|Photo by Ted Soqui|
Do you like the bra? Michelle Darné has fit her tiny frame into a white shirt with a collar and cuffs, an ostensibly plain but subtly elegant piece of cloth that announces its fine Italian heritage to anyone who listens. Underneath, the bra is black.
I like it its sexy, says Darnés publicist, Anthony Turk. Photographer John Russo nods approvingly. Emboldened, the stylist moves in to undo a button.
Oh, no, not that sexy, Turk objects. Come on!
The button gets done again, then undone. Darné folds the lapels over just a little at the top until everyones happy, finally striking the appropriate balance between wholesome and hip, sexy and ultracompetent just the right tone for the rising doyenne of lesbian motherhood. You wont see me a lot in light pink, she declares. Its just not who I am.
In past issues of And Baby, the magazine she founded and publishes for gay and lesbian parents, Darné has looked determined, chin resting on hand, or legs akimbo in a satiny suit with a peek of cleavage, her long black hair blown back by an artificial wind. She looked great in those other shots, but the silky thing was just too glamorous, complains Turk. We had to get new photos because we want her image to be, you know, different. We want her to be the Martha Stewart of the gay and lesbian parenting world.
I look at Turk; he isnt smiling. At least, not ironically.
I find that a little scary. As a woman whos weighed the significant benefits of a same-sex partnership, Ive long held to the notion that starting a family with another woman means not having to make sure the doors on your gingerbread house actually swing open. Im disappointed: Is this what gay parentings come to? Later, Christina Sigwart, the magazines Portland-based, West Coast sales manager, assures me I misread Turks remark: He was talking about Martha in the business sense, she explains, as she makes perfect coffee in the sunny Venice apartment Darné rents on her West Coast stays.
Darné, who lives most of the year in New York and New Jersey, seconds that opinion. He meant it in the way that Martha Stewart has lots of tentacles attached to her, she says. Shes a brilliant businesswoman. Shes got the show, shes got the magazine, shes got the books.
You mean, like a franchise?
Well . . . Darné hesitates, reluctant to take the idea too far.
You know, I offer, expecting to be laughed off, you could have a line of clothing; like, childrens wear with And Baby labels.
Oh, she says. Wed love to do a merchandising line. Thats definitely an option.
Its one of the secrets of Darnés exuberant success: Shes an unapologetic capitalist, and she tolerates homophobes with practiced compassion perhaps because she never had to be radicalized by adolescent shame. Darné, the youngest of 11 in a family she describes as Puerto Rican and French, was raised 45 minutes from San Francisco in the East Bay and says her parents knew she was out before she hit puberty. (It was hard to ignore, Darné recalls. I mean, the neighborhood girl was my girlfriend.) Shed planned on kids, but, she says, didnt really think of having the white picket fence I thought instead Id have a career and an au pair. Two years ago, she hired And Babys creative director, Kathleen Weiss, to work with her designing trade magazines; the next year, they were talking about starting a family. When they went digging for resources to support prospective lesbian parents, however, they came up with a different idea: Collect all the fragmented information they found between two fashion-conscious covers.
When And Baby debuted in August of 2001, both The Wall Street Journal and USA Today ran stories on the upscale and growing gay family market (in California alone, same-sex households jumped from 36,602 to 92,138 in the last decade); both quoted Darné. And when And Babys only competitor, the more defiantly political Proud Parenting, closed shop last month, Darné scooped up its 6,000-some subscribers and a few of its advertisers. So were a year and a half ahead of schedule, she repeats frequently with wide-eyed surprise, meaning that the upcoming fourth issue of the magazine has 11,000 of the 15,000 subscribers shed planned to attract by the second year. Several talk-radio hosts have had her on as a guest, and one producer has offered her a syndicated show. Were in negotiations for a TV show, too, Darné tells me, so well soon have a package that will hit our market on all fronts.