How I Got Here: Penny Martin

The editor in chief of The Gentlewoman talks to CR about shifting from a career in curating and academia to magazines, by way of seminal fashion website SHOWstudio. Plus tips on making a mag in the digital age

Penny Martin is an editor, writer and curator. Before diving into the world of fashion and editorial, she trod the path of academia, taking up roles as a collections curator at the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television, and the National Women’s Library.  

Martin’s career path took a swift turn though in 2001 when fashion photographer Nick Knight approached her to work at SHOWstudio as editor. The platform intended to revolutionise how people digested fashion content online, and Martin was responsible for setting the editorial agenda for the fashion content website. 

In 2010, she was offered The Gentlewoman editor-in-chief role, which was to be a sister publication to Fantastic Man. It set out to offer an alternative to the women’s magazines that filled the shelves at the time and has grown into a beacon of style for the modern woman. “It’s a magazine for readers who enjoy long-form, personality-centred journalism, and candid photography of what women really look like,” Martin tells CR. “The agenda to depict and talk about the work of women role models continues to be an important project. So in those respects, I think origins continue to be relevant to what we do know. The look of it changes, but that’s about being timely. But our purpose is the same.” 

To encapsulate this notion Martin and the team recently launched Modern Manners: Instructions for Living Fabulously Well, published by Phaidon. In the book is a selection of essays from past contributors to The Gentlewoman that offer thought-provoking insights for the modern woman on matters both old and new. Here, Martin talks to us about the big moments in her career and the role of magazines in the digital age. 

Portrait of Penny Martin by Liz Collins

On coming late to fashion Apart from seeing them in the doctor’s waiting room, I don’t think I really picked up a fashion magazine until I went to stay with my elder cousin. I was in a play at Mayfest in Glasgow, when I was 17, and her flatmates all bought Vogue, so that was the first time I sat down and read a fashion magazine.