When Los Angeles nightclub owner Douglas Lambert and editor Marin Scott Milam teamed up to launch Playgirl's first issue in 1973, no one could have anticipated the public response. At the height of the feminist movement, when print titles continued to objectify women's bodies against the backdrop of a growing revolution, Playgirl offered a different perspective.
The magazine welcomed the notion that women, in fact, could be authoritative voices on sex, culture, and their own existence. At its peak in the mid-to-late '70s, Playgirl was selling nearly 1.5 million copies at about $1 per issue. It was revered for its tasteful male nudes as well as its provocative storytelling, welcoming contributors like Maya Angelou, Gloria Steinem, Joyce Carol Oates, Eve Babitz, and more.
But over the decades, as the internet consumed the porn market, taking the magazine's devoted gay male readers with it, Playgirl had no choice but to shift gears. By the time it folded in 2015, the title had gone rogue and became a pop culture-leaning gossip mag, losing the feminist appeal that made it successful during those early years. Still, history tends to repeat itself.
Models Sol (top) and Chris Massala (bottom), photographed by Harley Weir for Playgirl Magazine.
In the last few years, as the LGBTQ+ community continues to sit at the intersections of several growing movements, the need for producing a title dedicated to showcasing modern feminist voices has never been more crucial.
Jack Lindley Kuhns, the 31-year-old publisher of the new Playgirl Magazine, is aiming to do just that and he's not looking to reinvent the wheel. The new team, led by editor in chief Skye Parrott (cofounder of Dossier magazine), creative director Alex Wiederin, and image director Silvia Prada, have replaced erotic centerfolds of naked men with beautiful shots of nude bodies of all ethnicities and genders and stories that include tales of racial injustice, trans empowerment, and body positivity.
Chloe Sevigny graces the first cover of the new Playgirl Magazine, photographed by Mario Sorrenti (top); Models featured and photographed by Myla Dalbesio.
For its first issue, the team recruited contributors like model-photographer Myla Dalbesio, Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza, T. Cole Rachel, Carvell Wallace, and former Out executive editor Raquel Willis; voices akin to the feminist icons who once graced its pages.
"It's a mixture between a political magazine and an art magazine," Kuhns tells Out of the new iteration, which premiered last fall with a cover of a very pregnant Chloe Sevigny, photographed by Mario Sorrenti. "My goal with issue 1 was to bring it back to its roots."
Much like the original, the new Playgirl Magazine, currently only in print, was an immediate success. It debuted last November with nearly 10,000 copies in the U.S. and London before selling out and going back to press for a second printing. For the gay publisher, uprooting the title from its erotica tradition wasn't an easy choice but a necessary one, and one he was well equipped for.
Writer Aminatou Sow shot by Andre Wagner for a feature in Playgirl Magazine by Emma Carmichael; Raquel Willis shot by Kat Slootsk
The great-grandson of Eugene Meyer, former owner of TheWashington Post whose family owned it until they sold it to Jeff Bezos in 2013, Kuhns is no stranger to the publishing world, though he credits his passion for media and journalism to a lucky coincidence. The shy and soft-spoken Kuhns originally had dreams of being a leader in the fashion industry after landing an internship at GQ before ultimately dropping out of college to pursue his own entrepreneurial ventures. Clearly it was a good move.
"I'm a creative and a visual person, most importantly, and that was the main reason why I dropped out of college," he explains. "I could not catch up with the academics, but when I got into the real world, the one thing I knew I had was that I'm strong and I'm driven. There was no way I was going to let [Playgirl Magazine] go because if I did, I don't think this publication would have ever made it back to a place of substance."
Kuhns is crafting his own legacy now and hopes the magazine welcomes a fresh take on today's social justice movements. "I really hope that we come to a place of acceptance, even within our own community," he says. "I think the world today is just such a mess. We're going to have to rebuild a lot of things."
"My biggest goal was to make somebody look at the magazine and say, 'This is my world.' If not, then make somebody look at it in a different way that makes sense. Honestly? In this world, if there's a tiny little thing I can do or be proud of it's that I made some change -- even if it's with a fucking magazine."