Playgirl magazine re-bursts on the scene with a feminist lens

Interviewed by Adam Bryce

Photography Supplied by Playgirl

We interview editor-in-chief, Skye Parrott, about the reinvention of classic rag, Playgirl.

Adam Bryce: How are you and are you back in New York? What’s it like there right now? 

Skye Parrott: I’m back in New York. We’ve been living for the past two years in a small town in Mexico called Sayulita. I’ve been coming back and forth to New York for work, spending a week or two here each month. When the pandemic hit, it changed everything, of course, and so, in July, we came back to New York. The town where we spent the first lockdown was so small. There was a local vigilante group that blocked the entrances of the town, so no tourists could come in and, after two months, we started to feel like we could move around with some freedom because there was no Covid inside the little bubble.

Coming back to New York couldn’t have been a more extreme shift from that. Being from New York, I felt quite connected to what was happening here all spring, so I don’t know what I was expecting when we returned. It’s actually been just fine, just subdued. Although I miss what the city normally is, I feel like being here during the pandemic has led me to appreciate New York in a whole new way. There’s something about the head-down toughness of New Yorkers that is deeply reassuring during this time. Everyone in New York wears a mask every time they leave the house. I’ve been saying that, because life in New York is so difficult to begin with, New Yorkers don’t have the expectation of things being comfortable and so their approach to the pandemic has been pretty pragmatic.

That having been said, it’s very quiet and we don’t do very much. My two older children go to school remotely, and the smallest, who is three, goes to an outdoor school that meets in a park. It will be interesting to see how that evolves once winter comes. 

Adam: You and I have found ourselves in a similar situation, running magazines after a long time away. What are you clocking as the biggest differences between your time at the editorial helm of Dossier magazine and now with Playgirl?

Skye: It’s hard for me to separate the differences in my experience from the differences in me. When I started Dossier I was in my 20s and I thought it would be fun to make a magazine with my friends. I didn’t understand what I had built until it was done.

A lot of time has passed since then and I have a lot more experience in my career so, I knew, going into this, that it was important to me to be deliberate about what I was making. I thought a lot about why any magazine should even exist in the world right now, and then why this magazine should exist and, if it was going to exist, how it could have a positive impact.

Beyond that, I also had the benefit of experience. When I was making the first issue of Dossier, I sat on the floor of the magazine store and pulled the names of printers and distributors off of various magazine’s mastheads. I cold-called them until I found people who would talk to me (that’s why I always make sure to include that information on any masthead I put together, because I keep in mind it might be helpful to someone else).

But this time, I knew what I was doing. I had eight years of making a magazine under my belt and a wealth of resources to draw from. Aside from making the process easier, it also allowed me to focus that energy on being conscientious about what I was putting together, rather than using my energy trying to figure out how distribution even works. 

Adam: Tell me about Playgirl — its history, its original ethos. Funnily enough, as much of a magazine geek that I am, I’d never read it before.

Skye: We have that in common. I didn’t know much about it either before I embarked on this project. I just had a vague sense that Playgirl had been a gay porn mag but its actual history is much richer and more nuanced than that. It was launched in 1973 as a female counterpart of Playboy of the 70s and it took a lot of its DNA from Playboy — it was similarly smart and political but, instead of naked women, it had naked men. They even copied the poses from Playboy, so the naked guys in the early issues have this softness about how they’re posed that’s very interesting.

They had great contributors, writers like Maya Angelou and Margaret Atwood and Gloria Steinem. When we started working on the relaunch we had hundreds of old copies archived digitally, so I got to look through the old issues and the ones from that time are quite progressive and cool. 

After a few years, the magazine was sold and the ethos changed. It became less political but kept the naked guys. I think of that iteration as a typical women’s magazine, plus penises. And then it was sold again, after which it did become a gay porn magazine. That’s the version most people of our age and younger are aware of. Eventually it folded and then, a few years ago, a young guy from a publishing family, Jack Lindley Kuhns, bought the rights. We were introduced by a mutual friend two years ago and that’s where I came into the story. 

Adam: Describe the new iteration.

Skye: From the first meeting I had with Jack, I was incredibly excited about the project. It felt like the moment was ripe for a relaunch of an iconic, feminist publication and Jack’s vision for it was very much aligned with mine. The question I asked myself a lot while making the magazine is what does a modern, feminist magazine look like? What differentiates it from everything else? What the team and I settled on was this idea that Playgirl had the opportunity to present a feminine idea of the world. If everything is put through this lens of the feminine, what does that look like? In this case, I think it led to a magazine that was honest and quite diverse, showcasing a lot of different points of view.

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Photography by Kat Slootsky.

Photography by Mario Sorrenti.

Photography by Catherine Servel.

Photography by Harley Weir.