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Playgirl Magazine Relaunches: A New Voice, A New Feminine Power Emerges From The Ashes & The “Skye” Is The Limit – The Mr. Magazine™ Interview With Skye Parrott, Editor In Chief, Playgirl…

November 8, 2020

“Going into Playgirl, it’s very intentionally diverse because I think as you approach the idea of what space a modern feminist publication could occupy, one of the things that I’ve thought a lot about, and I think this is what the tagline on the cover speaks to, is the idea that rather than offering the feminist point of view, what if we offer a feminine point of view?  And what does that look like? What are the ideals that are lifted up? What are we celebrating? What are we putting forward with this magazine?” Skye Parrott…

Skye Parrott, editor in chief of the newly relaunched Playgirl magazine. Photo by Kat Slootsky

From the ashes, Playgirl has been reborn with a new, more feminine viewpoint, but with its indelible history intact. The former Playgirl had its last issue in 2015 and the difference between that Playgirl and today’s Playgirl is palpable. With a new publisher/owner and a new editor in chief, the magazine is ready to tackle today’s issues, including injustices and the pandemic, with a steadfast head on its shoulders and a fresh new voice in women’s magazines. 

Skye Parrott is the new editor in chief, formerly cofounder and creative director of Dossier, an  arts and fashion magazine, known as a platform that championed young creatives and helped to launch the careers of many photographers, fashion designers, and artists. Today, Skye is bringing her talents and creative vision to Playgirl.

I spoke with Skye recently and we talked about this new, modern-day Playgirl magazine. She was excited about the new direction, yet recognized the value of the title’s history, knowing that nudity and sexuality had always been a part of the magazine, but according to Skye it’s all about the approach to those topics and the way you execute them. 

“I think we’ve looked at sex and sexuality and the body very differently in this magazine than how it was approached previously.”

The articles are there and very substantive, with the subject matter very topical for the world of today. The magazine has beautiful photography, yet stories that are compelling and on point with the issues we are facing currently. It’s a rebirth of a brand that many have been waiting for.

So, I hope that you enjoy this Mr. Magazine™ interview with Skye Parrot, editor in chief, Playgirl Magazine (relaunched). It was a delightful conversation about a title that should open up many more dialogues.

And once again, in 2020 Playgirl magazine returned to the newsstands as an upscale coffee-table like magazine

But first the sound-bites:

On why she accepted the role of editor in chief to bring Playgirl back to print and where it fits in the marketplace today: I was introduced to the publisher, who is a young man from a publishing family. He’s the great-grandson of Eugene Meyer, who owned the Washington Post for many years. The opportunity to buy the magazine sort of fell into his lap. He didn’t have any personal experience in publishing, but he saw it as an interesting and incredible opportunity. From the beginning it seemed like an incredible opportunity to me as well. To take this iconic, feminist magazine and to reimagine it for today’s world seemed very exciting. The moment seemed really right to do something interesting with it that could be meaningful. And I think that’s what we achieved in terms of the marketplace.

On whether it was intentional that she created a magazine that is so diverse and seems to be a coffee table book for an adult female who can have both a feast for her eyes and a feast for her brain: I wish you could see that I’m really smiling right now because that’s exactly what I hoped to create with this. Dossier was an incredibly diverse publication as well. And it was quite a long time ago in terms of the life of a magazine. Dossier launched in 2007/2008 and so diversity has always been very central to the work that I look to do. I’m from New York originally and I see diversity as a very central piece of the conversation. For lack of a different way of saying it, I find it quite boring to see the same person repeated in various iterations again and again and to only share one point of view. I don’t find that to be very interesting personally and I’ve never looked to replicate that in the publications that I’ve done.

On whether she thinks the nudity in the magazine is a plus or a negative: I was thinking about this the other day. If I were starting the magazine from scratch, there are things that would have probably been a little bit different about it than Playgirl. But when you’re relaunching something and you have a title that has a history, I think you have to also look at the history of that title and think about how to include that history in what you’re making today. And Playgirl obviously has a history of being very much interwoven with sex and I think that is a conversation that you have to have in the magazine, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. It’s just the name Playgirl slapped onto a magazine that has no relationship to the history.

