Creative 50 - The Most Creative People of the Year - AdAge

Photo Credit: Mark Iantosca

Christene Barberich & Piera Gelardi

Global Editor-in-Chief, Co-founder & Executive Creative Director, Co-founder, Refinery29

The world of women's media has its icons. There's Vogue, Cosmopolitan and, if we were to name one for the digital age, it would be Refinery29. Founded as an online women's magazine in 2005 by Christene Barberich, Piera Gelardi, Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano, the media company knows how to really--like, really--talk to millennial women, delivering content that spans beauty, fashion, sex, shopping, body issues, current events, politics and more--basically, everything and anything its readers want to know about.
This year, R29's audience shot up to 334 million across multiple platforms--more than double that of last year's 158 million--largely due to Snapchat Discover and R29's increase in video production. That included the debut on YouTube of Riot, a new female comedy channel and a Facebook360 series for New York Fashion Week. In May, R29 bowed its first podcast, "Strong Opinions, Loosely Held," in which host Elisa Kreisinger explores such subjects as "Why Islam and Feminism Aren't Mutually Exclusive," the Kardashians and "Surviving a Post-Election Thanksgiving."
"Two things that factored really heavily into our early success, and our sustained success, is that we really listened to our audience and paid attention to what what they cared about--and also took risks with content," said Ms. Barberich. "We tapped into this real desire for peer-to-peer conversation and also real information that was both inspiring and really practical. We relied very heavily on two-way conversation and made sure that feedback loop was constantly open and that we were responding with better ideas, enhancing the content based on how people were engaging with it early on."
The company has also proved a knack for developing smart brand partnerships too, with companies ranging from Planned Parenthood to Keds to The Atlantic. It continues to host innovative events and saw the second year of "29 Rooms," an immersive funhouse at New York Fashion Week, as well as the 67% Symposium, a forum on women's size representation in the media. The event capped off the 67% Project, in which R29 partnered with Lane Bryant and Aerie and promised the images it used would reflect the reality that two-thirds of American women are plus-size. The company also teamed with Getty Images and spent six months creating a 67% collection of stock artwork and photography.

To you, what is creativity?
Piera Gelardi: Creativity is problem solving, matchmaking, tinkering, remixing. It's pairing the unexpected to make something new and exciting like mixing melted marshmallow and tortilla chips to make a salty sweet delicious s'mortilla (pending trademark ;-) or blending N.Y. Fashion Week with a funhouse of interactive artwork to create the viral event "29 Rooms."
Making the space for creativity entails letting your guard down, opening your mind to new ideas, and allowing yourself to be vulnerable. It takes courage to go into unknown territory and risk falling on your face. You have to be willing to go to uncomfortable places.
Christene Barberich: That profound connection between heart and intellect, and dwelling, sometimes awkwardly, in the mystery the start of something big can bring. It's knowing how to get out of the way, too. Because creativity is a lot like creative people … it doesn't want to be controlled or limited. But it does love encouragement, freedom and the space to become all that it can be … getting out of the way so something magical can happen.

Team Credits

Piera Gelardi

  • Co-Founder & Executive Creative Director, Refinery29


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Co-Founder & Executive Creative Director, Refinery29