engineering my mom did not doubt my decision for one second or give me that look people give when they don’t take you seriously. She was also the one who encouraged me to stick to my plan to go to Milan and work there. I almost abandoned my idea to live and work in Milan after having lived in Rome for three months taking Italian language classes. I was there by myself and I had some really scary moments, like being chased to my apartment, etc. We are talking about the late ‘90s here! I did have a few mentors as well. As life wants it, they suddenly fall from heaven at the right time and place when you least expect it. I had two art directors who believed in me blindly in very particular situations and chose me to do the job. One time, I was only 20 years old and right out of school and the stylist who was responsible for this catalogue client didn’t show up for the second time. I can still hear his words in my mind. “So, Katja, this is your client now!” And I couldn’t believe it. I was so happy! The second time, I was the Fashion Editor in Chief for a women’s magazine. I was six months pregnant with my first son and the magazine got a new art director from Germany. Of course, it wasn’t clear if I could hold my position, so it was very scary for me. Our new art director loved my work, which was heavily influenced by my time in Milan. And he also trusted that I could combine my job with my new, beautiful adventure of being a young mom. I will always be grateful for the trust that he put in me. Also, my husband and my kids, now 20 and 15 years old, have been supporting me. Especially, a lot with my wellness brand Scent Clouds. We all love natural clean products, and we love scents. But real scents from flowers and plants. So, I created the Scent Clouds line from scratch. Mists, soaps, and candles – put together with intention, like LOVE, PEACE, JOY, and the matching flower combinations which convey different feelings. LOVE comes with Rose & Jasmine, my candle PARADISE comes with a symphony of Ylang Ylang & Black Pepper – all from organic sources, design-wise inspired by the Art Deco of Vienna. My husband, who is a fashion & beauty photographer, takes care of the design of the website, takes all the product pictures, and re-designs my hand-drawn images for the labels in photoshop. I am a craftsperson, so I do all my designs by hand first. I sketch them out and make collages. I am totally into the guidance of angels – that may sound a little cheesy, but they have been with me since I was a little child. So, I am grateful to have them in my life and for their guidance too.
Also, my friends have been supporting me on my journey, cheering me up when I’m down or things don’t work the way I want them to be. Also, my business coach Michelle Perkins has been a rock in my journey. I can only recommend that everyone who starts a business seek support from a business coach. I would not be where I am without Michelle when it comes to the business side of Scent Clouds. Creating is easy for me; doing business and selling products right is a different pair of shoes. Through her kindness, knowledge, and insight, I have been growing a lot on a human level and also on the business level. I am also super grateful for our loyal customers who have been supporting me through their lovely feedback, telling me how good they feel, how their creative workflow is in motion because of our amethyst, flower, & plant infused mists, the candles, and soaps – just by smelling the beautiful scents. To have people experience the magic of scents is just beautiful! Scents simply make you happy! And when I can make other people happy – that really makes my day!
Website: https://scentclouds.com, http://www.zip-magazine.com
Instagram: @katjaschmolka, @zip.magazine, @scentclouds
Linkedin: Katja Schmolka
Facebook: @katjaschmolka, @zip.magazine, @scentclouds
Youtube: Zip Magazine