2012 February 12
Women's Mag Revolution
Andreas Larsson View Gallery
(NEW YORK) Named for a bygone mag of the Victorian era, The Gentlewoman is a Brit-based title run by a Scot and produced by the Dutch. But forget its fashion cred—this beautiful biannual aims to revive long-form, lady-centric journalism. Meet its fearless editor, Penny Martin.
BY ALEXANDRA ILYASHOV
How did The Gentlewoman happen?
It’s produced by the stable that also owns Fantastic Man. Around its third or fourth year, there was talk—and perceptible enthusiasm—about a women’s version. The idea was a beautiful magazine for stylish women of purpose who actually had something to say. We’re not strictly a fashion magazine, and we’re not strictly a women’s title. Somehow we seem to have captured the positive aspects of both and create a hybrid that’s quite different. We came into being in autumn 2009, with a pilot issue in Fantastic Man, and put out the first issue in 2010. Our circulation is now 89,000, all over the world.
How did you get involved?
I’d contributed to Fantastic Man before, but I’d always just sort of circled the magazine. I knew it intimately, and had friends there, but was still wiggling my way into the family. I wasn’t adopted yet! At the time, I was editor of SHOWStudio and a professor.
Where did the name come from?
The Gentlewoman Home launched in the Victorian era and went kaput in the 1930s. It was one of the titles I looked after when I was the curator at the Women’s Library while getting my Ph. D. at the University of the Arts, which has the oldest collection of women’s magazines in the world.
What’s a gentlewoman?
A woman who oversees traditional ambitions and expectations of her gender, has good taste, likes interesting reads, and has an expansive view of the world.
What were the perks and perils of being a sister publication?
The benefits included a huge amount of press and enthusiasm before it even got published, and there were existing, strong relationships with supporters and advertisers. Plus, there was a contributor base in place. It was a challenge to make sure we weren’t parroting the language of Fantastic Man, and that it was truly a magazine for women.
How does the tone differ?
It’s quite dry and wry, to the point of being deadpan. That was also true of Fantastic Man—but they can afford to be more frivolous and camp because it’s a hilarious joke that they speak to men in the same language as traditional women’s magazines from the 1950s. If we did that in The Gentlewoman, it would seem like we were trying to write some kind of fey ladies etiquette journal.
In the first issue, people told me I had too much Céline. It was Phoebe Philo’s first collection, so my response was, ‘Well, why wouldn’t I?’
How have your peers responded?
Tom Ford took me out for a drink before Christmas and said, ‘I love your magazine. You’re not the average fashion editor, are you, Penny?’
How do you seek substance?
We love long-form, highly-considered, and extremely-edited journalism. We’re ambitious, not knocking out the same publication time after time. We don’t want to disguise novelty as consistency. We create it from scratch each time, so the magazine makes its own visual language issue by issue.
Were women’s mags of yesteryear more substantive?
There was definitely more emphasis on long-form journalism in the seventies. They weren’t necessarily trying to be more intellectual—they were reaching a broader audience. You can’t say that about women’s magazine’s today. They are about journalism turning inside itself, where editors write about themselves. I can’t think of anything more depressing than this bottoming-out of content. It’s a kind of journalist’s graveyard.
Could you ever see yourself at a mainstream title?
Do they have as much fun as I do?
Why are editors celebrified?
It’s our industry’s version of celebrity culture. It’s easy to look sideways and simply talk to the incredibly-dressed woman in the same room, instead of that winemaker or politician. It’s hard to interest them in being in a women’s magazine! There’s actually a huge distrust of the medium right now. Half of my job is talking women down from a tree, so to speak. They’re distrustful of how they’ll be portrayed and compromised in photos.
Any pivotal editorial moments?
In our first issue, with Phoebe Philo and Inez Van Lamsweerde, we showed creative, elegant women of this industry representing certain values. Then we did an Adele cover, which was a gift! We couldn’t have possibly foreseen the massive levels of success she’d rise to this year. Everyone was talking about how controversial it was that she was smoking—not one person talking about the fact that Adele is plus-sized. That alone felt like a massive achievement.
What’s the science to your mix of subjects and features?
We try to take a sartorial approach to fashion, and we don’t always have models. It’s one thing to stick a 15-year-old model into a sample size, but if you can make gorgeous but non-model-sized women feel great, I think that’s a bigger credit as an editor.
Who’s on your get list?
It’s something like a 16-page document. I genuinely like other women, and I don’t think that comes through in other publications. Yes, there’s room for wit, taste, pleasure, and novelty in fashion, but there’s also room for generosity. I like the idea that being fashionable and kind aren’t mutually exclusive.
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