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      What Some of the World's Biggest 'Playboy' Collectors Think of Its Nudity-Free Rebrand

      By Dana Schwartz

      February 13, 2016

      Image courtesy of James Hyman of the Hyman Archive & Doug Rimington

      Late last year, Playboy caused a fuss when the venerable nudie mag announced that it wouldn't have naked ladies in it anymore. Well, there are still naked ladies, as the New York Times has pointed out, but they're the sort of naked ladies who might live in GQ or Esquire, their most provocative bits hidden behind some equivalent of a fig leaf. The strategy is pretty obvious: People who want to look at naked women have more than enough ways to do that on the internet; as Gloria Steinem told Time: "It's as if the NRA said we're no longer selling handguns because now assault weapons are so available."

      Still, the first full-nudity-free issue of Playboy, which is coming out in March, marks a big shift in the brand. Founder Hugh Hefner's 24-year-old son even publicly broke with the company because he's so appalled by its decision not to publish photos of vaginas anymore. But the people in charge of the magazine are betting that millennials in general will approve of the move. The Playboy website went SFW last August and as a result, executives told the Times, quadrupled its traffic. The hope seems to be that by removing the whiff of baby boomer seediness from its pages, young people will read and subscribe to it.

      But what about the people who are already obsessed with Playboy, the collectors who have watched the magazine go from sultry pinups to bleached-blonde implants to the nebulous combination of celebrities and feigned taboo-breaking? How do they feel about this change? To find out, we spoke with three Playboy collectors of varying fanaticism to get their perspectives on the magazine's past, present, and future, and whether eliminating the explicit will help Playboy build back what once made it so appealing.

      Image courtesy of the Hyman Archive & Pal

      James Hyman
      45 Years Old, from London
      Guinness World Record Holder for Largest Collection of Magazines
      866 Playboys Collected

      VICE: Why do you collect magazines?
      James Hyman: One of the initial reasons for collecting is that I was a scriptwriter for MTV in the late 80s, early 90s. I had to write things for the VJs, or video jockeys, to talk about, and the best thing you had before the internet was magazines. Let's say a [media topic] was in heavy rotation and you needed to keep writing about Prince or Madonna or whatever—where better to get more information than a Rolling Stone interview? Magazines were full of rich information that was not easily available.

      So when did you start collecting Playboy, formally?
      I saw it in a newsagent and thought it was another interesting magazine that had pop culture, and my thing was always collecting pop culture. So you look at a Playboy and it had a naked woman on the cover, but that woman would always be a pop culture staple, like Bo Derek, Kim Basinger, Janet Jackson, whoever. I was collecting the new ones, but then after going to crazy shops in London I discovered the dangerous pursuit of back issues. They would have Playboys going from the 50s through the 80s. I thought, Right, I've got to fill my collection of [pop culture] magazines, and that's what I did.

      What do you like about vintage Playboys?
      I think they really capture a time. The writing was always fantastic; you had amazing interviews in them. John Lennon's last interview was in Playboy. Malcolm X, Martin Luther King were in Playboy... James Bond was serialized in it! People say it as a cliché, but I would read Playboy for the articles.

      Do you think going away from full nudity is a good move for Playboy?
      Whether it's desperation or not, I don't think it's a great move because you expect nudity in Playboy. Now, maybe parameters need to be clear because I understand Playboy Brazil and Germany are keeping the nudity. Without the nudity you could argue it's like French fries without ketchup. The UK's oldest equestrian weekly magazine, Horse and Hound, you're not just going to suddenly call it Hound magazine. People expect it.

      Is your collection up to date? Are you a subscriber?
      Yeah, I'm still collecting it, so I get it every month. I'll keep [my subscription] going after the re-launch, sure.

      Will you still read it, or is it just being archived for your collection?
      I don't read every magazine I get. I don't read tons and tons of magazines like I used to, but I still read the articles in Playboy. I read Playboy hoping there's going to be something of interest in there. Maybe there'll be, I don't know, an in-depth interview with Quentin Tarantino or something interesting. But yeah, I do still read it.

      Learn more about the Hyman archive by going to its website or following it on Twitter.

