Fluide Is Making Space For Beauty Beyond The Binary
Entrepreneur And Fluide Co-Founder Isabella Giancarlo opens up about launching a queer beauty brand in the age of Instagram. Interview by Sean Santiago.
Sean Santiago: First things first—why makeup?
Isabella Giancarlo: Makeup is fun because there’s no right or wrong way to wear it, but in the beauty space it still really feels like there’s no brand that’s showing a truly inclusive definition of beauty. And so we were like, let’s do it.
SS: Did you start out in your kitchen? This is how I imagine all beauty brands start.
IG: We worked with partners around the country to find the right formula; we wanted to make sure everything was made in the States, cruelty-free and paraben-free. A lot of cheaper, more accessible makeup that’s typically marketed at queer people is full of garbage. We want to keep Fluide at a low price point, but we want to be proud of the way it’s made. At the end of the day we need to keep our community safe.
SS: How did you go about creating this world, the Fluide world? Why the name?
IG: I think that we’re living in a really awesome time where gender expansiveness is actually at the forefront of conversation. People are actually down to talk about gender in a more nuanced way than they have been in the past. And I just don't see why anyone should not be able to rock a blue lip whenever, no matter who you are. I feel like it’s time to embrace something more, to show inventive, creative ways to express yourself with makeup that don’t make you feel like you’re being held to a certain standard. Like, fuck that.
SS: But sometimes I feel like I'm not queering my makeup enough. Like, I like to play with more subtle colors and tones and it feels too cis, or something. I usually get my nails done in flesh tones, which to me reads very Yeezy, which I guess is very Kylie, which I know is very cis. But my friend said my nails need to be longer to pull it off. And I agree, but I've been trying to grow them out and they keep breaking.
IG: I heard the trick is to take women’s—
SS: Pre-natal vitamins?
IG: Do you take them!?
SS: No, but I’ve thought about it.
IG: I take them, for that reason.
SS: I figure if it’s good for a baby it’s gotta be good for your nails.
IG: And hair!
SS: I take Biotin because that’s hopefully gonna help, but mostly I’m just too clumsy. My point being that it’s interesting to think about exploring gender in more nuanced ways, because it’s like sometimes I’m not doing it queer enough. It’s back to that idea of an industry standard—I’m like, too beholden to it? Or too under its influence.
IG: I constantly feel like I’m not presenting myself in a queer enough way, and that’s so interesting that you also feel that way. It’s like, what the fuck! I am a queer person and I don’t feel queer enough?
SS: As if there’s not enough validity unless you're articulating it in a certain way, which, now that I think of it, is just holding yourself to another arbitrary set of standards. Do I have to express myself in this way or can I do my own thing? And can Kylie Jenner be my own thing? [Ed. note: I am garbage.] It's also crazy to me how, if you're masculine presenting, makeup immediately becomes drag. There is so much work to be done on that front, to get people exploring the femininity and beauty that I think is actually genderless and in men already. However you define “man.” But I’m realizing more and more that so many guys have never thought about gender, and I don't know how to start that conversation. I feel my queerness applies to my gender as much as my sexuality, if not more so. And it’s this kind of imagery and your kind of brand that make this visible and that work to break down the idea that it’s either/or.
IG: I’m with you, I’m so with you. When I was growing up I felt like I had to wear makeup. I didn’t come out until I was—twenty...one?—and in high school it felt like I had to wear makeup just to fit in with the other girls. So makeup had this weight and this heaviness to it, these associations of trying to fit in and trying to look like everyone else. Not to mention, like, shame. Like if you didn’t go out with your eyeliner on and your mascara on then you felt a little bit naked. And then I went through a phase where I was like, fuck it, I’m not wearing anything. And now I’m at a place where I can express myself instead of feeling this obligation that I have to put on makeup to be socially acceptable.
SS: Just developing a personal relationship with makeup has been like—how do you form a personal relationship with something you’ve been told isn’t for you? I think last year, or maybe early this year, Perfume Genius was on Into The Gloss and he was like, fuck the body it’s all about the face. And I was like, thank you. That’s it. I’m a face person. I want someone to notice my lashes are really good, or that my lips are really full. It seems like so many gay men are all about the gym selfie, but my phone is full of just these intense close-ups of my face. And I kind of wonder, not that those things are mutually exclusive—although I’m never setting foot in a fucking gym—but I kind of wonder what that dialogue is between those two ways of being viable for yourself. How do you reconcile these different ways of seeing yourself, and thinking of your own sexual viability? Do you feel like from your perspective that what it all boils down to is desirability politics?