June 1973 saw the launch of Playgirl as The Magazine For Women and continued publishing until 2015

On the gorgeous photography and the meaty reading material in the magazine and whether the pictures are bait to get people to actually sit down and discover other things in the magazine: I’ve never really thought of it that way. For me the approach to the magazines that I have done has always been informed by what I want. When I founded Dossier, one of the big conversations that we had then was why did something have to be one or the other? Why does it have to be we have The New Yorker, but it’s all words or we have these beautiful fashion magazines, but there’s nothing of any substance in them. What if you had these things together because people are multidimensional, just because you like to look at beautiful pictures doesn’t mean you don’t want to read something as well.

On how she decided on a naked, pregnant Chloë Sevigny for the cover: A lot of making a good magazine is taking advantage of the luck of what is available at the time it’s available. So, it was quite lucky that Chloë Sevigny was pregnant and that she was quite open to doing this cover and when that became clear, that she was open to doing it, it seemed to me like a no-brainer that we would put her on the cover. That having been said, I think from the beginning it was very clear that what we wanted to do with the cover was to look at female power in a different way.

On one criticism and one positive piece of feedback she has gotten since the first issue has been out: I’d start first with the criticisms, because I would love it if we could get some, but unfortunately in the world right now, I feel like those criticisms, you get them in person from people, and right now there’s just no in person. So, the feedback I’ve gotten has been only positive about it. I would love to share the critiques because there’s always room to make something better and to do more, but the feedback I have gotten has been really enthusiastic.

On whether she thinks magazines as a whole play a role similar to a Paradise Island or an Island of Clarity as they used to refer to The Wall Street Journal since many other platforms bombard the audience with only bad news:That’s a very interesting question. I can only speak to the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make and the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make are not trying to provide a Paradise Island, they’re not trying to sugarcoat anything. But what I look to do with Playgirl and what I think that we accomplished pretty well is to address the world as it is in a way that’s honest and vulnerable, but also has humor and hope.

In January 1973 Playgirl returned as a magazine for Women’s Entertainment, but stopped publishing after one issue.

On what she would hope to tell someone Playgirl had achieved in one year: As far as the magazine goes, I don’t know what the future holds for it, to be frank. The pandemic has changed the calculus a little bit for the publisher and he hasn’t got our schedule yet for the second issue. Ideally, when you do a biannual magazine, you immediately start working on the next issue, but that’s not the case for Playgirl. So, I really don’t know. But what I hope is the experience of reading it will have given people stuff to think about, will have given people enjoyment and maybe will have added something to the conversation about life and the world and the human experience. 

On the magazine being more of a luxury item with its $20 cover price: Absolutely. It’s quite a niche product, but that’s also my background. With Dossier, we tried very hard to keep the cover price reasonable, we worked to do so, but ultimately a $20 magazine is a bit of an indulgence. The hope is with the magazine at that price, it is something you keep and look at it a little more like a book. So, when you said it looked like a coffee table book, I hope that’s what it is because at $20 it should be something that you want to hold onto.

The original Playgirl magazine circ. 1955 was a men’s magazine

On what someone would find her doing if they showed up unexpectedly one evening at her home: I’ll mention it again, I have three young children, so my evenings end quite early. In a world where there isn’t COVID-19, I’m not sure what it would be, but with the pandemic right now what I’ve been watching is The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. (Laughs) It’s very soothing, there’s no drama. The drama comes from the cooking. Everyone is very kind to one another and it’s very British. There are lots of good manners and that’s how I’ve been unwinding right now. And cooking, I’ve done a little cooking. My husband has been doing a lot of cooking.

On shuttling between New York and Mexico: I’ve been living for the last two years in a tiny little town in Mexico called Sayulita. I’ve been going back and forth. I actually produced the entire magazine remotely. I built the team remotely, led the team remotely; I was in New York for some meetings, but almost the entire magazine was produced remotely, which was actually true for Dossier as well. It was a remote team then also.

On what keeps her up at night: I don’t know if you want to know the answer to that right now. (Laughs)

And now the lightly edited transcript of the Mr. Magazine™ interview with Skye Parrott, editor in chief, Playgirl. 

