We had a big year. For many, 2021 will be remembered as an in-between year, a year in limbo, 12 months where so much happened that it felt like nothing did. For Ensemble, it was a challenging but truly defining one - we further established who we are and what we stand for, we ‘went viral’, and we secured a future. And of course, we did much of it from home, in lockdown.
In August Ensemble celebrated its first birthday, and we announced that it had been acquired by Stuff - allowing us to keep doing what we do well and to grow, with the support and resources of the locally owned media organisation. Since then we have seen our audience and brand visibility grow exponentially, and we’re excited for what’s ahead in 2022.
Our unique lifestyle journalism has continued to resonate with our incredible and loyal readers who continue to teach us so much. We also reached new audiences from Aotearoa and around the world, with our stories being shared by globally influential platforms and figureheads including the Guardian, Diet Prada, Clementine Ford, Bryan Boy and Lainey Gossip.
There were other, ‘extremely niche’ pieces that connected deeply with some, and stories that sparked conversations on other media platforms. We like to think of these stories as truly defining Ensemble’s ‘Ensemble-ness’ - that is, our ‘intelligence and whimsy’ balance - from the story that attempted to answer the question ‘What’s up with all those seal sculptures around NZ?’, to the op-ed looking at ‘How Covid, QAnon and white supremacy destroyed the wellbeing industry’.
As this strange year comes to a close we wanted to look back on the wide-ranging journalism Ensemble has showcased - and we were surprised and proud of what we’ve managed to achieve. This list is just a taster of some of the stories we published, but they are the ones that were the most-read, widely shared and highly engaged - keep scrolling for the full list.
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We’d also love to hear what you enjoyed most about Ensemble in 2021, and what you’d like to see more of next year - get in touch with us here.
15. WTF is cheugy?
This year Ensemble co-founder Zoe spent way too much time on TikTok, becoming obsessed with and writing about various social media trends from ‘coconut girls’ to ‘the feminine urge’. This simple explainer story was sparked by the growing social media conversation around the word ‘cheugy’, looking at it through a localised lens (ours was one of the earliest). Let’s just say that our (lovingly written) list of ‘NZ cheug’ hit a nerve with a lot of you…
This year there were lots of stories from global media outlets about the ‘great resignation’, with Covid, lockdowns and the pressures of working from home apparently encouraging many to quit their jobs in a bid to recalibrate a work/life balance - and to question what ‘success’ actually means now. In January we published this brilliant essay from talented writer and creative Litia Tuiburelevu exploring similar themes, and why it’s time to dismantle the system obsessed with hyper-productivity, perfectionism and a narrow definition of success.
Unsurprisingly, ‘where to find a face mask’ was a key search trend again this year, with most websites attempting to get ‘ranked’ by Google with their own list of local options (we did it too). This shoot, however, was meant to be more of a statement about normalising mask use, having been out in our Auckland neighbourhoods and being frustrated by the lack of them during level 3. Photographer and stylist Rob Tennent safely photographed some of his flatmates and friends wearing mask options from local designers to go about their regular daily tasks, from popping to the diary for milk and flowers to getting a coffee. We believe the best fashion editorials act as a snapshot of the time in which they were photographed, and this did just that.
When supermodel Doutzen Kroes spouted anti-vaccine sentiment under the guise of ‘freedom’ on her Instagram, it tapped a nerve in Rebecca who’d been pondering the question of why ‘beautiful people’ were so pious about their health at the expense of others. After we posed the question on Instagram a follower, Laura, answered, “privilege. And the fact that we’ve looked up and valued people who are perceived as good looking, rather than valuing knowledge and the opinions of people with the requisite expertise”. And that, dear readers, is why we love our readers: they sum up in one articulate paragraph what we agonised over for days! A lovely companion piece to this story is from writer Sherry Zhang who explored what happens to businesses, individuals and influencers when they are vocally pro-vax.
Ensemble co-founder Zoe is what you would call a big media nerd, eagerly following the shifts and tribulations of the industry both at a local and international level. Given that you’re reading Ensemble, you will not be surprised to hear that she's particularly interested in magazines and 'women's interest' media - which has had a reckoning in recent years, being forced to continually face up to and answer for its elitism and lack of diversity. This fiery op-ed was written in frustration at watching in real time three of her journalistic heroes, Alexandra Shulman, Leandra Medine and Hadley Freeman, fall from grace, having refused to adapt to the societal and cultural shifts occurring in media and beyond.
