A/V Room








Playboy Exposed - Arousing a lot of interest soon!

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 York.

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 empire.

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 magazine.

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 world.

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.

Playboy Exposed
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 –6pm
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)

Microcosmographia - South London Gallery

The Triumph of Painting - Saatchi Gallery

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