Samir Husni: When you bring a print magazine back to print in this day and age, everybody takes notice. But why specifically did you accept the job as editor in chief to bring Playgirl back and how do you place it in today’s marketplace among all the other magazines out there? 

Skye Parrott: Those are excellent questions. I was introduced to the publisher, who is a young man from a publishing family. He’s the great-grandson of Eugene Meyer, who owned the Washington Post for many years. The opportunity to buy the magazine sort of fell into his lap. He didn’t have any personal experience in publishing, but he saw it as an interesting and incredible opportunity. We were introduced about two years ago by mutual friends. He was familiar with Dossier and that’s how I came into the picture. 

From the beginning it seemed like an incredible opportunity to me as well. To take this iconic, feminist magazine and to reimagine it for today’s world seemed very exciting. The moment seemed really right to do something interesting with it that could be meaningful. And I think that’s what we achieved in terms of the marketplace.

I wasn’t concerned about the readership for it. To me the readership seemed quite clear. A lot of my work has been questions of gender and more and more as my work has gone on I feel like a female audience has been who I’ve been interested in communicating to and about. So, Playgirl seemed like a real opportunity to do that in terms of the actual economics of magazines. As we both know, those can be really trickier. I think magazines on their own are not a very good stand-alone business, that’s quite clear, but they’re quite an effective marketing tool for another business. 

Samir Husni: Was it intentional that diversity is all over the magazine, gender is all over the magazine, size is all over the magazine? Even before magazines were celebrating Blackness and after the murder of George Floyd, and I know the magazine was in the making even before the pandemic, was it intentional that you created a magazine that seems to me to be a coffee table book for an adult female who can have a feast for her eyes but at the same time have a feast for her brain?

Skye Parrott: I wish you could see that I’m really smiling right now because that’s exactly what I hoped to create with this. Dossier was an incredibly diverse publication as well. And it was quite a long time ago in terms of the life of a magazine. Dossier launched in 2007/2008 and so diversity has always been very central to the work that I look to do. I’m from New York originally and I see diversity as a very central piece of the conversation. For lack of a different way of saying it, I find it quite boring to see the same person repeated in various iterations again and again and to only share one point of view. I don’t find that to be very interesting personally and I’ve never looked to replicate that in the publications that I’ve done. 

Going into Playgirl, it’s very intentionally diverse because I think as you approach the idea of what space a modern feminist publication could occupy, one of the things that I’ve thought a lot about, and I think this is what the tagline on the cover speaks to, is the idea that rather than offering the feminist point of view, what if we offer a feminine point of view?  And what does that look like? What are the ideals that are lifted up? What are we celebrating? What are we putting forward with this magazine?

The idea, as I spoke a little about in the editor’s letter, is that there have been a lot of magazines made for women that still goes through this kind of male gaze. So, what if we make a magazine for women that’s really about the female gaze in a much broader sense? And for me, diversity, community, celebrating different kinds of bodies, looking at the experience of being female in different ways, for me those are hyper-feminine. And those are things that I look to do with the magazine. 

Samir Husni: Do you think you would have been able to do that without the nudity? I mean, do you think the nudity in the magazine is a plus or a negative?

Skye Parrott: I was thinking about this the other day. If I were starting the magazine from scratch, there are things that would have probably been a little bit different about it than Playgirl. But when you’re relaunching something and you have a title that has a history, I think you have to also look at the history of that title and think about how to include that history in what you’re making today. And Playgirl obviously has a history of being very much interwoven with sex and I think that is a conversation that you have to have in the magazine, otherwise it doesn’t make sense. It’s just the name Playgirl slapped onto a magazine that has no relationship to the history.

But I think the way that we approach sex, I hope, is from a very different point of view than how the magazine approached it when it first launched in the ‘70s, and certainly in later iterations when it was called Playgirl but it was basically a magazine for gay men. I think we’ve looked at sex and sexuality and the body very differently in this magazine than how it was approached previously. 

