Nylon’s Gabrielle Korn on her career trajectory, shaking shit up digitally, and the importance of being a lesbian Editor-in-Chief
“I think historically all fashion magazines have a diversity problem, and whats so insidious about it is the language that they use to justify it, and I just got rid of all of that.”
She’s NYLON’s youngest-ever EIC, as well as the first gay woman to hold the position, and an obvious candidate for the first woman president. Meet Gabrielle Korn.
A random night of trolling through Instagram led me to Gabrielle (her friends call her Gab; call her Gabby and help yourself to her shit list). As I run Left Bank Magazine, an edgy music and art publication run out of my bedroom in Brooklyn, I’m fairly familiar with the music scene- Gabs girlfriend is none other than Wallace May, of Big Bliss and also well deserving of her own feature but alas I digress. I came across Gabs profile, immediately recognized Wallace in one of the pics and was like, yep. this woman/human/person is cool.
As any social media troll is want to do, the next thing I did was messaged her.
“Hey I run Left Bank Mag and High Street Disco and we are spotlighting women in music, would you be down for an interview?”
If someone would have sent me that message, I would’ve spent too much time stroking my ego to respond but Gabrielle isn’t like me. She’s humble and strong and nice and responded to my trolling as Princess Diana would have, agreeing to do an interview.
On a sunny weekday in Manhattan, I traveled down to Nylon’s office in SoHo, stopping to take a pic of the iconic neon pink sign to obviously send to all of my friends and fans on social media.
“Hi are you Kristyn?! Nice to meet you”
Her oversized gold frames, bright red lipstick, and brown leather skirt noticeably said “Kween” and we headed to her office for the interview.
“I knew that I wanted to write and I had no idea what I wanted to write about or how to turn that into a career. I ended up doing basically Womens studies at NYU, and I had a bunch of varied internships and I finally landed an internship at the Feminist Press my senior year of college, and I got really lucky because when I was graduating they published a memoir by a woman who was the editor an chief of a women’s journal that she ran out of an abortion clinic and she needed an editorial assistant and my intern supervisor recommended me to her, so I had a job a week before graduating college.”
She goes on to say how the office was in the basement of an abortion clinic and after a year of working there, she had also learned how to hardcode websites in Dreamweaver, as well as learning a lot about marketing for the abortion clinic. At the end of the year, she realised that there wasn’t a lot of space for moving up in the company — as it was just the publisher and Gabrielle — so she left to do freelance writing
“That was also interesting. I ended up having to take whatever gigs I could, so I was like recapping True Blood, and I was writing press releases, and just doing whatever I could get my hands on.”
After getting tired of hustling so hard (we’ve all been there), she ended up applying for a gig at Refinery 29.
“I was brought on as a production assistant in the beauty department — it was 2013. And about two months after I started, their strategy shifted from being the small boutique site they started out as to the big monolith that they are. And we were responsible for 2-4 stories when I started, and all of a sudden we had to do 15-20 per day, so there was all this opportunity to write.”
Anyone else getting Bold Type vibes right now?
“My stories were really successful. I had a very specific point of view, which was that there was so much more that beauty could be — they were doing beauty as aspiration and inspiration and product reviews, and I was like, ‘beauty is what connects all people to each other, how you take care of yourself speaks volumes to how you see yourself and your place in the world, and if we use this as a jumping off point, there is so much more we can talk about.”
Within a two year period, Gabrielle went from Production Assistant to Assistant Editor to Beauty Editor — all by 25 1/2.
“And then I realised that I didn’t love beauty … loving makeup is not the same thing as loving beauty, just the same as loving clothes is not loving fashion. I got so burned out, I was like if I have to write about mascara one more time, I’m going to stab myself with it.”
Around that time, the opportunity came up for a Senior editor role at Nylon, working across verticals digitally and with a section in book.
“I came here, it was 2014, and is this too much information?”
No Gabrielle, never. I’m literally interrupting my binging of The Bold Type to watch it in real life. Please, never stop talking.
“The person who hired me had also come from Refinery, and the two of us were kind of tasked with bringing them into the digital era. The website had been repurposing things from the magazine, so it was pretty low hanging fruit from a lot of ways but it was also the Wild West, because we had to figure out how to translate the brand for a digital audience, and we did that very successfully and very quickly. And, when that person left I replaced her, and became the Digital Director.”
With two years of working in digital, Gabrielle had wanted to take the site from entertainment-driven content to more features-driven pieces, so she hired the team, and did what she did best.
“Things like politics and sex and wellness and projects about identity were the most successful things that we were doing, and I was basically running the website like it was its own publication by the end of it, and then the magazine folded in September 2017.”
She went from Digital Director for a year to Editor-in-Chief, and was 28 years old. She was also the youngest woman and the first lesbian. Someone get out some champagne.
Staying true to the core DNA, she also began switching shit up: prioritising diversity, and hiring people who are different from her and also each other but with a united identity of political beliefs and values.
“I don’t want a reader to think ‘I’m a Nylon girl because I have pink hair,’ I want a reader to think ‘I’m a Nylon girl because I am aware of how intersectional feminism affects music and fashion and beauty, and I want to read content that speaks to that.”
I had to ask, was she raised to be progressive and disruptive or was it something else?
“I was raised progressive, I think when you’re gay you are marginalised. I was never in a rich, white bubble. And I think a lot of media people in power were.”
After about a year at New York Magazine, I had to agree with her — there were a lot of straight, cisgender people on staff. You could count the number of minorities on your hand.
“I think it matters so much and I think people are constantly trying to tell me it doesn’t matter. Like we are living in a Golden Age of queer empowerment, but its like, then why am I the only one? If you line up all of the current Editor in Chiefs at major fashion magazines, why am I the only lesbian? I also have young people tell me how important it is to them to have me be in this role and be visible, and that’s really who it’s for. It’s not for me. But for a 15-year-old who is struggling how to come out to see a successful, professional adult who is also a dyke means a lot. Even if we never meet and we never speak, just to know that I exist and the path has been made, so no, I don’t mind when people talk about it.”
They did their first Pride Cover EVER last year, and will continue forever, and ever. Amen.
The music journalist in me had to dive into some music questions. I found out that Gabrielle is still obsessed with The National, a band she’s loved since her adolescence.
Any band you want to interview that you personally haven’t interviewed yet?
“I would love to talk to Janelle Monae.”
After about an hour of sitting in her office (and let me tell you, I could have hung out with her forever), I figured it was time to ask one last question. Which, if anyone knows me, knows it became two last questions. And, I honestly would have asked a third.
So, I asked: Is there anything that you would like to see from women publications in the remainder of this year?
“I think it’s really important to understand that there’s no such thing as a singular womens issues. There are so many kinds of women from different places and different experiences and I think uniting under women really erases the way that people are specifically marginalised within that. I would love to see issues that underrepresented women face get the same attention as abortion for straight women.
And, my final question: what are you tired of seeing?
It’s really tricky as a journalist who wants to cover women across industries because you have to respect the fact that most people, and I’m talking about musicians particularly, don’t want to be asked ‘what’s it like to be a woman in music,’ like you’re not allowed to ask that anymore. But, I do want there to be space to talk about their unique experiences with sexism in their industries, and I want there to be more understanding on both sides, like we aren’t asking these questions to pigeonhole you, we want to foster conversations about serious issues that other people might be facing and like yeah we wouldn’t ask a man this, but we aren’t interviewing men anyway.
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Founder of Left Bank Media. I write about music, and New York mostly. MA Creative Writing at Birkbeck, University of London.