Founder and editor-in-chief Rain Laurent tells us more
“In terms of magazines, and in terms of the established fashion world, there’s no place for lesbians, in a way,” says Rain Laurent, the editor-in-chief of new Paris-based fashion mag DYKE_ON. “We’re quite invisible.” She’s right – despite fashion being one of the most female-centric industries in the world, many people with even a passing interest would be able to tally up scores of high profile gay men working in it faster than they could think of even a handful of lesbians. Of course, that’s not to say queer women don’t work in every facet of fashion – you just might not have realised it.
Part of that is probably to do with a pervasive, backward, and flat-out untrue idea that, somehow, lesbians just cannot dress themselves – despite fashion’s love of sexy gal pal editorials (hi Guy Bourdin, hi Helmut Newton) the idea that being a fashionable gay woman is an oxymoron remains. Counteracting that, and providing a host of wlw style inspiration, DYKE_ON actually began as an Instagram account dedicated to those Laurent deemed dyke icons. Orientation wasn’t relevant – think Sigourney Weaver in a white vest top with an open bow tie, Susan Sontag in relaxed tailoring, Isabella Rossellini in a power-shouldered blazer, Marlene Dietrich looking like a 1930s gangster.
The praise Laurent received from followers encouraged her to take DYKE_ON to the next step, transforming it into a fully fledged magazine. Spanning fashion editorials, art, literature and more, this first issue contains a photographic portfolio by Rebekah Campbell, art by Katerina Jebb and Macarthur Genius Grant recipient Nicole Eisenman, and a personal essay by Julie Chance. There is also merch – like logo tees and scarves bearing phrases like “dyke is the warmest colour” and “make dykes great again”.
At its heart, DYKE_ON is about capturing a way of looking at women that’s totally removed from the male gaze which dominates conventional fashion photography, and providing content that will resonate with its intended audience and others too. As for the title, using such a strong word (although not necessarily one people in Paris will understand) is an intentional act of reclamation. “Even though the word ‘dyke’ is quite offensive, when mixed with ‘on’ it can be ambiguous,” Laurent says. “Between me and my friends we wouldn’t take that as an insult. We’re reclaiming it completely.”
Why did you start DYKE_ON?
Rain Laurent: I work in fashion, and being gay myself, I never see women or girls portrayed a way that I feel they should be, as someone that I would really like to be or someone who would really influence me. Also, I have a lot of lesbian model friends, but people would never know that they are gay because they’re always portrayed as straight. You see them in shoots and it’s like, I can’t believe they put you in that! You’re posing in a dress with a guy, or else they cast you as the lesbian and you are playing that character, as if the lesbian look by itself can’t be something to desire. So I made the Instagram, which I started almost as a joke, a reaction against the industry. Then I decided just to do a few shoots. From there, we asked more and more people so it just developed into a whole magazine.
Why do you think a fashion magazine like this didn’t already exist?
Rain Laurent: There are magazines like Girls Like Us, and you have gay magazines, but they tend to be low fashion or they tend to be quite political. I don’t know why this didn’t already exist, but right now just felt like the time to do it. I think we have the advantage of already being in the industry, so we have the right resources. Also, people are just more open, more young people are coming out – it’s not a huge deal anymore. If I were to do this ten years ago, I don’t think I would have had the support, and I don’t think I would have had the audience. We have events now and a lot of young people come who just see it on Instagram. If we did that ten years ago I don’t think anyone besides my friends would come, people were still afraid to be outed. The stigma is much less nowadays.
What makes a dyke icon for you in terms of aesthetic?
Rain Laurent: I am anti-sexualising women with the male gaze. I feel I respect women who use the way they dress to reflect their intellect – I want to show that in the fashion shoots that we do. You are an icon to us because you command respect, you’ve done work, you’ve contributed to society, you’ve contributed to culture, you dress in a way where you are putting looks together that require a certain thought. It’s not just easy fashion – ‘I’m gonna wear the latest Supreme hoodie and this and that’, it’s anti-street style in a way. It’s letting personality matter rather than what someone is wearing. It’s kind of a contradiction because in a way we are a fashion magazine but that’s the balance we are playing with as well.