Samir Husni: As I flip through the pages, yes, you gave me some gorgeous photography and you name the age and I found it there, but there is also some heavy-duty reading material. There is solid-type pages. What are you trying to achieve? Are you using the images as bait to get people to the magazine and once there, they sit down and discover there is a lot of different things in there?

Skye Parrott: I’ve never really thought of it that way. For me the approach to the magazines that I have done has always been informed by what I want. When I founded Dossier, one of the big conversations that we had then was why did something have to be one or the other? Why does it have to be we have The New Yorker, but it’s all words or we have these beautiful fashion magazines, but there’s nothing of any substance in them. What if you had these things together because people are multidimensional, just because you like to look at beautiful pictures doesn’t mean you don’t want to read something as well. 

And I think having done that for so many years at Dossier, I never considered a different approach. I’m a huge reader myself and I have been my entire life. So, even though I come out of a visual background, reading is a massive part of my life. So the idea of creating something that didn’t have a high level of literary content never crossed my mind. 

Samir Husni: You’re a mom and you combined the image of motherhood with Playgirl’s first cover. How did the idea of that first cover for the relaunch, having a pregnant, naked woman on the cover, how did that come about? It’s a bit of a throwback to the Vanity Fair cover with Demi Moore. What was your thinking behind that? Did you want to send a shockwave to the audience? I’m intrigued to know how you decided on that cover.

Skye Parrott: A lot of making a good magazine is taking advantage of the luck of what is available at the time it’s available. So, it was quite lucky that Chloë Sevigny was pregnant and that she was quite open to doing this cover and when that became clear, that she was open to doing it, it seemed to me like a no-brainer that we would put her on the cover.

That having been said, I think from the beginning it was very clear that what we wanted to do with the cover was to look at female power in a different way. And I think the reason this cover became something that we absolutely wanted to do was because putting a naked woman on the cover who is pregnant is really a strong statement about the basis of female power. 

I think putting a naked woman on the cover in a sort of sexual pose is one thing, putting a naked man on the cover is something else, but putting a naked woman who is pregnant on the cover is saying that this power in women is somewhat very different than where we’re used to seeing it as a society. And for me, that was a statement that really lined up with what we were doing with the magazine. 

Samir Husni: I know the first issue of the magazine has very limited availability, but what has been the feedback you’ve received? I saw your interview with Monocle and the WWD review, but besides the media people, what has been one criticism your circle has given you and what was one positive about the relaunch?

Skye Parrott: I’d start first with the criticisms, because I would love it if we could get some, but unfortunately in the world right now, I feel like those criticisms, you get them in person from people, and right now there’s just no in person. So, the feedback I’ve gotten has been only positive about it. I would love to share the critiques because there’s always room to make something better and to do more, but the feedback I have gotten has been really enthusiastic.

I’ve heard a lot that it was like a breath of fresh air at this moment, that it made people feel joy and hope when they saw it and consumed it. I’ve heard that from a number of women, that it felt very fresh and very “right now” in a positive way. I love to hear that. Obviously, you make magazines hoping that you’re going to give people a certain experience and that you’re bringing something good into the world. And so to hear that has been the case is beyond satisfying. 

I’ve gotten just a lot of very positive feedback. I haven’t heard a lot of critique yet, but I expect I will. Certainly, there’s always room to make things better. 

Samir Husni: As a magazine editor, with almost all the other platforms bombarding the audience with bad news, murders, demonstrations, social injustices, you name it, do you think the magazine as a whole plays a role similar to a Paradise Island or an Island of Clarity as they used to refer to The Wall Street Journal? 

Skye Parrott: That’s a very interesting question. I can only speak to the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make and the kinds of magazines that I’ve looked to make are not trying to provide a Paradise Island, they’re not trying to sugarcoat anything. But what I look to do with Playgirl and what I think that we accomplished pretty well is to address the world as it is in a way that’s honest and vulnerable, but also has humor and hope. 

And I think the magazine does that very well. There’s a lot to talk about and I hope this opens up discussions, but not in a way that’s so heavy people feel more hopeless, because I don’t believe the world needs more of that right now.  

