“I’m a swooner by design.” I couldn’t have dreamed up a better statement myself. This sentiment is expressed by none other than former Global Editor-In-Chief and Co-Founder of Refinery29, Christene Barberich. Christene is a product of the publishing world golden days, having worked at the epicurean publication Gourmet magazine, among other outlets. As a constant innovator, entrepreneur, dreamer and content creator, she was at the forefront of the burgeoning digital media age when she launched R29 back in 2005. On a mission to genuinely impact in people’s lives, R29 offered creative freedom, exploration, and community.
“Great ideas at the right time are important (as they were for us), but it’s really the chemistry and combined ambition of the people there at the beginning that determines its destiny,” she tells me. This is yet another one of Christene’s sentiments that deeply resonates with me, because her timing and the chemistry and combined ambition of her founding team seemed to collide with my own. You see, R29 had a heavy hand in shaping my own destiny and beginnings in the digital space. They were the first digital publication to highlight Athena Calderone as EyeSwoon. They were also very much responsible for my early growth on Instagram, as I can recall watching my following expand from 900 to 1400 over the course of 15 minutes. Moreover, R29 also began syndicating my stories in the first few months of EyeSwoon’s inception, and this without doubt brought many, many, many eyeballs to my site. So first and foremost, Christene, THANK YOU!
But rather than being a love letter to R29, this is a story about a shared passion for cooking and connecting deeply, not in the digital space but in the kitchen, and a story about evolution. Christene and I have “known” one another for years. We have sat next to one another at a fashion show or across from each other at a dinner. But, as holds true every time I think I know someone, the true connection happens when we are in an intimate setting, when we are sharing, when we are chopping, when we are laughing, when we are engaged. Within the colorful walls of Christene’s ridiculously photogenic Brooklyn Heights apartment, she and I really did finally get to know one another as we cooked. We created one of her tried-and-true gluten-free pastas, packed with a punch of vibrant herbs, briny feta, and rich pine nuts.
Christene and I talked in detail about so many creative endeavors from vintage shopping to the joys and stresses of entertaining, but what I loved most about my time with her was witnessing her zest for what she does. For someone who has seen so much change and growth in publishing, she continues to adapt with the times. She is a pioneer, a persevering, adept entrepreneur, and an inspiration to me.
Each time I have the opportunity to get into the kitchen with another creative I learn something. When I am with a chef, that something may be how to better hold my knife. With Christene, it was a little tip about a local restaurant, (I’ll be moving just a block away from it in a few short months), an amazing acupuncturist recommendation, how and where to score the best vintage linens, and the knowledge that I absolutely must upturn the corners of my mouth to avoid looking old, (a harsh yet helpful word of advice that was bestowed upon Christene and that she passed on to me, hahaha).
In every meeting of the minds in the kitchen, it’s always different, I am always curious, and I always leave energized. In moments like these, in standing beside a gracious, sincere, and inspiring innovator like Christene, I realize how fortunate I am to be on this journey, doing what I do. For each of us, whether we’re entrepreneurs or not, we are molding and morphing into something new every day with the help of the people we surround ourselves with. I will close with yet another swoony statement from Christene: