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Smart magazine for women carves out niche amid swarm of celebrity and gossip mags

The editor-in-chief of “Riposte” magazine is tossing aside photoshop and diet trends for an eclectic mix of awe-inspiring stories about women

It’s difficult to stroll down a magazine aisle without coming to the same, discouraging conclusion that’s been reached in recent years: women’s magazines can objectify women just as routinely as their male-centric counterparts. Headlines may vary from month to month, but topics cycle through a fairly predictable rotation of dieting, sex and celebrity gossip. And paging beyond heavily photoshopped covers can leave women and girls feeling worse about themselves, rather than empowered or inspired.

One magazine, Riposte, offers an alternative. The bi-annual publication is a unique take on the concept of what a women’s magazine can and should be. The magazine features interviews with energized and daring women from a wide range of fields and professions. The most recent issue features stuntwoman Zoë Bell, MoMA’s senior curator Paola Antonelli, a group of master women perfumers, and a series of illustrated stories on desire and fantasy in collaboration with the Anonymous Sex Journal.

Each issue of Riposte is an attractively designed combination of text and stunning visuals. Photographs of women aren’t photoshopped, proving portraits don’t need to be manipulated to evoke elegance. Riposte is printed on high-quality paper, and feels like a coffee table mainstay rather than a tabloid. As more and more publications transition online and many question the future of print, magazines like Riposte are proving the old model still has life left in it.

Leading the publication is editor-in-chief Danielle Pender, who launched Riposte in 2013. Alongside her is a creative team, that includes designer Shaz Madani. Women in the World caught up with Pender over email to discuss how Riposte got started, and what readers can look forward to next.

WITW: Tell us a bit about your background as editor-in-chief. Where did Riposte begin? 

Danielle Pender: I studied history of modern art, film and design at university and worked as a curator of exhibitions before launching Riposte.

I was going on holiday a couple of years ago and at the airport when I was looking for something to read on the plane I had an epiphany moment. I was faced with a wall of women’s magazines that were  — mostly pink — full of fashion, beauty, made up stories about celebrities and very little else. I realized I was buying a lot more men’s magazines, or art/design/culture titles, as the range of topics were a lot more interesting and varied than they were in women’s magazines.

WITW: What did you notice was missing from other magazines being marketed to women?

DP: I felt that even if women’s magazines struck out and featured an interesting woman outside of the usual model, actress, pointless celebrity, they always still asked them reductive and boring questions about their children/childcare/wardrobe/beauty regime. I know lots of amazing, inspiring women but I didn’t see them reflected back in women’s media.

WITW: What about in the art and design world? What have you noticed about the representation of female artists in design and other print mediums?

DP: I think women across the board are still underrepresented. If there is a woman from a certain discipline who has built up a strong media profile, she is rolled out again and again. There doesn’t seem to be much effort put into researching a wider canon of names and talent. I’m really passionate about finding those women who do incredible things, who are behind the well-known organizations, but who you’ve possibly not heard of.

WITW: Where does your team look for inspiration when curating, commissioning, and conceptualizing a new issue?

DP: For the “meetings” section of Riposte we have a long list of women we love and keep adding to it when the team finds someone new. We then cut it down for each issue to women who we think will work well together or whose stories offer a wide range of voices.

We have quite a diverse team of contributors so our content ideas reflect this. We’re not scared of surprising people with what we feature. In the same way that people no longer only identify with one tribe or only listen to one genre of music, the scope of what people want to read about is widening and as a publisher that’s really exciting. In terms of commissioning artwork and artists, we always start with the content and look for creatives whose style lends itself to the themes or tone of the issue.

WITW: Though each of your issues is unique, what’s a larger conversation that Riposte is continually engaged in?

DP: We’re trying to offer a new way to talk to and about women. We want to inspire our readers with stories of women who are bold and fascinating – who are carving a life or career out for themselves on their own terms. We celebrate the women we feature for who they are, not what they look like, and their achievements speak for themselves. Everything we do comes back to this. Our text-based cover reflects our interest in what the women we feature have to say rather than what they’re wearing and we don’t photoshop our images. You can take a beautiful photograph of an older woman without retouching her image or patronizing her. Although the women we speak to are inspiring and brilliant we don’t put them on a pedestal. There is still a very approachable and human feel to our interviews and articles, they are honest and we don’t shy away from discussing failures and fears.

WITW: What are the challenges involved in printing a magazine in a digital age, when most publications have moved online?

DP: There are always challenges with distribution but we have some good partners that we work with to make this process easier. There has been a resurgence in independent print and there’s definitely a growing audience for a well designed and produced magazine with a distinct tone of voice.

WITW: What do you think as readers we gain from consuming content in print? What about it is different from experiencing content online?

DP: I think that as our lives have become so consumed with digital devices and the online experience that people have begun to crave something a little more tangible. People are looking to spend more time offline or have a digital detox and I think this is behind the rise in interest in independent print.

All of our copy is accompanied by exclusively commissioned visuals by talented photographers, illustrators or set designers. The interviews and features are often long form and roll out over 10-12 pages on heavy stock so it’s an experience that can’t be rivaled online. I think we’re getting to the point where it isn’t an online versus print situation. Both mediums are great for different reasons and if, as a publisher, you can leverage the unique benefits and experience of print, then your readers respond well.

WITW: What can readers look forward to in the current and upcoming issues of Riposte? What are you looking forward to exploring or examining?

DP: Our current issue features a cast of such brilliant and powerful women. We speak to young innovators with ideas about the future. In our meetings section we speak to the funny and fearless news reporter Lindsey Hilsum about her life on the frontline. We meet perfumers who take us through the science of scent, we look at how we raise boys and how they’re often excluded from the conversation about equality and there’s a really interesting conversation about power — exploring what it is and who has it — which took place at the House of Lords in London. I’m looking forward to continuing to introduce our readers to women they’ve not yet heard of and to getting under the skin of some well known names. There’s a place for a new kind of women’s magazine because I refuse to believe that all women want to read about is diets, rehashed fashion trends and where Kim Kardashian’s butt has been that weekend.

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