IG: It totally is.
SS: Unpack that.
IG: [Laughter] It’s tricky because when I’m grappling with my relationship with makeup I’m wondering if people are going to find me desirable as well. So, if I’m on a first date and I’m wearing a blue lip I’m making a statement to that person that, hey, I’m going to be wearing some statement looks, if you’re not down with it, ok, cool, see you later. If they don't find you desirable in the same way that you find yourself desirable, then fuck it.
SS: I think that’s so important, to think of makeup as this lens on how you find yourself desirable.
IG: Makeup is one opportunity to make yourself up in a way that you find yourself desirable. It’s less about how someone else perceives you. Although that is probably going to be shaping your own perception of how desirable you are, or find yourself. It’s Pandora’s box. [Laughter]
SS: And the conversation across gender lines gets so tricky, how we gender different ways of paying attention to yourself or caring about yourself. I think so many guys are like, the gym is my thing, and...I mean, I do it too. On the apps, I really don’t put any part of myself forward because it’s like, this is not the space for it. Because men will say, are you feminine? Are you masculine? Maybe I’m just talking to jerks, but it’s insane to me to actually think that way.
IG: I feel the same way—are you femme or are you butch? When I first came on the scene I was like, what the fuck? I’m queer, the point is that we don't need to do this if we don't want to!
SS: And I feel like that idea of the one or the other, it’s like...
IG: Also, those words are so loaded.
SS: And I hate that there’s not a way to talk about this without gendering the conversation, that you can’t talk about femininity without “fem”—because I also think so much of this is about making women feel like feminity isn’t their burden. Like, if I wanna wear makeup or a four inch heel because—
IG: You like how it works.
SS: Yeah. It comes natural for me. It feels right. I have a long torso and short legs, so I like to elongate my silhouette. But I had this conversation with my aunt about how there are so many things we tell women to do that infantilize them, and all of it needs to be unpacked so that she can feel like she doesn't need to shave her armpits at fifty. Because she doesn’t! If she doesn’t want to!
IG: My friend told her grandma she didn't have to wear a bra and now every time she sees her she’s like, “I’m not wearing a bra!” It’s just like, fuck yeah! How come you have to go through 80 years of life suffering through these repressive ideas? I feel similarly at 25. How come I had to go through years of hating my body and feeling like I had to wear makeup just to come at it from a place of centering what I want instead of what I feel like the world wants me to do? I think that’s one of the great things about queer beauty and celebrating it and showing it in all of its diverse forms. You can see more examples of what you want to be, what you could be, so instead of feeling like you have to look like one of four girls you can access this beautiful spectrum of queer beauty and finds parts of yourself that you want to reach within that.
SS: Exactly. That idea of potential. Especially with Instagram now, there’s just so much out there, so much to digest. But on the other end of the spectrum, I feel like where gayness and maleness overlap—“Instagays”—it can become this quest for sameness. There’s this great flattening out. And then the grid of the sex apps is a giant metaphor for something that I don't know how to unpack. It creates a monoculture. I’m also being maybe too dark.
IG: Well, my experience of growing up queer is like, ok, I’m different I’m different I’m different and then I’m 21 and then I’m gay. Then lemme find a group of people that align with me, ok, here are queer women, and then I fit myself into this world, let me present myself in this way. I’m going to do all of these lesbian trope things because I feel like I can fit into a group within my difference. And then the next phase is like, ok, wait wait, we can be different within our difference, there are so many ways to do this. And that really resonates with me.
SS: Back to desire and desirability it’s like, how do I feel good about myself for myself and also not die alone? I think about that all the time. Like, am I just gonna love shoe shopping so much that I don't need romantic love? Maybe, as long as I also have tacos. If people have never thought about expressing themselves or their gender in this way or that way, what does that mean? What does it say about me? What does it say about them, to be attracted to me?
IG: I think now there’s at least a conversation blooming, and so I think people are more open to analyzing those parts of themselves. I do feel like queer women are more prone to unpack the gender aspects in queer female relationships, in terms of presentation. There’s a lot of introspection.
SS: And we’re back to the sameness. It’s like, if you were to be introspective are you afraid of what you might find?
IG: I think beauty and fashion are an awesome medium for introspection and analyzing your own weirdnesses and your own prejudices. Do I not like this color because silver doesn’t look good on my skin tone, or because I’m worried that people are going to think I’m weird for wearing silver lipstick? Or, maybe it’s ever deeper than that. But it is a nice channel to be like ok, what does this say about me and who am I going to be when I put this on.—