The Playboy Commission, a panel of cultural experts tasked with curating Playboy’s archives, launched at an event last night with an exhibit of Playboy Club memorabilia, centerfolds and magazine spreads chosen by the new team. Hailing from all facets of the creative world, charter members of the Commission include society jeweler Waris Ahluwalia, hotelier André Balazs, Vena Cava designers Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock, author Simon Doonan, British menswear designer Patrick Grant (Norton & Sons), director David Gordon Green, artist Ryan McGinness, Duran Duran’s Nick Rhodes, filmmaker Aaron Rose, fashion designer Jeremy Scott, Agent Provocateur’s Sarah Shotton, creative directors Andy Spade and Anthony Sperduti (Partners & Spade) and Purple magazine editor Olivier Zahm. Readers of iPlayboy can get a sample of their choices for the show or check it out at Partners and Spade through until 31 July 2011.
The upshot is a fascinating collection from those interested in all realms of Playboy—whether it’s Balazs discussing the evolution of the bachelor pad in the late ’60s or Aaron Rose unearthing a 16-page interview with Timothy Leary from 1966. David Gordon Green’s picks point out the versatility of the magazine’s editorials.
As an introduction to these selections, Green describes how he always found himself, “drawn to a variety of both intellectual and primal content,” and that “he editors of each issue bring substance to our culture and stimulate us in every direction.” Picks include a 1993 Shel Silverstein short story, a Gabriel Garcia Marquez short story entitled “The Handsomest Drowned Man in the World” and a 2004 Miles Corwin article detailing the murder of Bonny Lee Bakely, which Green describes as an “enthralling essay of investigative journalism that unfolds with all the intensity of a great crime drama.”
And of course, there are the pinups. Green went out of his way to intellectually stimulate the Commission’s readers, but he was not above admiring his childhood muse. He says, “In the fall of 1993, I remember packing up the Playboy issue featuring Miss January Echo Johnson and bringing her images along with me to my freshman year at the University of Texas at Austin. She served me well that year, kept me company, and set a young man’s new standard for beauty.” We checked in with the director to learn more about what the magazine means to him.
Can you elaborate on Miss January setting “a young man’s new standard for beauty”?
If we’re gonna talk about Echo Johnson, I should mention that I was your average senior in a Texas high school in January ’93. I remember sitting in my friend’s living room watching the Super Bowl when I was flipping through her profile. It quickly distracted me from the game. I can’t even remember who was playing. It was a strange moment where I was looking at a centerfold that didn’t seem so “made up” and Barbie doll, but had a look that felt natural like a real girl that you’d run into walking down the street, not some super model runway alien beauty. For me, the new “standard” was an enlightened attraction to a girl that fell somewhere between the cute/slightly nerdy hippie chick that would smile at me from across the science classroom and the buxom Baywatch bikini babes.
What’s your all-time favorite playboy article?
My favorite article in Playboy is an incredible interview with filmmaker Stanley Kubrick from 1968. It has more insight into his mind and creative process than any of the dozens of books about him. It’s the only interview I’ve read that doesn’t judge him or put him on a pedestal, but lets him speak for himself about himself.
How do the stories from the earlier years compare the current crop?
I think that the ’60s and ’70s issues of the magazine had a lot of what I’m into. Interviews, short story writers, natural beauty…I personally could be really content with those couple decades of bathroom reading material.
How do you feel Playboy reflects pop culture?
The great thing about Playboy is that it evolves with the culture and pushes it forward. It does reflect what’s out there and what guys seem to be looking for, but also, what is next. You can analyze this reflection through everything from the bodies of the women they profile to the advertising that embraces the publication. I think it injects just enough sexual taboo and humor to keep on the edge without feeling exploitive. As the accessibility of literature and porn has exploded with the Internet, Playboy has kept a tasteful and competitive edge.
Each month the new commissioners will select more works and make more comments, providing iPlayboy subscribers with quick links if there isn’t time to scour old issues.
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