For the global Indian, and which internet and satellite TV accessing Indian is not, Playboy magazine, its other merchandise, its rabbit logo, oddly enough, still resonates. It is like a fond blast from the past, classy, albeit from a different ethos and time, with rare and hard won imported goodies, well before even television came to this country.
Given our various cultural reservations and differences from the West, we still do not have an Indian edition of Playboy permitted on our shores. This is quite unlike so many other internationally well-known publications that have become ubiquitous by their presence. And nobody goes censoring skimpily clad women in those with a black marker, like they do in certain other places, thank God! Nevertheless, the new Playboy, minus its nudes, may well present a winning franchise proposition, and no objection from the authorities, alongside the likes of Vogue India etc.
The news of this change was announced, to some consternation from its older fans, last October. Playboy magazine, in its non-nudie avatar has now hit the stands. It has been relaunched, with its March 2016 issue, designed to appeal to the social media generation, and cross-over into the public space, from the erstwhile private enjoyment of its dwindling number of fans. And this launch has taken place, on both sides of the Atlantic, and around the liberal globe.
This move however, has also been dreamt up by the iconic 89 year old, silk-pajama wearing founder Hugh Hefner himself. Hefner originally launched Playboy, in 1953, with the artistically presented nude as a progressive statement. Hefner wanted to promote the joy and enjoyment of human sexuality, way back in the straight-laced but baby-boomer fifties, post the harrowing WWII, but pre the advent of Elvis Presley and the Cadillac El Dorado.
Hugh Hefner in 1970 (STRINGER/AFP/Getty Images)
Amongst the very first to be featured, on the centrefold, in December 1953,was the legendary Marilyn Monroe. Later, there was Anita Ekberg in 1956, Sophia Loren in 1957, Raquel Welch in December 1979, Nastassia Kinski in May 1983, Madonna in September 1985, Farrah Fawcett, not yet Majors, in December 1995, Naomi Campbell in December 1999- to remember just a few of the wondrous women who graced the magazine.
Playboy quickly became an institution. It was, as its advertisers well knew, also very much about lifestyle shaping and sophistication; food, drink, cars, clothes, yachts and speedboats. It was about art and artists such as Salvador Dali, Frederico Fellini, Helmut Newton, Andy Warhol, whose sensuous works were published.
There were legendary photographers who worked with the beautiful models in highly creative settings-Richard Fegley, Pompeo Posar, David Chan, producing meticulous work. The Playboy pages had many landmark interviews, articles, book excerpts.
There were fabulous artwork cartoons by great graphic artists such as Shel Silverstein, John Dempsey, Jules Feiffer, Phil Interlandi, Gahan Wilson; each with their distinctive style. And the whole package was presented to the highest printing standards, in a sumptuous and glossy format.
The remodelled, no nudes Playboy 2016, targets a much younger demographic of between 18 to 24 years of age, featuring, for its first cover, a 20 year old Instagram and Snapchat model Sarah McDaniel, whose eyes naturally glow in different colours- a condition called heterochromia iridium.
After a straight run of 62 years, there will be no more plastic surgery enhanced and artfully lit/retouched nudes. The January/February 2016 issue was the very last to feature centrespreads of Pamela Anderson, familiar to Indian audiences from the Baywatch series.
Playboy, at its zenith in 1972, sold 7.2 million copies every month. This, even as opinion was divided on whether people, mostly men, bought it for its nudes or its articles, though probably, it was for both.
Some may remember the highly religious Jimmy Carter was the first presidential candidate who gave a candid interview to Playboy during his winning campaign. There was a detailed insight of an interview with John Lennon that became a bestseller as a Playboy book, after the beloved rock star was tragically assassinated.
Even now, Playboy still sells a respectable 800,000 copies, given that most people, including those from this part of the world, read expensive international magazines for free, or pay modest subscriptions to do so, on the Internet.
Current Playboy CEO Hugh Flanders, who took over the magazine, the legacy publishing business, gambling, hospitality, and merchandising empire from Hefner’s daughter Christie in 2009; expects to continue selling at least 600,000 copies a month going forward.
But if the revamped website with a four-fold increase in traffic, 16 million unique users of an average age of 30, down from 45 years, 20 percent of them women, is anything to go by; then the non-nudie magazine may also experience a hefty second coming.
It isn’t as if there are to be no pictures of women in the new Playboy, but they are, and are going to be, more au naturel, influenced by the selfie phenomenon, and will use the allure of artful concealment.
The March issue has the sex column being written by a woman. The overall vibe is that of a new erotic that is still committed to the Playboy rubric of progress, freedom and exploration. It features an interview with MSNBC anchor Rachel Maddow. She will be seen a lot on TV screens around the world explaining the progress of the presidential election of 2016, from the ongoing primaries, to the eventual win in November. Maddow apparently came on board only after being told the nudes were gone.
Other Playboy hallmarks, a piece on politics, an essay by the American Psycho author Bret Easton Ellis, an excerpt from another book, are all going forward intact.
This Playboy can be carried without embarrassment into the workplace anywhere. And since the revamp, it is expected to attract a new generation of advertisers too. There will be, say Playboy executives, ‘More money for the Bunny’.
The Playboy bunnies are not being dropped. They will continue to enhance the magazine’s glamour quotient, in their tights, ears, and tails, but just no longer be featured in the absolute nude.
That Playboy has decided to reinvent itself yet again, when many of its once-upon-a-time competitors have closed down, is a testament to its more durable formula. Playboy was always sensual, but never excessively focussed on raw sex appeal.
And, observers from the digital space now think the ‘dressed up’ Playboy with a young pitch, will find a force multiplier on social media as well.