For Feminism Friday this week, I couldn’t resist sharing this fascinating video interview with The Gentlewoman editor-in-chief Penny Martin, that was conducted by SHOWstudio editor Lou Stoppard as part of their ‘In Fashion’ series.
Martin admits to not being interested in ‘fashion’ as a teenager, but that she and her peers were reveling in the power of clothes, especially clothes and music. She talks candidly about her career, about following a particular path and it taking years to work out what was right for her, rather than what she ought to do. She has worked as a curator, writer and academic at a wide variety of places including the Fawcett Library – which holds copies of the earliest women’s magazines – SHOWstudio and London College of Fashion. On asking women to be photographed for The Gentlewoman, she says:
Any fool can make a fifteen year old look good in a sample, let’s put that to the side. The real work is making women look great and feel confident in clothes that weren’t designed for their bodies. We commission unexpected women – scientists, astronauts […] Now already they’re thinking how they’re going to be represented. First of all they’re not going to have an option of wearing their own clothes. They’re going to think, ‘You’re going to force me into something that I don’t really like and I feel really uncomfortable and then I sit on the set and the stylist comes over and the hair and make-up and everybody’s watching me thinking ‘Oh God she’s really big” or y’know whatever. That’s what they think they’re going to have to go through. And then they’re going to get on to the set and they won’t really like the pictures and then they’re going to go back into their profession and they’re going to go to a conference where they’re representing, y’know… ‘Women in Urology’ and there going to think that they’re male colleagues are saying [sniggers] ‘Did you see that picture of her in that women’s magazine’ and they think they’re going to undo all the work they did in their career by associating with fashion. That they’re actually vain and vapid after all. Don’t forget their Fields Medal or whatever it was they got, or Nobel Peace Prize nomination. They were in the women’s pages of a newspaper and they looked foolish. So that’s what happens as soon as I ring up.
Martin also discusses different aspects of feminism, working with the controversial photographer Terry Richardson, and the ways in which women’s magazines can improve. The Gentlewoman treats its readers like people rather than consumers – I hope that what they’re doing inspires change in the industry.