Feature: James Haddrell
ON OCTOBER 20, Sony Ericsson Proud Camden will
pay homage to a worldwide sensation with the unveiling of
Playboy Exposed, a new photographic exhibition inviting
pop-culture aficionados to experience the most seminal moments
of the evolution of Playboy.
In 1953, a young member of staff from the circulation department
of Esquire Magazine found himself without a job when the company
refused to increase his salary by $5 a week to relocate to New
Having had some experience working for Modern Man magazine, and
noted the increase in sales when the magazine featured revealing
photographs of attractive women, he got together $600 of his own
money, paid a local calendar company $75 a shot for some photographs
of a young actress and published his own magazine from home.
The young entrepreneur was Hugh Hefner, the
actress was Marilyn Monroe, the cautious first
print run of 50,000 copies (which did not include an issue date,
so that they could stay on the news stand for as long as it took
to sell) sold out immediately, and the title, Playboy,
was set on the path to becoming a multi-million dollar international
The philosophy of Playboy, devised by Hefner in response to the
puritanical repression of his childhood, became synonymous with
the permissive attitudes of the 60s and 70s, and the magazine
became a title which international stars queued up to pose for,
to write for or to be interviewed for.
Over the years, actresses and models from Ursula Andress
and Jane Birkin to Sharon Stone
and Cindy Crawford have joined Marilyn Monroe
in posing for the magazine (although Monroe clearly did not know
her photographs were headed for Hefner’s magazine), everyone
from The Beatles and Mohammed Ali to Frank Sinatra and Peter Sellers
have been interviewed for the magazine and new fiction has been
submitted for inclusion by Kurt Vonnegut, Tom Clancy, Margaret
Atwood and more.
However, with liberation inevitably comes opposition. In the
early days Playboy was continually under investigation by the
FBI and Hefner’s first marriage broke up because of the
Today, the opposition manifests itself in the protests of pressure
groups. This summer, a high profile schoolgirl protest against
the proliferation of Playboy merchandise aimed at children was
mounted in South East London.
The Playboy empire now produces a
wide range of branded products including stationery (the target
of this particular protest), clothing, jewellery, confectionery
and home furnishings, with high street stores from Argos to WHSmith
stocking the brands and celebrity endorsements from the likes
of Britney Spears, Lenny Kravitz
and Janet Jackson.
The licensed products alone now generate in excess of $500 million
in global sales. At the heart of the branding success is the rabbit-head
logo – described by the Guardian’s Rachel Bell as
‘the cute bunny, surely one of the most ingenious ideas
in the history of morally loathsome marketing’.
Ultimately, the decision as to whether Playboy is morally acceptable
or not, culturally liberating or not, sexually degrading or not,
is up to the individual, but it cannot be denied that the magazine
first laid-out in Hugh Hefner’s kitchen was the first step
in the creation of a global phenomenon.
Copies of the first edition are now valued at £4,000 each,
a single copy has been sold at auction for as much as £10,000,
and Hefner is secure as the founder of one of the world’s
most recognisable publishing sensations.
The new exhibition opening in Camden celebrates
this sensation, with nearly all of the magazine’s covers
exhibited alongside legendary centerfolds by photographers Helmut
Newton, Franco Rubartelli, Thierry Mugler, David LaChapelle, Mario
Casilli and Pompeo Posar.
With over 150 of the most iconic archive images, the exhibition
will also feature transcripts of iconic interviews as well as
intimate snapshots charting the history of Hefner’s Playboy
Hefner, 79 this year and still looking to the future, has purchased
the crypt in Westwood Village Memorial Park Cemetery next to Marilyn
Monroe, and it seems a fitting pairing.
The publishing magnate, who was once refused a $5 a week pay
rise by Esquire, is destined to lie forever next to the world’s
most iconic actress, whose photographs were once valued by a calendar
company at just $75 each.
October 20, 2005 - February 26, 2006
Sony Ericsson Proud Camden, Stables Market, The Gin House, Chalk
Farm Road, London, NW1 8AH
t: 020 7482 3867
Open Monday–Thursday: 10am –7pm; Friday-Sunday: 11am
Admission: £5 adult, £3 concession
Image: Bunny Tedi from 'The Bunnies of Chicago’
© Larry Dale Gordon; 1964; Playboy
Further articles by this author: Edvard
Munch by Himself (Royal Academy)
- South London Gallery
Triumph of Painting - Saatchi Gallery