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As editor in chief of The Gentlewoman, Penny Martin’s manners are failing her. Actually she is being perfectly polite, but a request for an interview is slowly cogitated, and then rebuffed. It’s London Fashion Week and she’s simply far too busy. I hear she is hugely politically aware, but also takes enormous pleasure from the exuberance and pomposity of the fashion industry. I’d probably enjoy talking to her, but she’s a woman on a mission and has no time for a tête-à-têtê.

“Penny is super-smart, funny and considerate,” urges her great friend, the journalist Andrew Tucker, joined by a coterie of admirers—all effusive in their admiration for this staunch and upright character. Publishers, writers, photographers and academics—people from every strand of her life—are united in fulsome praise. They call her ‘uncompromising’, ‘brilliant’, and a ‘powerhouse of ideas’. They eulogise about her professional virtues and personal charm with such gusto it’s hard to believe this person isn’t running the country. “Penny is one of the smartest people in fashion,” says author and lecturer Hywel Davies; while British fashion journalist Iain R. Webb declares “she has a clarity of vision that is an imperative for a successful magazine editor. Her ambition is contagious.”

Penny Martin is certainly the most academic magazine editor you’re ever likely to come across. She did a PhD on Women’s Magazines of the 1980s at the Royal College of Art, and worked at the University of Arts in London where she presided as Chair of Fashion Imagery at London College of Fashion. Add to the CV her important curatorial roles, work as a brand adviser, and her notable tenure as editor of SHOWstudio, and the trajectory is clear. She is clever and creative.

If there were an average reader of The Gentlewoman it would be Martin herself: educated, independent and emphatically anti-fantasy. The 44-year-old Scot was hired for her intellect and taste, and went on to produce an intelligent fashion magazine for adult women, filled with edifying content and subdued imagery. She wasn’t interested in the dumb consumer as fashion slave. “We’re defined by what we’re not,” she said in 2010, and that has certainly rung true.

The Gentlewoman is the independent wife of Dutch men’s style title Fantastic Man. “It’s challenging, beguiling and has a sly sense of fun,” says Tucker, “so unlike a lot of fashion titles, particularly independent ones, the writing and imagery share equal billing. In some titles the text is almost an afterthought or an accompaniment to the main fashion editorials, not so at The Gentlewoman. In fact, nothing is gratuitous there.”

Webb concurs: “It was launched with perfect timing; a moment of stealth glamour and understated elegance, when style overshadowed fashion. It is a perfect fit for the urbane modernist who appears to know her Pravda from her Prada. The Gentlewoman’s aspiration as a fashion magazine for real, intelligent women is an extremely seductive proposition.”

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