Penny Martin and her gentlewomen.
PENNY MARTIN: A SCHOLAR AND A GENTLEWOMAN
The ultimate magazine for the modern woman? Mattie Kahn sat down with the Gentlewoman’s editor-in-chief, Penny Martin, to talk about womanhood and scary clothing.
Real estate on Penny Martin’s desk is in high demand. Tucked into her corner office at headquarters of The Gentlewoman—the biannual bible over which Martin presides—the slim tabletop is stacked with mock-ups, notepads, and a handful of trinkets. Still, Martin has managed to carve out space for an old-fashioned Rolodex on its crowded surface. Set in the shadow of a sleek iMac display, the artifact is a perfect metaphor. Like the magazine it stands for, the object is elegant, deliberate, and pragmatic. It gets the job done – but beautifully.
The Gentlewoman is not the average fashion glossy. Founded by Gert Jonkers and Jop van Bennekom, the same Dutch duo that dreamed up cult men’s magazine Fantastic Man, the magazine is intelligent and sophisticated and utterly reflective of its fearless leader. Martin tapped Angela Lansbury to cover one issue. Beyoncé fronted another. The most recent volume features a grinning Vivienne Westwood in a knit cap and a meditation on a folding coat hanger.
The woman who currently tops the masthead at London-based book earned her PhD over a decade ago, chaired the Fashion Imagery Department at London College of Fashion, and helmed Nick Knight's paradigm-shifting SHOWstudio website. A product of her keen intuition, The Gentlewoman has earned its reputation as a paper-and-ink haven for the modern woman. H&M Life sat down with Martin to talk dinner parties, divas, and the makings of a true gentlewoman today.
YOU’VE INTERVIEWED A LOT OF INCREDIBLE WOMEN FOR THE GENTLEWOMAN. WHICH PROFILES HAVE YOU MOST ENJOYED WRITING?
”I really enjoyed doing [the] Judy Murray [piece]. I like the fact that we have the opportunity to direct warmth towards women that sometimes aren’t treated that well in the media. That gives me a lot of pleasure. It was great to run the Yoko Ono profile, for instance, in Issue 2. Obviously, I interviewed [Céline designer] Phoebe [Philo for Issue 1], which was very big. I had a great trip up to where Tilda [Swinton] lives in North Scotland. I think maybe I’m most pleased with the profile I did of [photographer] Inez van Lamsweerde. She’s pretty extraordinary and she was happy to expose rather a lot of herself—quite literally—for the piece. Those are all examples where I felt there was quite a connection that I had with the person, which made it quite pleasurable to interview them.
DO YOU FEEL THE MAGAZINE OPERATES WITH A SPECIFIC DEFINITION OF “WOMANHOOD” IN MIND?
”A definition? No. But I think we probably work with a set of attributes or qualities that guide us. In terms of choosing [women to profile], you’re looking for people that you suspect are happy to come up close to the camera and be at ease during the interview rather than be incredibly retouched and mediated, which never produces anything very interesting. We don’t want to commission pieces about people having salads in restaurants or sitting in hotel lobbies, you know? We want somebody who is intelligent and is a great conversationalist and is generous with her time and access. It’s about choosing people that feel like they’re doing things.”
WHAT STYLE OF CLOTHING DO YOU TEND TO GRAVITATE TOWARDS?
”I must say I enjoy seeing clothing that somebody has lived with rather than just put on as a trend. I like when I get the feeling that somebody has cultivated an object and sort of established it in her wardrobe rather than looked for novelty. I like to see people really own their clothes. It’s awful to see someone look scared—like they haven’t made the right decision in the morning.”
WHO WOULD BE ON YOUR DREAM DINNER PARTY GUEST LIST?
”I think probably the people [we’ve put] in the magazine! That’s the only way to do it. That’s ultimately what the exercise is of making up the magazine. It is like planning a dinner party. Who is not going to be overbearing? You can’t have two really loud ones. Then, you need a good dancer and so-and-so’s going to dress really well. You know, it’s not unlike that. But, really, what better parlour game is there than planning a magazine or a guest list?”
WHY DOES FASHION MATTER TO YOU? WHAT ABOUT IT SUSTAINS YOU?
”At its best, working in fashion is a bit like the most illuminating elements of archival research without the drudgery of nailing it down in a thesis. Very little is definitive. You exist in a highly addictive sea of extreme visual pleasure and intellectual curiosity with a sense of lightness that's brought by the fact that every six months, everyone burns down what they've just created and starts all over again. You know, I don't think it is a very sustainable environment for some personalities in the long term but when it's really working, it’s a very sunny and delicious place to be.”
Issue no. 10 of Gentlewoman, Autumn and Winter 2014, is out now and features Swedish pop star Robyn on the cover. Visit their website here.
Mattie Kahn is one of our favourite writers. If you’ve missed her columns for H&M Life, you can check them all out here.