I walked out of the elevator into the bright and buzzing reception of Refinery29's New York office. Young and very attractive employees were rushing back and forth, many of them pulled racks with clothes. For a second I was transported back to my Devil Wears Prada modeling years when I visited the intimidating offices of top fashion magazines. Back then, I had to quickly change into my fancy pair of high heels in the elevator and then wait for the casting director at the reception, with a giant lump in my stomach.
Something was dramatically different here. Everyone was smiling and laughing, and they wore not only Prada and Louboutins, but Zara, Converse sneakers and designs that looked like they came from those cool tiny boutiques in Williamsburg. Some of the visitors were artists carrying brightly colored funky pieces of sets, others were eccentrics accompanied by their fashionable pets. The energy was exhilarating. I was inside Andy Warhol's Factory 2.0.
In the past couple of years, I felt engulfed by the explosion of the passionate creative community Refinery29 was creating and nurturing. Not a week went by when I met a writer, a makeup artist, a hair stylist or a designer who would gush about their collaborations with R29. It seemed as if I lived in the R29 world.
I was smitten. Totally obsessed. I made up my mind... I would uncover the R29 "secret sauce" by becoming a contributor.
I scored a meeting with the creative director and co-founder Piera Gelardi to discuss our collaboration -- a GIF series to kick off the dramatic relaunch of their beauty page.
These GIFs would feature a single model whose face would be transformed by several of the most revered, "hottest" young makeup artists in the fashion industry. The project would celebrate not only the creativity of the makeup maestros, but also the chameleonic nature of a woman's role in our society.
(Makeup by Benjamin Puckey, beauty editors: Phillip Picardi and Laura Miller Zisa)
I was about to find out that this concept was a direct reflection of the company's philosophy and inner workings.
Don't try to compare other companies to R29. It's different. In the days leading up to our photo shoot, I met and worked with a dozen of their employees, including their beauty, fashion and food editors. But their work was not restricted to their job title. To my great surprise, they all lead double lives as photographers, videographers, web and graphic designers, writers, producers, social media mavens and even models! They are a group of incredibly talented independent creators united under the roof of the R29 brand. And I can attest -- they excel at all those fields, inspire each other and shine! It's Andy Warhol's Factory, minus the intimidating Andy.
Building my own career, I wanted to be involved in everything -- photography, writing, film, technology and digital media. Each time I reinvented myself in a different medium I faced the reality of "experts" and nay sayers. They all said "the jack of all trades is the master of none," and that I'd never succeed unless I specialized in a single thing. I always hated being told this and fought to prove them wrong.
I immediately identified with R29 because they were on the same risky and rocky journey as I was (and all the other creative individuals I know).
"Did you set out to be disruptive, or was it an evolution?" I asked Piera.
When we started Refinery29, in the now clichéd small downtown loft, we wanted to showcase the amazing independent creators who weren't getting airtime in mainstream media. That's grown into a larger mission:
To fearlessly inspire confidence by celebrating individuality.
We consciously choose employees that also possess 'super powers' outside their main job function, and who will contribute to our success with how they think outside of the lines.
We also wanted to introduce a different type of voice to publishing, one that we were yearning for personally -- a voice that was conversational, personal, and didn't condescend to the audience or make them feel bad about themselves.
Because of that differentiated voice, we attracted an audience of smart, stylish women who in addition to turning to us as a trusted resource, also became our guides. Our employees and our audience have been in a constant conversation for the last 10 years. They've become each other's inspiration.
R29 dared to be different. Instead of doubting and questioning, they celebrated the creative individual -- both their employees and their audience. And they succeeded!
Now R29 is the fastest growing media company in the U.S., with 200+ employees in N.Y.C. alone, more employees in L.A., San Francisco, Chicago and London and hundreds of contributors all over the world.
R29 gets creativity. They get individuality. I believe they are a glimpse into the future of how we can all work together in a way that is more inspiring and rewarding.
I can't wait!