From the team that put together Fantastic Man, the launch of The Gentlewoman was always going to attract attention. And with academic and all-round fashion heavyweight Penny Martin involved, it was inevitable that this was going to be a title that would do something special.
Perhaps because of Ms Martin’s particular academic background or perhaps for entirely different reasons, it is interesting to see that The Gentlewoman has kicked off with a strong sense of the multidisciplinary about it. For example, it’s opening shot declaring ‘Modernist’ on the cover –and linking it with designer Phoebe Philo inside- signals a strong connection with the cultural zeitgeist in more than just the arena of fashion. Architecture and contemporary art have been reappraising the failed ideologies of Modernism for quite some time now and The Gentlewoman subtly works this into a fashion context.
Inside, David Sims’ rather personal portraits of Phoebe Philo, whose dynamic creative direction of Celine was a welcome antidote for the failing luck of the luxury brand, are a perfect accompaniment to the reconsideration of a modernist position in fashion. Phoebe Philo becomes a latter day Eileen Grey or Charlotte Perriand captured in quiet moments thinking up a perfect design solution to the challenges of everyday life.
A modernist position in women’s’ fashion is, of course, an interesting one; balancing form and function with the cultural demands linking decoration to social identity. Naturally, there have always been designers that – whether self-declared modernists or not- could be linked more clearly with the tenets of modernism than the decorative traditions of haute couture. Jil Sander, for example could be seen as one, which also perhaps explains her ‘revival’ contemporaneous to the redevelopment of the meta-narrative that Modernism can be a good thing. Or, to some extent, explain the hunger for younger designers such as Veronique Branquinho in the past decade.
The truth is that there have always been designers – interestingly enough, many of them women- who have tended towards a vision of fashion in which form, function, practicality, simplicity and an almost intellectual defiance of the idea that sexy need be decorative became a kind of creed. The other truth is that they have often existed as a kind of niche within the larger picture of fashion. Jean Muir, Jil Sander or Veronique Branquinho; designers that have often appealed to educated, thinking professional women.
So, in seeing The Gentlewoman launch straight into the debate on the possibility of ‘a modern women’s fashion’ once more it’s reassuring to see that it plans to get straight to the heart of the matter. And, glancing through the rest of the content, one might even suspect that, like these designers, it recognizes a certain market it plans to capture. The philosophy of Fantastic Man – pared down to an almost excruciating simplicity at times- would make it a natural sister, appealing to educated, thinking women who had more in common with the ideas of Modernism than frothy frivolity.
Feminists once accused women’s magazines of exploiting women by selling them aspirations of a physical beauty they could never achieve. So one wonders now whether things haven’t come full circle. Will The Gentlewoman be able to sell the aspiration of an unattainable intelligence to more than those for whom it is a possible reality? On the assumption that the ratios of physical beauty and intelligence in women are roughly equal, The Gentelwoman will surely need to exploit some stupid women who aspire to be intelligent in order to financially survive. You do the math.
On the other hand, it’s a beautifully intelligent and intelligently beautiful gesture nonetheless.