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Hefner's Playboy: The birth of the bunny.

“If we are able to give the American male a few extra laughs and a little diversion from the atomic age we’ll feel as if we’ve justified our existence.”
(Playboy magazine. Vol. 1. No. 1)

Hefner (centre) with two of Playboy's most celebrated covers: Lindsay Lohan (left), and initial cover girl, Marilyn Monroe (right).

My interest in Playboy magazine predates that of Vogue, Elle or any other fashion publication to hand. There is something unique about the early issues of Hefner's 'new age' magazine that I've yet to experience with any other. An empire of the taboo in a velvet gown and slippers, Hefner became the ultimate entrepreneur,

We want to make clear from the very start, we aren’t a family magazine.” (Playboy, 1953) 

The initial issue of Playboy reached the newsstands of America in December 1953 and Hefner, unsure of the magazine’s reception, released the publication undated. As a new publication “Playboy addressed, and thereby simultaneously helped to created, the new masculine, always (allegedly) heterosexual consumer.”

The Economic boom within post war America created a new middle class within society, or the “new masculine.” One of the main reasons for Playboy’s success was the period of its release. Playboy was allowed to flourish in the 1950’s for a number of reasons, perhaps most significantly being the limited selection of men’s lifestyle magazines. Whilst women had a broad selection of consumer magazines “Male magazines tended to be based on particular leisure pursuits or hobbies, motorcycling, fishing cars or even pornography.

Bunnies: Marketing technique associates the bunny image to Hefner's Playboy.
Whilst Playboy did entertain nudity and is considered responsible for bringing elements of “soft pornography” into the social spotlight, it is first and foremost a male lifestyle magazine. Playboy’s main opposition was Esquire, the same publication that Hefner had first acquired his knowledge of the industry. The demand for new media entertainment in the post war period drove Playboy’s success during a time when the new middle classes of America were looking for alternate forms of entertainment and demand was plentiful.  

Playboy also triggered the era of the male as a consumerist figure, not only did it sell as a form of entertainment but the magazine had the capability to sell a “lifestyle” to it’s readers, complete with items that had previously been considered luxurious. The economic boom following the war produced “an era of grey conformism, a time of mass consumption.”  This demand for the latest commodity provided a platform for Playboy’s success, citizens were finally able to afford luxurious items after the frugality of the war but with this new money not only came innovative forms of entertainment but also introduced the idea of a new middle class within post-war society. Sexuality became “one of the key ways in which the new middle classes of the post war period sought to distinguish themselves from the old middle classes” and Playboy provided this distinction. The magazine appealed to this audience predominantly because they had disposable income to spend on the “finer things in life” and had a waiting audience. The sexual content within the pages of Playboy was also well suited to this new class movement as they began to become characterized by their “quest for the new and the latest in relationships and experiences.” 

Death of a blank canvas

In recent years there has been a significant increase in models walking the catwalks with a little extra in the name of art. No longer reserved for men of naval backgrounds, tattoos are now commonplace across the sexes. Inked skin has infiltrated into the fashion industry as couture models reject the role of “blank canvas”.

Many designers themselves are in favour of a custom skin. Creators such as Marc Jacobs and John Galliano are heavily tattooed, in the past decade it has become somewhat expected from the creative mind. Excluding the alternative model, the catwalk is saturated with custom skin. In 2012 a host of couture regulars showcased new designs, not all were large or full colour but left a trait of the wearer, signifying the end of the blank canvas.

Karl Lagerfeld's employment of Alice Dellal for the Chanel Boy handbag collection departed from the polished aesthetic of Chanel tailoring. In Lagerfeld's own words, the campaign was "far from conformist notions of femininity." Dellal's tattoos and piercings provided an antithesis to the expectations of a heritage brand like Chanel yet younger consumers would relate to the style. Chanel is malleable to the trends of the time, if the product is not marketed to the buying audience, they would go out of business. The introduction of Alice Dellal to Chanel worked for a younger audience, they were asking for an edgier version of the brand's classic pieces and Lagerfeld listened. 

Chanel is not an isolated case and brands are continually reinventing themselves in order to remain desirable. Tattoos are an integral part of modern culture and if the fashion houses are to remain an object of desire, they must cater to demand. Classic lines will continue to embrace the blank canvas for as long as that is proven effective with their particular audience. However, if tattoos remain commonplace within modern society, the end of the blank canvas cannot be too far away.

Dark and Dirty.

Subway courtesy of Ealing Council.