3 July 2010

The Gentlewoman: A Gentleman's Review

The Gentlewoman Magazine
Edited by Penny Martin

What with the global recession apparently reducing us to banker-hating, penny-saving, quietly tutting individuals devoid of any real hope (the papers really do make for bleak reading), one would be forgiven for thinking that the folk behind the appropriately named Fantastic Man are somewhat crazy for taking a risk with their new publication The Gentlewoman. From every corner one is bombarded with the message that paper media is dying out, that to survive publications must go digital, and indeed there is much evidence to support this. Yet there is something to be said for the tangible, almost romantic, nature of print, of the experience of lifting pages to reveal the wonders that lay beyond.

I do not simply purchase magazines. I collect magazines.

My shelves bear witness to an obsession with the neatly arranged Vogue and Monocle editions standing alongside a number of other magazines whose covers, designs, editorials or articles seduced me on an individual basis. Just as books are beautiful objects in themselves (who could not be inspired by a beautifully arranged bookshelf?), I find a beauty in the good design of certain magazines.

More important than good design is however the quality of the writing and imagery within those beautiful objects. Whilst there are many objects I would, and do, collect based on their aesthetic merits alone, a magazine or book serves a dual purpose (just like clothing, or architecture...or tea cups), upon the quality of which I place my decision.

As a brand new magazine, from a background in which I had faith, I eagerly bought the first ever issue of The Gentlewoman. As an object alone the magazine was appealing, with its minimalist and clean design being far from cold, but rather warm and inviting. The cover shot of Phoebe Philo lying back, with her head turned gently towards the viewer, is understated yet delightfully pretty. Indeed the decision for an understated covershot is rather a unique one these days. I have to admit that some of the Fantastic Man covers, in their relative unassuming nature, have left me scratching my head, however I appreciate the reasoning behind such decisions. The cover itself lacks that overly busy and distracting fuzz that makes me avoid certain magazines altogether.

I was hopefully optimistic by what I saw, and it was with an eager anticipation that I carefully pulled back the front cover...

"Elegantly side-stepping the passive and cynical cool of recent decades, The Gentlewoman champions the optimism, sincerity and ingenuity that actually gets things done. These are the upbeat and pragmatic qualities defining gentlewomen of today"

Editorial letter

I was delighted to see that the magazine was edited by Penny Martin. Many may most immediately recognize the name from her years as editor in chief at SHOWstudio, or else her various contributions to a number of fashion and style magazines (she is currently a member of the research staff at London College of Fashion). I personally enjoyed reading an interview with her conducted in an issue of Valerie Steele's Fashion Theory.

Penny Martin's editor's letter was friendly and accessible in tone, laying out the ideas behind The Gentlewoman. I have included an excerpt above which I found particularly interesting. The "cynical cool" that she refers to is something I have found rather problematic with a number of publications these past few years. Certain magazines can often seem rather elitist and inaccessible to many, and I feel that attitude can turn people away from fashion. Of course it is more the nature behind style magazines, as opposed to fashion magazines, however it is something that is all too common these days.

As such I found the recognition and challenging of that notion wonderfully refreshing and inviting. The magazine sets out to celebrate the women of today in an accessible and rather intimate manner. It is filled with a sense of optimism and celebration that I find almost magical.

The magazine is neatly split into three sections, with the first taking the form of one-on-one interviews with an interesting range of personas including fashion designer, illustrator, model and design critic. The intimate black and white portraits set the tone perfectly for the interviews which accompany them. It was refreshing to see such an accessible and inviting set of interviews. The sincerity that Martin sets out in her editor's letter is clearly apparent. I actually rather like reading interviews so directly, feeling that actual write ups can often obscure the nature of the interviewee (of course a good write up can also add to the nature of that interviewee by describing their gestures and manner outside of speech alone).

I enjoyed the easy reading of the interviews which were thankfully diverse in subjects and persons interviewed. I think the major strength of the magazine was the actual content and style of articles. It was nice to see such intelligent writing (which sounds rather snobbish, however the number of articles lacking any real depth in many magazines is rather disappointing to behold - I realize that is quite the angry critique, however it is something I do honestly feel). I suppose for a biannual publication I was perhaps expecting a few more articles, as the magazine felt on the thinner side on the whole. However the quality of the writing was such that I did not actively feel like there was any great amount of additional content missing.

The fashion editorials were typically understated, yet intriguing and well crafted. Indeed it followed the intimate tone of the magazine nicely and was oddly relaxing to behold. The jewelry shoot allowed individual pieces to make quite the visual statement. Far from having lots of pieces crowding the page in some multicoloured, obscenely expensive melange, the decision was taken to shoot pieces individually in the hands of a male model. I also quite enjoyed the editorial where clothing was presented in the absence of any models. Clothing takes on a whole different quality when viewed in relationship with the body, so it was certainly an interesting decision to remove that element.

I think Penny Martin has taken quite the risk with The Gentlewoman, in that it is so different from the majority of fashion-oriented magazines out there. Yet for me it is that distinction which makes it so successful. Although I wish there had been a greater number of articles, and that the magazine was not simply a biannual offering, overall it was a great read and collector's purchase. I look forward to the next issue, and would certainly recommend people to buy it if the opportunity should arise.

Intimate, inviting and friendly - definitely the perfect evening read when curled up with a cup of good tea and a fluffy cat.

Currently playing: Chaiyya Chaiyya - Dil Se OST



  1. I'm going to have to find myself a copy of this magazine. I collect favorite publications and issues as well. There is something of a nostalgic romantic nature to them.

  2. A very interesting nostalgic piece.

  3. This is fabulous - I have a stack of Vogue, Vanity Fair, and W magazines that I've held on to, because I still feel inspired when reading through them again.
    Your pictures and descriptions of the publication are fabulous, and provide a little peak into what is offered! Lovely job, darling.

  4. really cool and so nostalgic.

  5. The way you've written this review makes me want to buy this magazine.
    Sounds quite interesting!!!
    And very well done post.

    Hope you're having a nice weekend


  6. it does look like a collector's piece, i like my magazines to be collector worthy too

  7. Hey guys I just get the latest issue of The Gentlewoman that it is now available at http://www.magazinecafestore.com here is the link for anyone who wants it!!


  8. There's no doubt, the dude is absolutely just.