Hugh Hefner, the founder of Playboy died today and the world will be poorer without him. Hefner was a visionary and a man of great taste. Hefner’s uncompromising vision drove the creation of not just the iconic and groundbreaking magazine, but what has become one of the world’s most enduring and recognizable brands. He invented the concept of lifestyle magazine. Without Playboy we wouldn’t have today such splendid magazines like GQ, Esquire or Maxim. His vision of a man’s good lifestyle included besides beautiful company, good food and luxury products, splendid literature, music, movies and fine arts. He was a Maecenas for countless artists. Of all the magazines he paid the most for writers, photographers, illustrators, and cartoonists.
He published and encouraged writers like Ray Bradbury, John Updike, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Margaret Atwood, Jack Kerouac, Kurt Vonnegut and many others. Playboy interviews and 20 Questions have been among the most important interviews. Playboy’s pictorial have brought to the world scenes the most iconic photographers of all times like Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts, Jarmo Pohjaniemi, Arny Freytag and many others.
I had the privilege to work as the art director for Playboy Magazine Romania. This was a dream job for any graphic designer. When I became the creative director of the publishing group, Vali, the one who would become my wife, was promoted to art director of Playboy. We both directed all the pictorials and fashion editorials of the magazine for its first four years of existence. The editor-in-chief was Dan-Silviu Boerescu, one of the most prestigious literary critics of Romania. These are the kind of people Playboy hires.
At the beginning of the American Playboy, the only two employees of Playboy Magazine were Hugh Hefner as editor and Art Paul as art director. Theirs was the perfect editor-art director relation the publishing industry has ever seen. Art Paul created the most visually exciting magazine of the day. He reproduced his own experimental work in the magazine to demonstrate to prospective artists the kind of artistic freedom he was allowing and requiring. Paul blurred the distinction between fine art and commercial art. Some of his covers have become teaching matter in design schools.
In a world where most art directors and graphic designers are seen just as tools to execute the editor’s vision, Hefner showed the world what it can be done if you respect your art director and give her the freedom to create. This attitude was instrumental in the birth of a new era for magazine art directors. Together, Hefner and Paul won prestigious awards for their creativity.
When I started working, first as a designer, for Playboy Magazine, I had to read cover to cover the Playboy Bible. A huge book of rules and philosophy about what the magazine is, what constitutes good publishing and what made Playboy such a huge brand. It was like a school manual of publishing for the uncompromising editor and art director.
My years at Playboy was the most exciting period of my professional life. It gave me the structure for excellence in design and the opportunity to experiment and create some of my best designs and visual projects. It was one of the few places where I could have experimented so freely.
R.I.P. Mr. Hefner. You will be missed.