I was reading A Queer History of Fashion earlier, and I wrote down this quote – ‘the popular idea of the lesbian was precisely that of a woman with no style. For sure, the lesbian had an image... but that was a stereotype, not a style’.
Rain Laurent: Yeah, I think that is still widely considered a fact. But hopefully, with our little magazine and with Instagram and people being able to express themselves, it’s changing quite a bit. I like to take that a bit further to say, ‘Look, there are a lot of lesbians with great style that you could also look up to’. That’s another thing that really influenced me because I have loads of lesbian friends and I was constantly surprised by my own discrimination that I would say, ‘Oh my God, they’re lesbians and they’re well-dressed!’, you know what I mean? Even being gay yourself, you grow up with this mindset that lesbians cannot be fashionable. Working in fashion, you meet people that are so fashionable and finding out they’re gay is like, wow!
In the editor’s letter you write about images of women who exude a certain ‘masculine femininity’ – that it didn’t matter whether they were actually lesbians themselves, they had that attitude that was subversive somehow.
Rain Laurent: Yeah. Part of the reason I started the magazine is that we don’t see enough of that in conventional fashion magazines. You only see masculine clothing if women are playing dress-up, whereas I feel the look of masculinity belongs to all of us – women can own it. It doesn’t have to be, ‘Oh you’re pretending to be a man’. We’re not pretending because we all have masculine aspects, and it’s celebrating that and not being apologetic for it and not feeling like you are pretending to be someone else, or being looked at as if you are pretending to be someone else. Even straight women can have that without thinking they’re pretending to be gay or they’re pretending to be men.
A lot of fashion images of women can be very overtly “sexy” but so devoid of any actual eroticism. I think a lot of that comes from the fact that it’s either gay men or straight men taking the pictures, for the most part.
Rain Laurent: Yeah, I say that to a lot of people. With images featuring someone styled as a lesbian, a lot of the time it’s gay men imagining what being a lesbian is like and putting these shoots together. The women look like caricatures of what lesbians are – there’s always some sexual tension and they are always in bikinis. I mean, how many lesbians do you see walking around in bikinis? Why can’t we just be normal, why can’t we just sit next to each other and not be sexual, you know?
“The women look like caricatures of what lesbians are... One has to be masculine and one has to be in a mini skirt lusting over the one wearing a suit, who is smoking a cigar” – Rain Laurent
Or one girl is in a suit and one girl is naked...
Rain Laurent: One has to be masculine and one has to be in a mini skirt lusting over the one wearing a suit, who is smoking a cigar, of course (laughs). It’s really funny because we’re in 2017 and I can’t believe we haven’t moved away from that. Also, I want to make a magazine that straight women can look at too and not feel isolated. It’s not ‘We only work with women, we hate men, we hate gay men’. It’s really about celebrating a certain aesthetic and then also providing a magazine that gay women will enjoy – providing content that interests them, with images that are suited to what I think gay women would like.
What are your plans in terms of where you want to take DYKE_ON next?
Rain Laurent: Issue 0 I completely funded myself, just because I feel like I really wanted to put something like that out there, just to start it – even if it inspires other magazines, that’s great. I want to talk to advertisers now that I’m starting the second issue, I’d like to do something more substantial with more art and more fashion shoots, and something bigger. But it really depends on the advertising. It’s still very hard for conventional brands to embrace the idea of advertising in an LGBTQ magazine.
It’s pretty mind-blowing that brands would still be nervous about doing that.
Rain Laurent: Yeah, I didn’t know that until I started approaching advertisers, even some that I thought would be really into it… But brands are not aiming at the lesbian audience and I’m trying to make them notice that we are a market, that there is a market. Some brands do collections when there’s only dresses, floral dresses. Or pink shoes for women. It’s so frustrating. I want to buy the Raf Simons adidas, and they only have them in size 39 – it’s like, fuck you! You know? I’m surprised a lot of brands haven’t really caught on. We are here and they know we’re here, but it seems like they don’t understand that we can be influential. Hopefully, things will change.
DYKE_ON is available in stockists including Idea Books at Dover Street Market London; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Slam Jam, Milan; Rosa Wolf, Berlin; and Around the World, New York City.