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The Gentlewoman Speaks

The makers of Fantastic Man unveil their much anticipated sister publication at a chic Parisian salon

During the last leg of Paris Fashion week, at the luxurious Hotel de Clermont –Tonnerre; the beloved ‘Gentleman’s style journal’, the debonair and dashing Fantastic Man revealed his equally charming and fascinating sister, The Gentlewoman to the world. Though named after a particularly genteel magazine of the Victorian era; as spearheaded by newly installed editor-in-chief, Penny Martin, the magazine feels both contemporary and timeless. A point reinforced by a cover featuring the woman credited with bringing a much needed sense of purity and minimalism back to fashion, Phoebe Philo of Celine. Inside its elegant pages, conversations with women like Louise Gray and Alice Rawsthorn are shared alongside profiles on nightclub legend, Princess Julia and winemaker Sara Perez. Like Fantastic Man, the editorials eschew fantasy in favour of a more direct approach, and in one case, a showcase of “exquisite updos for the summer.” All told, it amounts to an enthralling few hours spent in the company of many different, intriguing and fantastic women. Dazed Digital shared a pot of tea with Penny Martin as she enlightened us as to what makes the Gentlewoman.

Dazed Digital: You were editor-in-chief of online magazine Showstudio and then a Professor of Fashion Imagery at the London College of Fashion. What made you want to dip your toes in the world of print publications?
Penny Martin: I was never entirely away from it. When I left Showstudio, I joined the London College of Fashion and got involved in two projects that were about magazine culture: ‘About A Boy’ about the work of Simon Foxton and ‘'SHOWstudio: fashion revolution' at Somerset House. I think I belong in a start-up team. I really enjoy the atmosphere and the shared responsibility of getting something off the ground. I’d been talking to Gert (Jonkers) and Jop (Van Bennekom) for a couple of years about the possibility of this project. I was on the phone to Jop about something else and he was saying that he was finally going to do this magazine and I felt this surge of “No, you can’t do it without me!”  (laughs) It was totally as primal and childish as that. I just knew that if there was a project for me, this was it. I obviously had my reservations because I had only edited an online magazine before and while there are similarities, there are loads of differences. Personally it’s been a huge challenge – I had to learn a lot in doing this job.

DD: There’s a quote from when you were at Showstudio where you said you chose it because magazines felt stagnant at the time. What made this project exciting for you?
Penny Martin: What I felt about online was that while there’s a plethora of opportunities to communicate different editorial ideas; ultimately with online, I started to feel the quality and the depth of the journalism was starting to go while attention was starting to be diverted by a whole lot of bells and whistles. I probably didn’t know it at the time but with online, there can be a culture of getting it up and onto the next thing. And that certainly won’t do in a print publication. So that felt like an incredible challenge – the return to content.

DD: While people are commenting on death of print media, there seems to be more memorable publications in the last couple of years, not just The Gentlewoman but others like The Last Magazine, Candy – why do you think that is?
Penny Martin: I hesitate to use the word “niche” but there’s always a space for fine quality publications that have a huge amount of interest in refining the product. These aren’t targeted at a mass audience but they are just in love with the magazine form.  And that’s exactly what Gert and Jop are – they are incredibly obsessed with magazines themselves.

DD: Is it a sense of collectability that will save magazines in an age of the internet?
Penny Martin: I am somebody who collects magazines, I have every Vogue since 1962. But in a way, I hope that people buy our magazine because they want it now. My own experience of Fantastic Man is I read it over and over again and I like that because it really speaks to you at the moment it’s published.

DD: Who has been inspirational to you as an editor?
Penny Martin: Anybody in print media would say The New Yorker. I hesitate to cite the famous ones like Diana Vreeland because if anything The Gentlewoman is about trying to look at your contemporaries rather than people from the past. And Gert and Jop obviously. Fantastic Man is absolutely famous in the industry for asking incredibly serious and respected journalists to rewrite their text. I never had to work so hard for anybody as them! My experience was really having to graft– they really think everything can be better a second or third time. It really shows in the product.

DD: Did you have an agenda in mind when you started this project?
Penny Martin: I didn’t have a manifesto when I started last October. I knew what I didn’t want and I knew what didn’t exist anymore in women’s publishing that I wanted to see.

DD: And what was that?
Penny Martin: I think the depth of personality-based articles, like you get in The New Yorker. You used to get that in women’s magazines in the 70’s but you don’t anymore. We started looking at those full scale portraits that used to exist in photojournalism where a woman’s head is practically talking to you off the page. I got quite excited about developing that for the front section. I wanted a universe of interesting women to be represented and feel like friends of the magazine. We wanted to show the women rather than the objects. Only when we started sketching that out that we realized that it was as if women’s speech didn’t exist in women’s publishing anymore. I was trying to think of examples where you really heard women moaning, chitty chatting, the range of ways women usually talk. That was one of the big ideas.

DD: And as for the look of the magazine – were there any inspirations?
Penny Martin: I was surprised we didn’t use any source material or references at all. Obviously we are a team that’s incredibly aware of what’s out there – past and present. We were much more led by the style of photography, a straightforward, direct style.  It’s its own woman if you know what I mean!

DD: What creative freedoms/restrictions does working under the Fantastic Man umbrella afford you?
Penny Martin: I haven’t felt any restrictions mainly because it was such a big task and it was a case of grabbing all the resources we could! Time was one of the biggest constraints. But the freedoms come from working with an incredibly skilled and ambitious team who really know what they’re doing. And the benefit of everyone from advertisers to contributors wanting this thing to happen. There was a groundswell of goodwill towards this project.

DD: Was it difficult to get the tone right for The Gentlewoman?
Penny Martin: In a way we spent a lot of time talking about what we thought the voice would be and you’re choosing writers that have a tenor that is appropriate to what you like. There’s a whole front section that’s about women’s conversations so you’re literally hearing the sound of women talking to each other and by the time you get to the profiles you’ve got very singular people writing about other women. And so a tone starts to suggest itself. We were straightforward and perhaps more direct than Fantastic Man which of course uses the language of historic women’s magazines to talk to men. But it didn’t work with The Gentlewoman. I’m probably more deadpan in my style personally. I think we have a subtle lustre.
DD: What makes a magazine modern?
Penny Martin: I think it’s to do with the subjects that you choose. Feeling shoulder to shoulder with the person you’re reading about, rather than feeling that they’re of a previous generation where they’ve achieved something so amazing you could never hope to emulate or somebody so intangible and glamorous and beyond your ken. A directness and timeliness is difficult to get right.

DD: How do women like Melanie Ward (from the pilot issue) and Phoebe Philo sum up the Gentlewoman ethos?
Penny Martin: That’s a difficult one to answer. Well, you’ve picked two fashion names. The ethos is having one part fashion to four parts other things. It’s to suggest that these are incredible women of purpose and they’re elegant and clever and they’re really achieving things but that it’s not wholly in a fashion bubble and there are loads of women in other fields that are equally impressive and gorgeous and fun to read about. They’re women with a bit of a story, they’re not just young starlets with little to say. They have actually achieved something and that other women admire. I think that probably is the ethos -  a whole bunch of incredible women, some that you already knew about and had a special place in your heart and then people that you didn’t even know about. We wanted to reflect a slightly bigger universe – it feels like fashion has closed it on itself again. We want it to open itself out a bit again like the magazines we used to love.