Velvet Ibiza founder and producer Carine De Mesmaeker is a Belgium lesbian DJ-turned-bar-owner-turned-party-promoter, who also launched Velvet 69, one of Europe’s biggest queer women’s parties. Velvet Ibiza draws an international crowd, including lots of Americans. With the 7th anniversary all-inclusive 5-day/5-night party fast approaching (May 2-7 2023), we recently sat down with Mesmaeker to learn more about herself and the event.
What makes Velvet Ibiza different from things like Dinah Shore and Girls in Wonderland?
Glad you asked. At Velvet Ibiza all happens in one location and this for 5 days in a row with queer women from all over the world. And the event is completely all-inclusive! This means your 5 night stay – 3 meals a day – free drinks till 11 pm – all parties and other activities. This makes it very very unique and makes it affordable for a wider range. There are different formulas (bungalow types) which makes it affordable for every budget.
We also offer a variety of sports activities like yoga, soccer and volleyball.
How do you create spaces for queer women of all ages?
I love doing what I do and have been blessed to be able to produce this amazing event in Ibiza for our community for nearly ten years now. Regardless of age, the need to have a space where we feel safe, can be authentic and connect is something that I feel is timeless.
I have been in the club scene for a while as well and I am very much in tune with what all generations like, what choice of music to make, etc… I also try to attend parties organized by colleagues, just to keep up. And i must say i always try to put my own stamp on every party/event I make.
Tell us a little about the bar you opened. It was the last lesbian bar open in Brussels, is that right?
I had the bar for almost 5 years. It was very well located, in the center of Brussels. In the weekend it was a club, in the week a bar.
To my surprise it was more successful as a club then it was as a bar in the week.
I closed it in 2004 and until very recently no other bar opened in Brussels.
I’m not going to ask you about why lesbian bars are struggling, I think I’ve heard the answers often enough. The world changes and sometimes what used to be an institution is no longer necessary. Lesbians don’t need a bar open every day, but they still like to get together, and we’ve seen in the U.S. a rise of women’s parties that happen once every month or so. It sounds like that what you created in Velvet Sixty-Nine as well. Why do you think Velvet Sixty-Nine has been so successful?
The event is always organized in top class venues, with a great sound and light system. It’s lifting the lesbian scene to a higher level, introducing top DJs and a MC. When I started this in 2010 I attended many parties and events in other big cities like Amsterdam, Paris, London, Berlin, Hamburg, Munich, and Barcelona, to promote Velvet Sixty Nine.
Brussels as a European capital city also helped and resulted in having all different communities at my party.
Courtesy Carine De Mesmaeker
When it was successful you decided you wanted to do something bigger, like a festival, somewhere warm. You found that in Ibiza, where despite decades of gay men’s events there wasn’t something for women. In a big part that's because of a lack of wealth, free time, and privilege that queer women have had compared to men. Do you agree? Or do you see another reason for the lack of spaces for queer women?
I don’t agree completely. I think it’s more a question of other needs and less offers until now. I have the feeling that the younger queer women are catching up, lately. I know that everyone keeps comparing gays and lesbians, but we are speaking about two different groups of people, with other needs.
You founded Velvet Ibiza in 2015, and as we all know 5 years later the pandemic closed down the world. How and when were you able to come back?
The 6th edition was planned in May 2020 and was fully booked when COVID closed the world in March 2020. We postponed it to October 20 hoping that traveling would be possible by then. After 3 other attempts we finally could go ahead in May 2022.
In the U.S. we have a crass but sort of true saying: “Everyone gets laid at Pride.” Does everyone get laid at Velvet Ibiza?
Well, my goal is to give everyone the time of their life.
All jokes aside, Velvet Ibiza is all about connecting our community.
Courtesy Carine De Mesmaeker
Producing an event like Velvet Ibiza is obviously different than just attending one. What is your love (or hate) about your role with the festival?
I hate the fact that I have not enough time to chat with all the amazing individuals who attend. And my favorite moments are when I see a DJ playing a great set, and watching the crowd go wild. That’s when I know I’ve done a great job, and I can finally be proud of myself and my event.
Have you had any #Fails or near disasters that changed what you do now?
An event like Velvet Ibiza is of course mainly based on outdoor activities, such as pool parties, beach volley, etc. We did have a year with a day of really bad weather, so we provided enough alternatives in the indoor areas, such as yoga inside, table tennis, board games, etc…
Where do you see yourself and Velvet parties in 5-10 years?
In 10 years I hope someone takes over and continues with great success.
In the near future I want to throw a high level class event for queer women on a smaller scale — a high end event at a top location, very unique and very exclusive.