Lena Hoschek is one of those designers who is hard to categorize. The Austrian designer’s influences range from Marilyn Monroe to punk, from rockabilly to traditional Austrian folk wear. She dresses like a pin-up but she’s just as likely to be crowd surfing at a metal show as she is sketching in her Vienna studio.
Vienna is not a fashion hub. But Hoschek is Austrian through and through (she makes custom Dirndls as well as contemporary designs for her eponymous line)–so she made Vienna her home base. She has nine stores in Austria as well as outposts in Germany, Switzerland and Russia.
I got the chance to meet Hoschek and tour her incredible studio when I was in Vienna last month to attend Omega’s La Nuit Enchantée ball. She was dressed immaculately–in a sweet cardigan and full-skirted house dress fit for a ’50s housewife–but a neck tattoo of scissors, thread and a pin cushion hinted at an edgier side. Her studio–which is really a whole house–is devilishly saccharine, too. Her kitchen (yes, there’s a kitchen) looks frozen in the ’50s but there are cheeky pin-up images tacked to the walls of her dark wood panelled office.
We had to know more.
Fashionista: So what’s your background?
Lena Hoschek: I was born in Gratz, the second biggest town in Austria–it’s where Arnold Schwarzenegger is from too.
Let’s start from the beginning: I went to Vienna for fashion college, straight after school. Then I spent a year at Vivienne Westwood’s studio in London–that’s where I trained as an intern. And then when I came back to Austria to live with my parents I figured, my big goal was to have my own company by the age of 27. I knew even as a child I wanted my own company. And back then I was 24, and I figured, why should I work for somebody else for no money when I can work for myself with no money?
So I founded my own label by the age of 24, and it was a tiny place of 50 square meters in the city center because I figured if I pay rent for an atelier it’s important to get the rent back in by having a space that’s actually in town where people can come shopping. So I divided it up: I had a shop and an atelier in 50 square meters, like tiny tiny, but in a good area in town. From the beginning I started selling, and I sold really well. In the beginning I made everything myself, of course, and then I started to just cut it and give it to tailors. It grew and in the second year I was looking for production companies and exhibited in Berlin at Bread and Butter [the trade show]. In the meantime I’ve got three stores, an online shop, 40 retailer customers, and 20 employees.
I’m 31 now, so it’s been 7 years since [I founded my line].
How would you describe your look?
The biggest thing to me is to make women actually look like women. So femininity is number one goal in fashion for me. I’m totally obsessed with the hourglass silhouette, probably because when I was little I was watching too many ’50s movies, and I was never a fan of anything contemporary. So when my school colleagues were fans of Take That or current bands, when I was 13, I was a fan of Marilyn Monroe. And it wasn’t so much the women that were just sexy but they also had a sense of humor, because I always thought that the ones making fun of themselves–like Marilyn did with the film How to Catch a Millionaire, with the glasses and everything, the silliness that she’s playing up the irony of the dumb blonde–I love that very much. And I always thought that humor was something that made a sexy woman actually sexy. Because sexiness these days is much more obvious, and women take themselves too seriously.
I also love rock n’ roll, obviously, and punk and metal music, it’s what I grew up with. People say ‘How can you like flowery fabrics when you go to this and that concert?’ But I do.
Who are your favorite metal bands?
My favorite band of all times is Queens of the Stone Age, I love stoner rock. I love Desert Rock and Kings of Death Metal and those people. It’s good music, and it’s entertaining music. And of course Metallica I love very much.
I think the rock attitude and being female is not so far apart, you get that in rockabilly a lot, actually. So there is harder music and very rhythmic stuff, and girls are girls. That’s what I really loved.
So in five years, where do you think you’ll be?
I’m not sure. I think I always stick to my line because I still think whatever body you have, the hemline just under the knee and a nice cinched waist is always going to bring out the female body in a perfect way, but of course it’s the experiment with fabric and structures, and techniques that you can develop for ages. You can work as a designer for 100 years and still not dig up everything that’s in the world for inspiration. It’s crazy. So you could do an African collection–you could actually do 20 African collections, because it’s so vast. Whatever is your inspiration is never-ending.
Where do you show your line?
Berlin fashion week. I’ve done that for four years now, and it’s become immensely succesful. We need a bigger tent, it’s really cool.
How did Westwood influence you?
I found out about her when I was 13 from magazines. I started spending my pocket-money on Vogue as well, and back then she had this historic collection with the mini-crini, and a lot of corsets and embroidery and stuff. And that’s what I really loved because I was always nostalgic, I love nostalgic films and period drama. And then she mixed it of course with craziness, and it was exactly my taste because I was listening to the Sex Pistols back then. So instead of saying like she’s a big idol for me, it’s probably more like we have a lot in common. It was fun working for her. I thought she was going to be more punk, but she’s like a real lady–a very English lady, and a very nice person. And she’s always there at her own atelier, and that influenced me a lot. Big designers are not doing any work but she’s there, definitely. She’s even washing her own cups.
Take a tour through Hoschek’s Vienna studio.