Inside the New Issue of Polyester, Starring Gemma Collins and Ziwe

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Gemma Collins for Polyester Zine
Gemma Collins for Polyester ZinePhotography by Hazel Gaskin, Styling by Natalie Roar, Creative direction by Ione Gamble. Courtesy of Polyester Zine

Founder and editor-in-chief Ione Gamble shares the story behind the cult zine’s Hot Vamp Summer issue

“I still think the best way to sum up Polyester is our tagline borrowed from John Waters, ‘Have faith in your own bad taste,’” says founder and editor-in-chief Ione Gamble. “The zine is all about challenging stereotypes of what it means to be femme, or queer, or fat, or disabled, and generally just puts marginalised people front and centre in a way that doesn’t create spectacle from our experiences. Instead, it hands the mic to whoever needs it and cultivates an optimistic, glamorous space in an industry that can still be hugely classist, narrow-minded and obsessed with beauty ideals that haven’t been relevant in decades.”

Founded in 2014, Polyester has spent seven years – and 14 issues – at the forefront of conversations around diversity and inclusion, but in a way that is truly authentic. “Inclusivity gets bandied around a lot but in terms of our place in the world of publishing I do really hope we exist in a little corner of the universe that is non-hierarchical, that doesn’t want to shift copies under the guise of aspiration and instead welcomes everyone in,” says Gamble.

The latest issue of Polyester is no exception: arriving later this month, it’s already caused a huge stir. Titled Hot Vamp Summer, the zine is fronted by media personality, business woman and self-proclaimed “I.C.O.N.” Gemma Collins. She is joined by comedian, writer and host of the hilarious Baited With Ziwe, Ziwe, in what must be the best (and campest?) cover star duo in recent memory – and that’s before I mentioned that the GC is decked out in full Valentino. Elsewhere, the issue also features rising singer-songwriter Cosima and model and activist Samirah Raheem of SlutWalk fame, and many more.

Here, Gamble tells us about the meaning of Hot Vamp Summer, how they went about shooting Gemma Collins and her hope for the zine.

AnOther Magazine: The new issue looks so good! Gemma Collins! Ziwe! Samirah! Help! I need to lie down. Can you introduce the issue to us?

Ione Gamble: It’s Hot Vamp Summer! We wanted to put together an issue that felt like a bit of a respite from the past 16 months because obviously it’s been absolutely miserable. Polyester has always pulled from the past in hopes of creating a better future so it felt natural to look back at the vamp stereotype and femme fatales and re-contextualise their power in the summer of 2021. I think lots of people have felt quite lost in who they are over the many lockdowns – we haven’t had our coping mechanisms or the tools that help us to feel like who we truly are – so this issue is very much a celebration of glamour, while examining the power dynamics of sexuality and how we can re-enter the world better than it was pre-pandemic.

AM: How did you go about choosing the cover stars for the issue? Gemma and Ziwe are so different, but I feel like they’re similar in that they’re both fun, funny, and camp. What unites them in your mind and why did they make sense for the theme of this issue?

IG: You’re so right there is definitely a synergy between Gemma and Ziwe that is hard to place – I think it’s because they’re both women that are completely unapologetic, and have pioneered their careers in industries that have maybe not been the most accepting traditionally. They’ve managed to accumulate this mass appeal while being completely themselves – and the fact they have managed to carve out these spaces using humour is incredible. When we were putting together ideas it was really a conversation of, who would be our dream cover star? We had the opportunity to really go for whoever we wanted, which is so important to me in terms of print because I’m really against just churning out issues for the sake of it. In terms of the theme, Ziwe makes so much sense – her attitude is totally akin to a vamp in that she really goes for the juggernaut and doesn’t compromise when achieving what she wants to with a guest on her show. Gemma’s attitude towards sexuality and body image particularly in the interview with our deputy editor Gina Tonic perfectly encapsulates why she makes sense for the theme I think.

