While many magazines, including Playboy, are going out of print, one is coming back — but not as we last knew it.
Playgirl Magazine is relaunching in print on Monday, looking very different from its last issue in 2015 when it featured “campus hunks of Fort Lauderdale” — four men flexing in their swimming trunks in between several plastic-looking trees and what appears to be a hot tub filled with an odd shade of green water.
This time, the cover star is not a man, but a pregnant Chloë Sevigny, expertly shot by Mario Sorrenti against a backdrop of lush mint green hues and not a plastic tree in sight. Above her is the caption “we’ll take it from here.”
Beginning as a feminist response to Playboy in 1973, in between the male centerfold and other naked men, Playgirl tackled important issues such as abortion and equal rights, while contributors included Gloria Steinem, Maya Angelou and Joyce Carol Oates, making it a dominant voice in the women’s movement and the sexual revolution. It also built up an army of gay readers.
After a period in the Eighties when its covers largely consisted of celebrities wearing clothes, Playgirl was acquired by New York publisher Carl Ruderman and as Esquire wrote in a 2017 essay on the magazine, transformed into “unapologetic soft-core porn.”
Now the title is back in another incarnation, but it’s closer to its beginnings than when Playgirl ceased print operations in 2015, according to publisher Jack Lindley Kuhns, great-grandson of Eugene Meyer, who purchased The Washington Post in 1933.
Lindley Kuhns went to boarding school with Ruderman’s son and he and his father approached the-then 26-year-old in 2016 to see if he would be interested in acquiring the publishing rights to the title. It turned out to be the early issues that interested him in closing the deal, of which financial terms have not been disclosed.
“I didn’t know it was a feminist magazine. All I knew was the things that we would see on TV that was not anything of quality or important. But when I finally got my hands on the old issues it shocked me because it was very much entertainment for women in a big way in the sense that not only was Maya Angelou a monthly contributor for the first couple of years, but there were so many categories — fashion, art, editorial,” Lindley Kuhns said in an interview. “When I looked at it….the only thing I could think is this magazine could be elevated in a way to make it so beautiful and so relevant.”
So, after spending the past few years in negotiations, conceptualizing a relaunch, and assembling a team to shepherd Playgirl back into the world, he’s ready to unveil his version, which seeks to “pay homage to its 1970s sexual revolution roots, and relaunches the brand as a forward-thinking voice, celebrating all aspects of the modern feminine experience.”
Assisting him in his mission are a group of experienced glossy magazine/arty types: editor in chief Skye Parrott (cofounder and editor of Dossier), creative director Alex Wiederin (formerly executive design director at Town & Country and creative director of Vogue Hommes), managing editor Chloe Hall (an Emmy-nominated film and television producer and director), fashion director Leith Clark (founder of Lula Magazine and Violet Book and style director at large at Harper’s Bazaar U.K.) , editorial director Nina Renata Aron (formerly features editor of the literary magazine Full Stop) and image director Silvia Prada (an artist and former illustrator for Dazed & Confused, Interview and The Face).
The 272 pages cover everything from culture to politics, sex to style, all seen through a feminine lens. Features include interviews with Sevigny on the uncertainty of new motherhood, Brittany Newell on her best-ever BDSM session, Ivy Elrod on family and identity, and Carvell Wallace on loving men and hating the patriarchy. Elsewhere, there’s Pamela Love on how a mental health breakdown led to meeting her true self, Korsha Wilson on her most memorable meal at the top of the world and Mila Jaroniec on parenting and the cult of independence.
There’s also Playgirl ’s Heroes, profiling 10 female activists including Ai-jen Poo, cofounder and executive director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance; Raquel Willis, Black transgender activist, and Alicia Garza, activist, writer and Black Lives Matter co-creator.
As for the photography, there’s work such as “Power. Play.” by Harley Weir, showcasing the 21st century’s paradigm shift and serving as the magazine’s centerfold; “Midlife” by Elinor Carucci, highlighting the realness of aging, and The New Sexy by Myla Dalbesio, challenging outdated ideas of beauty.
But unlike the original, which was criticized for the lack of diversity in its pages, the magazine’s approach is “gender- and trans-inclusive, intergenerational and strives to reflect the diverse, dynamic array of women’s experiences.” “I’m really proud of how diverse our body types are in the issue — whether it’s in the centerfold or in fashion,” said Lindley Kuhns.
“Oddly enough there’s more female nudity in the magazine than male nudity,” he continued. “The next issue might have more male nudity than female nudity. It just happened to be like this.”
While there is nudity, for the first issue he wanted to set a precedent that “this isn’t porn.” “Honestly my biggest hope while producing the magazine was if somebody thought of Playgirl in one way at least they’ll be able to look at issue one and say to themselves, ‘well this makes sense.’ It’s much different than the past, but this makes sense and I’m very proud of it.”
On the business side, Lindley Kuhns originally hoped to produce two issues a year, but the pandemic has meant there will likely be only one for the time being. For the first issue, there will be a limited 2,000 copies available, priced at $20 each and available on newsstands mainly in New York and London and to order online.
There are no advertisers in the launch issue, but Lindley Kuhns said that doesn’t mean there won’t be in future issues. “It was hard enough getting people on board and trusting that we were going to make something as quality let alone taking the effort and energy to get funding from the people that we would want,” he said. “In the future I wouldn’t be turned off by advertisers but it would have to be the right one….Everything has to be appropriate to what we’re saying or displaying.”
While all this begs the question of how will it make a profit, he disclosed that while issue one will operate at a loss, “bringing back Playgirl Magazine in its original print format has always been a fundamental part of the vision.”
“Behind the scenes we are building a media entity that will ultimately broadcast and amplify the voice of the brand, while simultaneously financing the magazine,” he concluded.
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