Super Natural // Maria Schönhofer and TPP talk yoga, fashion, climate change and the power of now
It’s a windy but sunny Tuesday morning in May as we make our way from Berlin’s Soho House to Maria Schönhofer’s Friedrichshain apartment. Through our e-mail exchange we have gathered that Maria has just returned from a 24 hour stay in New York City – Chanel sent her to supervise a photoshoot with house ambassador Kristen Stewart and German-born actor Lars Eidinger (both of them being the original link between us, more about that later) – and is about to depart to Copenhagen Fashion Summit. Between her jam-packed schedule, dropping off her daughter Leni at kindergarten and squeezing in a quick morning meditation, we are gathered in Maria’s capacious living room, humbled by the fact that she didn’t cancel our 9am start for today’s interview and photoshoot. “When I read your letter,” she takes a brief pause as she frequently does to formulate a considered answer, “I kept thinking ‘why me?’ I wanted to send you a list of all the women that are far more interesting to interview, women that have a following and something to say.” Maria brushes her fingers across the oval shaped dining table, revealing pastel pink nail polish, “but then I read it (the letter) again and decided not to cancel.” The letter Maria keeps referring to is correspondence we sent her, explaining all the many reasons we want to feature her on TPP diary. Not only does Maria draw people into her intriguing world, she possesses the unique ability to educate and motivate others through her honest, authentic and fearless leadership. Beyond her noteworthy career in the world of fashion – Maria spent the last ten years living in Paris working for the house of Chanel as an integral figure within the PR department – she continues to spread awareness about mindfulness, climate change and what we as individuals can do in order to save our planet.
We first met Maria back in 2013 when Antonia worked as a personal assistant and third AD on the set of the French-German coproduction, Sils Maria. Chanel played a significant role in the independent, art-house film directed by none other than Olivier Assayas and starring Juliette Binoche, Kristen Stewart and Lars Eidinger to name a few. Maria was flown to Switzerland together with French model and Chanel house ambassador Caroline de Maigret who had been cast to make a cameo appearance as a Chanel PR woman who, in the film, supervises a Chanel fitting. Antonia instantly gravitated towards Maria’s alluring persona, their shared Bavarian heritage and positive can-do attitude forging and instant yet brief connection. Thanks to Instagram (it’s hard to avoid) Antonia was able to stay ‘connected’ to Maria but it is only today, five years later, that the two finally meet again.
A little over a year ago, after a decade of living and working in Paris, immersed in the world of luxury fashion, Maria moved to Berlin together with her husband and their four-year-old daughter. She wanted to spend more time with her family and focus on her other ‘me’: the climate conscious mother and practicing yoga teacher (Kundalini and Hatha). Not to say that fashion doesn’t continue to play a significant role in Maria’s life – she works as a freelance PR, image and communications consultant. For now, however, it seems that the physical move from Paris to Berlin enabled Maria to live a new life in which she is “more aware, stronger and steady to serve others” thanks to her continued practice of yoga and meditation.
Maria first started practicing Hatha and Vinyasa yoga ten years ago (and still continues to do so), but also discovered Kundalini yoga a year ago at a workshop of Guru Jagat, the acclaimed teacher from California, and is convinced by this yoga of awareness. Maria tells us that Kundalini yoga “focuses on our glandular and nervous system and is a super power to help people overcome old structures, fears, anxiety and depression. Kundalini yoga is not some egoistic, narcistic self-sufficiency practice about individual accomplishment, but instead, consciously enables you to be your superior self, in order to uplift others and serve each other with a deep respect for our planet.”
Maria’s voice is crystal clear, oozing serenity: “we need a profound spiritual conversion, for us, the privileged people of the western world, to change our lifestyle and put the planet’s state above our own personal comfort and benefit.”
Maria’s insight on how Kundalini yoga is key not only to our own happiness, but also the planet’s wellbeing is infectious. She has that certain quality that instantly awakens your subconscious and wants you to become a better version of yourself. Since practicing Kundalini yoga Maria has also been enjoying the Kundalini morning meditation ritual, which includes dressing up: “they say you should celebrate it and have special clothes and not just your pajamas.” However, some days, as Maria tells us, the old mind takes over: “Once I stayed in bed and turned on my phone – what a mistake! I got lost on Pinterest and Instagram, obviously. Instead I did my meditation in the evening, but it didn’t feel the same. I was also a bit hard on myself because it felt a bit like a failure.” Maria teaches private classes and workshops in Berlin and Paris, which she announces via her Instagram and will host two classes at jivamukti studio this month (July) for anyone in Berlin.
Especially nowadays, a world where women are set up to strive for perfection, Instagram being a huge instigator in this, we can easily get sidetracked and aspire something far from reality. “It is absolutely unacceptable that in our day and age 91% of women are unhappy with their bodies, just because it doesn’t look like media tells us it should look,” Maria tells us. She confesses that she herself at times believed her legs were ‘too massive’ (which seems beyond absurd in a world outside of fashion) and only through her yoga practice learned to accept them for their strength. As the world of fashion and Instagram continue their hot love affair it is almost impossible to go on Instagram without being witness to influencers, who most often display their seemingly lavish lives to millions of followers. Being Instagram users and fashion lovers ourselves, much like Maria, we are in a constant struggle of how to combine the two without compromising our morals.
When it comes to Instagram Maria admits that “yes – I do post vain self-centered & self-promoting images, selfies or random fun pictures, and I really don't want to pretend to be an activist, there are far more committed & engaged power women (and men) out there. But at least I also try to share issues that should concern us and that I want to raise awareness for. These posts definitely give me the least amount of likes, but I don't care. I feel we have a responsibility today and even if Instagram can be a fun medium, personally I cannot follow people anymore who just show off their privilege or constantly try to sell me things."