      Danny Bowes
      37 Years Old, from New York City
      Hundreds of Playboys Collected

      VICE: When did you start collecting?
      Danny Bowes: I started in the spring of 1992 when I was 13.My dad gave me a copy that had an interview with Michael Jordan. [The interview] was sort of a turning point in his relationship with the media. My dad had sensed the significance of it at the time and he gave me the magazine because he figured I was old enough where I wouldn't be like, "Oh my god, there are boobies in the magazine!" But of course, I read the interview, and then was like, "Well, I do believe there are boobies in this magazine." So my interest was piqued.

      How did you collection grow from there?
      Later that year I turned 14. As a birthday present, I think it was my mom who had seen the magazine lying around and thought, Eh, I'll get him a subscription . So basically for my entire teenage years and the whole time I was in college, I was a subscriber to Playboy, and I think only one month in all that time is missing from my collection.

      So why did you keep back issues?
      I'm not big on throwing stuff out in general, but in each of them there was always something worth keeping. Like an interview from one issue was interesting, or one of the short stories from another issue was good. There was something of interest every month—most of the time not for the pictures, but, admittedly, I flipped through a few times.

      Did your dad collect too?
      He bought it a lot and had it around the house, but he didn't have a formal, organized collection. And it was just better in the 70s. The 90s were a really weird time to collect Playboy because it was on this weird trajectory into plasticity that I felt kind of uncomfortable with as an aesthetic. It was promoting this very weird [look] and I didn't feel very philosophically healthy about it at that point.

      How would you describe that aesthetic in the 90s?
      It was all very exaggerated and artificial. All of a sudden, all the models had very unnatural enhancements and looked like they were shot this way by somebody with a slightly unhealthy view of femininity. And I never really got that sense in the early years, when it was just good-looking naked women.

      How do you feel about Playboy eliminating full nudity?
      I feel that it's time at this cultural moment. The value of the magazine was never entirely about the nudity; it was always a major part of it, you know, founded to be that. But the way that things have evolved, with print giving way to digital, it's the time to make that transition if you're going to make it at all. And there's enough merit in the magazine over the years to make it possible. The new editorial direction they've taken in the last couple of years has been a lot more progressive. I stopped my subscription in the 90s, but now I sort of wish I was still a subscriber. During Hefner's Viagra years, it was sort of like, Jesus Christ. But now it's a home for a lot of good, progressive writing.

      A 1960s Playboy image via Lysette's Etsy account

      Lysette Simmons
      30 Years Old, from Los Angeles

      VICE: Will you tell me about your Playboy collection?
      Lysette Simmons: Well, it's dope. I really love it and I don't even know how many I have—at least a hundred, maybe 200. I only collect the first 30 years. I've only recently realized why I like this era—Art Paul was the art director for those specific years. There are some covers that are just... art. I don't actually have the holy grail of them, which is the first issue in October, 1953—you can't find that one for less than two grand.

      So why did you start collecting?
      It's kind of odd, I guess. I had a few that my grandma gave me when she was cleaning out all of the magazines that my grandparents had subscriptions to. And then my dad died in 2012 and I just needed to destroy things. And I don't know why I picked on Playboy, but I started making paper snowflakes out of the pages of the issues I had. They were very beautiful. I liked that if I folded this woman up and couldn't see any part of her body and did all the cutouts and unfolded it, such a beautiful thing would be the result.

      Do you cut up every magazine you get today, or do you preserve some?
      I have started to not cut them up as much, and actually purposely [seek] out legendary issues that I know of. I just got one I'm really excited about the other day in the mail—August, 1955. [The cover] is just a drawing of a mermaid and a rabbit scuba diving, nothing unsavory going on.

      Do you have thoughts on Playboy's new direction without nudity?
      Good for them. Not having to take your clothes off to get somewhere in LA? That's great. One more reason not to take your clothes off to get somewhere.

      It looks like the models might still be getting naked, but not everything is going to be shown.
      I'm fine with that. I haven't read any articles about the decision to do that, but if I were running Playboy, my thinking would be to try and legitimize the magazine again.

      Have you found that collecting Playboy is rare among women?
      I haven't met any other women who collect Playboy. And when I first told people I was collecting them so I could cut them up, they were horrified because at the time I had no idea what they were worth. I was just grieving for my dead father by desperately cutting up snowflakes. I thought if I could make one every night, if I could make something beautiful every day, I could keep going. I thought, Well, I need more Playboys if I want to live, so...

      Follow Dana on Twitter.

      Topics: playboy, print, collectors, collections, nudity, magazines, playboy magazine, hugh hefner, playboy redesign, #freethenipple, sex, censorship, photography, culture, VICE US

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