We have to be honest - our fashion shoots don’t always rate super highly, but we know that as a style platform and as leaders in the industry, creating our own original fashion imagery is essential and valuable. This fun, completely unretouched shoot with model Kama was partly a response to the hyper-glossy, soulless and unrealistic swimwear shoots we were so used to and disillusioned by seeing in fashion magazines all the time. Clearly, the warmth and realism of these images connected, and we still receive messages about them.
We were thrilled when Karen Inderbitzen-Waller messaged us to say that she was planning to photograph actor and Amnesty International activist Nazanin while she was in Aotearoa filming Lord of the Rings - and wanted to publish it on an intelligent platform like Ensemble that would truly understand and appreciate what she stood for. The resulting shoot and story were both beautiful and thought-provoking, and is still widely liked and shared by Nazanin’s fans on Twitter.
We always have a strong response whenever we write about women’s health, whether it’s about being diagnosed with breast cancer, the reality of menopause, or poo. We believe that’s because we always try to approach it in an honest, dignified and accessible way, which feels frustratingly rare in “women’s interest” and lifestyle media. This story from Angela Meyer caused a stir when it was published, with its passionate and factual take on the failures of our healthcare system. Have things changed since it was published in March? We’re not entirely convinced.
In February we commissioned a series of ‘love letters’ with a twist, a sort of subversive take on the Valentine's Day trope. This one connected deeply with us and a lot of our readers - Evie Kemp’s love letter to her upper arms. Zoe had seen the illustrator and designer share something on Instagram about challenging herself to an “arm boot camp” in a bid to overcome her fear of going sleeveless, and got in touch to see if she’d expand on it with an essay. Evie responded by filing a brief but deeply personal and emotional ode to embracing your body despite societal expectations of how we’re ‘supposed’ to be.
We were together when Lorde dropped the video for her first song in years, and as we watched, we were pointing out many of the people who we knew. So we turned that chat into a story that was ever so slightly taking the piss. It ended up being referenced and linked to by incredible journalist Laura Snapes for the Guardian, another surreal moment.
Zoe’s open letter to fashion designer Maggie Hewitt of Maggie Marilyn, in response to her column that advocated for all Covid restrictions to be dropped and used the word ‘segregation’. Our story spurred a flurry of comments and messages in agreement, and raised questions around the authenticity and occasional hypocrisy behind the marketing and PR spin of local fashion brands.
For Ensemble’s first guest-edited style issue with our sister publication, Sunday magazine, we photographed and interviewed the comedian and star in her new London home - just before she and her show Starstruck were named by Variety, the Guardian and more as one of the best TV performances of the year.
The year began with a bang with Ali Mau’s investigation into allegations of harassment and exploitation within the local music industry, published on Stuff. That story sparked a raft of initiatives and much-needed conversations within the local music scene, from live music to radio and more. Broadcaster and music industry veteran Charlotte Ryan shared her response to the Stuff article and her own experiences, and we were honoured to publish it on Ensemble - another powerful piece that was widely shared.
This story was published in December 2020 and went off like a bomb. Its life continued throughout 2021 thanks to a great SEO ranking on Google - and various platforms linking to it, including Clementine Ford, Lainey Gossip and The Spinoff.
We had been keeping an eye on the French influencer’s pandemic travel (including in and out of Aotearoa) for a while, so when she posted questioning the “recent restrictions of our hard-earned freedoms” in France while also talking about freedom of speech, rights, fear and the phrases “Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité.”, we were floored. This piece, written by Rebecca on a Sunday afternoon after a deep dive into Garance’s Instagram and platforms, detailed the travels and ‘freedoms’ she enjoyed. It soon went viral, shared to millions of people by Diet Prada and Bryan Boy and widely on ‘French Twitter’ (it was also referenced on the Daily Mail by ex British Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman, pushing back against cancel culture). Our Instagram was bombarded with anti-vax supporters and comments, and we lost access to our account for 24 hours (we’re certain this was due to being ‘reported’ by anti-vaxxers who flood social media platforms with misinformation, a frustrating contradiction that we raised directly with Instagram). We still receive feedback about this story.