“[Gemma Collins and Ziwe are] both women that are completely unapologetic ... They’ve managed to accumulate this mass appeal while being completely themselves – and the fact they have managed to carve out these spaces using humour is incredible” – Ione Gamble

AM: This is Gemma Collins as we’ve never seen her before – in Valentino no less! Can you tell me about how you wanted to photograph her? How did you want to portray her?

IG: With Gemma it was very much a case of taking this huge icon and showing her through a new lens. Obviously, she is the ultimate modern diva, so we wanted to take that idea and rework it through a Polyester lens. There was lots of Sharon Tate on the moodboard, and other Hollywood 60s-70s icons, paying tribute to the kind of accidental camp people know and love Gemma for, while filtering it through the very purposeful camp and overt femininity of our publication. Meeting Gemma and working with her through the fitting and the shoot it was really obvious how much she cares about everything she does – and that underneath The GC there is a creative woman who totally trusted our vision, which I think is rare when it comes to someone who has such a defined brand. It was honestly a joy from start to finish!

AM: And what about Cosima? Why did you want to include her in the issue?

IG: Our beauty editor, Grace Ellington, conceptualised the Be More Theda shoot – her and Cosima work closely together and Cosima also styled herself for this editorial. Everyone on our team is obsessed with Theda Bara – she’s an icon that really subverted what sexuality was and pioneered the idea that being desirable isn’t just one set of codes, and that you can create your own rules. Casting wise it was really important for us to echo that and think about who represents the modern essence of Theda and Cosima made perfect sense.

AM: And the theme of the issue, “Hot Vamp Summer” – where did this come from? 

IG: Once a week Gina, our social media editor Eden Young, our junior editor Charlotte Landrum and I have a really informal meeting just to discuss project ideas – we were all joking about Hot Girl Summer and what the Polyester version of that would be, and Hot Vamp Summer just clicked! Part of our DNA as a publication is definitely about delving into the darker side of femininity – especially as feminism has become so sanitised and commercialised in recent years. We want to represent embracing these still-taboo parts of the femme experience that are still ignored by mainstream body positivity as well as other iterations of identity politics. I think Samirah, who we feature in the issue, sums up what Hot Vamp Summer means best: “A Hot Vamp Summer is all about being shameless with your needs. It might mean I need to leave this party or this festival because I feel unsafe. It might mean I need a night on the town. This might mean I need a lover or three; it also might mean I don’t need anybody. Stand up for yourself and what you truly want. Vamps don’t take no shit, so don’t take no shit this summer.”

AM: Can you tell me about what else is in the issue?

IG: Aside from Gemma, Ziwe and Cosima, we have Samirah Raheem coaching us through Hot Vamp Summer in a piece which I’m definitely printing out and treating as a manifesto, accompanied by airbrushed illustrations by Rhianna Ellington. We also have an instalment of our Film Fatale column exploring why the allure of consumption is so strong when representing femme sexuality on screen, accompanied by an editorial reimagining these mid-century vamps through the modern, female gaze. Lissyelle Laricchia also shoots Chavi St Hill in an editorial that flips the script on voyeurism and harks back to Hitchcock’s Rear Window. I’m truly obsessed with every single feature.

“Part of our DNA as a publication is definitely about delving into the darker side of femininity ... We want to represent embracing these still-taboo parts of the femme experience that are still ignored by mainstream body positivity as well as other iterations of identity politics” – Ione Gamble

AM: What is your favourite thing about running it?

IG: All the conversations I get to have with people, whether that’s hosting the podcast or being on set for print issues. Especially in lockdown, getting to do so many interviews during a time in which most of us really didn’t get to have any new conversations really kept me going. Getting to work with people that are new to the industry and helping them in a meaningful way to progress in their work. Also the feeling of seeing a set of images and just knowing they are absolutely stunning!

AM: What do you want people to take away from the new issue?

IG: I want people to feel joy from it, to feel like they’ve escaped the real world for a minute, and travelled to a different one, where we can all be the most glamorous, vampy versions of ourselves.

The new issue of Polyester is free for everyone in the UK. Simply enter your details here to receive a copy.