And as you noted, the magazine was finished in March and we were supposed to come out in April, but the publisher decided to hold it. We finally started to work on it again for two weeks in September and then it came out in October. So, when I went back to work on it in September I hadn’t looked at in six months and I had the sense that we were going to have to make big changes to it for the magazine to be appropriate in the world at that time. But much to my pleasant surprise, after I went through it, it didn’t need big changes. There were only very small changes. 

There was this portfolio at the core of it, which is about these feminist activists; we had already done that. We’d already talked about these women who are doing these really important things and how they’re doing them. We already had all of these first-person essays. I added only two first-person essays that I thought specifically looked at some aspects of what had been going on in the last six months in a very beautiful and thoughtful way. 

One of those was from a woman named Ivy Elrod who is quite a good friend of mine. She lives in Nashville and she wrote an essay called “We Need To Talk About The Bird.” And it’s wonderful. First of all, it’s incredibly funny and I think that’s really important. She’s also smart and she talks in it about the experience of parenting during the pandemic and the experience of being a biracial person and the experience of sort of reckoning with identity. And all of that is woven through the story. These are serious subjects to talk about, but to do so with humor and depth is really the trick. 

That piece is really the tone that I hope is woven through the whole magazine. To talk about things that are important, but to find a way to do it that balances the heaviness and the lightness of life. 

Samir Husni: If you and I are having this conversation one year from now, what would you hope to tell me you had accomplished with Playgirl?

Skye Parrott: I wish I knew. I can maybe imagine my life about a week from now, (Laughs) if I’m lucky. One year ago, I wouldn’t have imagined anything going on, so I wish I had the crystal ball to say that I could plan for anything a year from now, but I have no sense of what my life will look like. Or the world, for that matter. As you noted, I have three children and they’re in school. One of my younger children goes to school in a park, outside. 

As far as the magazine goes, I don’t know what the future holds for it, to be frank. The pandemic has changed the calculus a little bit for the publisher and he hasn’t got our schedule yet for the second issue. Ideally, when you do a biannual magazine, you immediately start working on the next issue, but that’s not the case for Playgirl. So, I really don’t know. But what I hope is the experience of reading it will have given people stuff to think about, will have given people enjoyment and maybe will have added something to the conversation about life and the world and the human experience. 

Samir Husni: You’ve made the magazine more like a luxury item with the $20 cover price.

Skye Parrott: Absolutely. It’s quite a niche product, but that’s also my background. With Dossier, we tried very hard to keep the cover price reasonable, we worked to do so, but ultimately a $20 magazine is a bit of an indulgence. The hope is with the magazine at that price, it is something you keep and look at it a little more like a book. So, when you said it looked like a coffee table book, I hope that’s what it is because at $20 it should be something that you want to hold onto. 

Samir Husni: Let’s assume there’s no COVID-19 and I show up unexpectedly at your home one evening after work, what would I find you doing? Having a glass of wine; reading a magazine; cooking; watching TV; or something else? How do you unwind?

Skye Parrott: I’ll mention it again, I have three young children, so my evenings end quite early. In a world where there isn’t COVID-19, I’m not sure what it would be, but with the pandemic right now what I’ve been watching is The Great British Baking Show on Netflix. (Laughs) It’s very soothing, there’s no drama. The drama comes from the cooking. Everyone is very kind to one another and it’s very British. There are lots of good manners and that’s how I’ve been unwinding right now. And cooking, I’ve done a little cooking. My husband has been doing a lot of cooking.

Samir Husni: I read that you shuttle between New York and Mexico?

Skye Parrott: Yes. I’ve been living for the last two years in a tiny little town in Mexico called Sayulita. I’ve been going back and forth. I actually produced the entire magazine remotely. I built the team remotely, led the team remotely; I was in New York for some meetings, but almost the entire magazine was produced remotely, which was actually true for Dossier as well. It was a remote team then also. 

I’ve been doing that for two years. We’re back in New York right now, but we may go back to Mexico for some time this winter. My kids are in school remotely, so it’s open.

Samir Husni: My typical last question; what keeps you up at night?

Skye Parrott: I don’t know if you want to know the answer to that right now. (Laughs) 

Samir Husni: Thank you.

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