Piera Gelardi is Creative Director & Founding Partner of Refinery29. She tells us about her creation and childhood in Maine, the aftermath, and the future of feminism, creativity, and storytelling.
Lets start early in your life, how did you get here?
My parents had sex and then I was born!
Oh, you wanted more than that? Hmmm… I grew up in a close-knit family of artists and entrepreneurs doing art projects and business brainstorms around the kitchen table. My dad and his brother were in business together and everyone in my family pitched in and had roles in the family business at one point or another. So as a kid, when I thought about work, it was never “work” to me…it was a fun, community activity that meant creativity and time with people you loved. Watching ideas actually come to life throughout my childhood really instilled a sense of possibility in me. If you dreamed something up and put in the work, you could make it happen.
From a young age, I was encouraged to cultivate my crea- tivity. I went to summer camp focused entirely on creative activities, like writing, Shakespeare, cult films, and even miming. I was attracted to all things expressive and storytelling related. This transitioned into my major at university and my career path.
I have a strong, independent mother who always encouraged me to be who I was, who read me feminist fairytales. I was also a child of the ‘90s, which was a really inspiring time to grow up and decide who I was going to be. I loved My So-Cal- led Life, Sassy magazine, zines, Riot Grrrl music, and the DIY, imperfect, punk-rock spirit of it all.
All of these factors — the independent maker spirit, femi- nism, creativity, and storytelling — came together as we la- unched Refinery29.
Most women, being in their 20s, going from university to the real world is a defining moment with so many decisions to make. What was it like for you?
Coming from a small town in Maine, I was always eager to be part of a big city and to have access to big city culture and people. I chose to go to college in NYC, so that I wouldn’t have an insular university experience. I thought the city could teach me as much as the classroom, and it did. I met a large variety of people and got to live at the intersection of both history and the future. I was very inspired by and invested in the world of New York.
I know the transition from college to the real world isn’t always easy, but I was fortunate to have a pretty seamless experience. I already lived in my own apartment and worked two jobs when I graduated. One of these jobs became my first full-time position as photo director at City Magazine. I fell in love with the editorial process and met my future busi- ness partner, Christene Barberich.
“I was attracted to all things expressive and storytelling related.”
You are a woman with so many accomplishments and so many interests. How do you maintain this edge, this constant creativity?
Because ideas move at such a great internet speed today – I think its difficult, more so than ever before. Thank you for saying so! As a creative person in a creative industry, I’m always inundated with a million ideas, especially via social media. It can be both inspiring and daunting. Sometimes it’s a launchpad for new ideas. Other times it just spawns comparison and competition, which aren’t always productive for me. Ultimately, creativity starts inside each of us, so sometimes I have to escape the noise of what other people are doing. I believe that by cultivating different interests — getting inspiration from sources that are slightly removed from my own industry and from my peers — allows me to tilt in a different direction and see/think/create things in my own way.
It is obvious that there is something happening in NYC in regards to digital media, art, fashion & feminism. Refinery29 has been at the forefront of this revolution. How do you define this and where is it going from here?
Art, fashion, feminism, and media have always had a home in NYC. Digital media brought them together in a new way that allows us to see the inherent intersections among them. Now it’s easier for revolutionary women to find a platform — or even build their own — and start or join a conversation. I’m thrilled that Refinery29 has been and continues to be a part of that as we expand our offerings across mobile, social, and video. We’re reaching women wherever they are, however they want, whenever they’re looking for information.
“Bir paylaşım kültüründe yaşıyoruz ve teknoloji sağ olsun; paylaşmak hiç bu kadar kolay olmamıştı.”
There is a whole new generational culture movement happening. When we look at artists such as Grace Miceli and Chloe Wise – or people such as Lena Dunham & Jenni Konner with Lenny Letter, its as if they are changing the face of art and writing. Do you consider this a new period in our culture? Has our generation become overly opinionated?
Women have always been opinionated, but their opinions haven’t always been welcomed. Digital media provides a platform to continue speaking about women’s rights and issues, just as second wave feminists did with marches and print media in the ‘60s and ‘70s and the Riot Grrrls did with zines and music in the ‘90s. There’s a new wave of not just feminism, but activism, that’s utilising technology and social media to give informational access and a voice to many groups — women, people of color, different gender identities, etc. — that have historically been voiceless.
Social media and the whole culture of selfies, instagram etc obviously informs a lot of your aesthetic and your subject matter. Why do you think this is? Why have we become so obsessed in self-broadcasting every single detail of our lives, and then documenting others?
I think there’s a difference between taking selfies and being self-obsessed. I remember when I was the only person among my friends who ever brought a camera anywhere. Now everyone has a camera at all times. (And it even makes phone calls!) We’re living in a culture of sharing, because thanks to technology, it’s never been easier. We do take a lot of selfies, but we’re also sharing the causes that are important to us, documenting the most precious moments of our lives, helping others, and celebrating the people we love. Yes, it can be TMI. It can also be a beautiful thing.
Talk me through your affinity, and ultimately Refinery29s, with the vivid fashion & lifestyle photo content that features on your Instagram and elsewhere? I think this is an important and defining aspect when discussing an aesthetic for this generation.
Refinery29 is optimistic, forward-thinking, energetic, and diverse. We express these ideals in both our visuals and words. Our imagery is colorful, unexpected, and playful. We don’t take ourselves too seriously, but we’re also not going to settle for cookie cutter stock photos. We’re not here to blend in.
Over the years, a number of other brands have tried to emulate Refinery29. It’s flattering, but it’s also a reminder to move on. One of our mottos here is “Forever forward.” When we see a wave of imitators, we know it’s time to shake things up and cultivate the latest, greatest version of us. Like our audience, we crave evolution and growth, so our brand and visual style are always changing.
Can you tell us about any major projects that Refinery29 are about to undertake?
In October, we became part of Snapchat Discover, a new for- mat for storytelling that’s all about access in the moment. We’re also really focused on expanding our video content in the next year with many original series that range from sc- ripted comedy to news coverage of the 2016 election to docu- mentaries about global issues.
And…we’re going global! Look for us in the U.K. in November 2015, with more to come around Europe in 2016.
I shall ask this question; twenty-somethings, NYC, artists, writers, feminism. What instantly comes to your mind?
Sounds like the makings of a great dinner party.
Finally, what are you doing after this interview?
Dreaming bigger in 2016!