“I’m no saint and I don’t want to preach,” Maria says calmly as she pours everyone a cup of coffee, L’âge atomique playing on the record player in the background. “I just wonder how we can get out of our privileged double moral: voting green but flying nonstop for holidays. Liking Greta Thungberg’s posts but continuing to eat meat. Preaching yoga but going on retreats in Thailand. Are we hiding behind the excuse of compromise? How much do we need to sacrifice?” To add icing on the cake, Maria’s flight from Berlin to New York was on May 9th, this year’s official world overshoot day. “I emitted 4.8 tons of CO2 and still want to be a climate protector. Could I be any more contradictory?” she asks. These are exactly the kind of questions we as a society should be asking ourselves. We, the people who understand that we are living in a climate catastrophe, the people who no longer want to live in ignorant bliss, often face the biggest scrutiny. Regardless of all the actions and sacrifices we have made in order to reduce our carbon footprint; outsiders will always find a way to criticize you because of that one flight you took last year or the Chanel bag you are carrying.
Maria knows that her point of view is not loved by everyone: “I tell friends to mute my posts if they find them irritating – I don’t want to lose a friendship over it.” Personally, we find it alarming that people still consider these gentle reminders to be annoying. “I think the real hate letters only start coming in when you have a far bigger following than I do,” Maria says half laughing.
“Showing off flying on Instagram is definitely not a cool thing anymore. If we still have to fly let’s at least compensate. Not as an excuse but as the least amount of effort we privileged people can show.”
For her transatlantic flight, Maria offset one hundred percent of the CO2 she emitted via an online donation to climate protection projects. Instead of posting an overrated airport picture she shared a selfie to raise awareness and share her concern.
It is clear that, having found her voice, Maria is determined to use it honestly and powerfully, even in times of adversity. Our time having run over, conversation strays to weekend plans. Chanel is flying (yes, flying) Maria to Cannes on Saturday morning to dress Austrian actress Valerie Pachner (amongst others) for the world premiere of A Hidden Life, Terrence Malick’s latest masterpiece. Our eyes light up. Overrun with excitement we tell Maria that three of our clients also star in the film, including Bruno Ganz, one of our most loved clients who passed away earlier this year, just a few days before Karl Lagerfeld himself. We hug goodbye in a hurry, already making plans for when we'll see each other next. If not in Cannes, then for her next climate post.
Q&A PART I
What time do you wake up?
I don't have a very precise hour. Between 6:30-7 when I am home, later when I am travelling and out at night
What’s your morning routine?
The Kundalini way: cold shower, my morning meditation & a few asanas
How do you mentally prepare for the day?
With my daily morning meditation
Favorite city to visit / favorite city to live in?
Mexico City & Paris / Berlin
Most German / most French thing about you?
My preventive mind / being late
Who is your style icon?
I can honor famous women’s allure & style but won’t say they influence my own style, I am not emulating them. But for example I always love how Stella Tennant is dressed. and I have a few friends who really have amazing style, such as my friend Carla Wachtveitl at CHANEL, her way of dressing is the most unique & chic in a twisted way I know. I find little inspiration on instagram as all the influencers are not wild nor spontaneous anymore. Kind of market driven and they all try to sell things. But there is this extraordinary, super wild girl I follow on instagram @djaian
Are you an early bird or a night owl?
I see myself more like a sloth, or koala or panda ;)
Something everyone should try at least once?
Q&A PART II
Something small everyone can start doing today to help prevent global warming?
The easiest & most efficient: eating less meat & dairy
Last exhibition you went to go and see?
Food for the Eyes” at CO BERLIN. Amazing exhibition about food and how our beliefs, desires, and fantasies are reflected in what we choose to eat.
What's the most attractive quality in someone?
Being interested in / caring for the other
My husband! The smartest, well informed, passionate, funny & witty person I know
What/who is a source of inspiration to you?
Anyone looking beyond their own plate, their own interest; their own profit. Anyone engaged, collaborating with others, using their voice & taking risks to raise awareness for the issues of our times, cultivated folks. Women such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Greta Thunberg, Carola Rakete, the captain of the Sea Watch ship rescuing migrants at risk of drowning in the Mediterranean.
Closest thing to magic that actually exists?
Last book you read?
"Prosperity without growth" by Tim Jackson
Last movie you saw and loved?
Not only loved but completely under the spell of Terrence Mallicks latest film “A Hidden Life” about a small Austrian farmer resisting during world war II and the question if one person can make a difference.
Words of wisdom you would tell your younger self?
You are amazing, you can do anything you want. Be free!
Q&A PART III
What do you hold close in life?
My family & friends
Dinner party at your house. What do you cook?
My husband will make the most delicious Mexican food and enchant everyone! I am incapable!
Bread, pasta, cakes, chocolate
Favorite yoga pose?
Any yoga pose makes me happy, even the ones that are hard for me! But actually the biggest release always happens in Savasana, the dead pose at the end of each class. The posture of absolute surrender & letting go. A confrontation with death. Its magic, I love it!
Something you recently discovered?
Bacteria dissolving plastic!
Favorite karaoke song?
Eyes without a face, Billy Idol
Q&A PART IV
Preferred mode of transportation?
Beauty product you can’t live without?
Essential Oils and tooth paste
Favorite up and coming artist?
Favorite fashion piece in your wardrobe?
It is indeed a CHANEL dress, navy blue with a white Claudine collar
High rise or low rise (jeans)?
You’re invited to an impromptu party. What do you wear?
Any cool second hand piece I might just have got from my local dealer "Humana", the non-luxury, low key vintage chain of Berlin which supports the non profit organization People to People
What’s on your bedside table?
A huge pile of unread books, some books of my daughter, little stones she finds for me, a little bronze angel, essential oil