RE\READING: The Gentlewoman and the New Femininity


a selection of gentlewoman selfies that found their way into the author's feed, including her own 

There has been a lot of focus on one stippled wax cover this spring amongst my female friends, both in conversation and online. Everyone is rapturous over the newest issue of the Gentlewoman, with fashion designer Vivienne Westwood on the cover grinning toothily from beneath a snug cap.  As in all of the Gentlewoman’s covers, art directed by the now legendary Dutch publishing team of Jop van Bennekom and Gert Jonkers, the hi-contrast black and white image of the cover girl is set in-frame against a brightly colored background, this time red, and the soft approachability of its lower case title. 

But what is “the gentlewoman?

A biannual magazine, ostensibly of fashion, The Gentlewoman is now in its fifth year.  Their website signals that the magazine “celebrates women of style and purpose,” perhaps a slightly different framing of the fashion magazine than traditionally fashion-house driven tomes.  Each issue is focused primarily on interview-driven profiles of different women across professional fields, albeit still with a bent towards the creative and enviously luxurious.  These figures, in the most recent issue ranging from Verde Visconti, communications and special projects head of Miu Miu, to Scottish national tennis coach Judy Murray, are interspersed with the typical beauty, fashion and lifestyle editorials we expect from the “women’s magazine” typology, but turned on their head.

Each model depicted in Spring 2014 sundresses lounging on the suspiciously well-kept grass of LA’s Griffith Park, for example, was also given their own page-length interview on the subject of their choice. The byline convention of introducing figures like stylists, photographers and interviewers with their own snappy bios reveals the deus ex machine to a humanizing and inspiring degree. And the cocktail interlude, rather than a mixologist profile or similar, was an empowered take on the pleasures of drinking alone in bars. A subject that might feel cheap or suspiciously Sex-in-the-City-Third-Waver in the wrong hands, was elevated to by the selection of feminist journalist Ann Friedman as its author.


Clearly, I’m a fan.

But so, it seems, is everyone else.  Regardless of taste or subculture or outside magazine preference (I, for example, typically balk at traditional fashion magazine, with a year’s work of shrink-wrapped Vogues from some airline miles promotion in my apartment to prove it), most of my female friends are outspoken and ardent fans.

The magazine has, in fact, developed a subtle language of feminine, or even feminist, camaraderie in its fandom.  It is a club of womanhood that I think many of us aspire to take part in. One that’s into the “right things,”—Céline, @lil_tau_au, rye whiskey, Beyoncé, Alasdair McLellan’s photography—yes, but also one that’s genuinely invested in a holistically female-centric approach with a slightly off sense of humor.  A remarkably large percentage of profiles, for example, are of women over 50. The award-winning cover of issue six featured Angela Lansbury in starched sateen and aviators, simultaneously celebrating her infectious energy and sensitively unpacking exactly why her1980s exercise video is so damn funny.

It was such an “a ha” moment to learn that editor in chief Penny Martin is, way beyond a fashion week accessory, herself an academic, holding a Ph.D. in Art History from the Royal College of Art. Martin actually did her dissertation work on a visual history of fashion magazines. Eventually lured out of a teaching and curatorial career to helm The Gentlewoman, she displays a sensitivity for exactly the silent language that media can provide,here discussing the evolution of magazine culture:

“I remember a time when they were less of a feel-bad experience. 'That feeling of closing a magazine and thinking, ‘I'm the wrong class, the wrong age, the wrong size, the wrong economic background, the wrong educational background.’ You know, that crushing disappointment. And meanwhile the sound of shoes-shoes-shoes ringing in your ears… Grim.”

That this subtle language has manifested itself today in Instagram photos is hardly surprising.

Can I just tell you how many physical copies of the new Gentlewoman have passed through my feed in the last several months? Self-styled, of course, with food and lattes and fresh cut flowers, we want to express our good taste, smarts and solidarity with Martin’s cause.

I’m still working out just what this language means in plain English, both for publishing culture and women in general, but it seems to signal a new figuration of overt femininity–even girlishness—we desire without suppressing or lessening intelligence, across the board professionalism (from designers to CEOs) or an outspoken support of feminist issues.  I’m curious to continue following their features to watch which writers, philanthropists and activists are featured alongside the fashion models the next time out—as well as what new style I should cop, of course.


Do you like this post?

Be the first to comment