Erotic depictions of women in drawing, painting, sculpture and photography from the dawn of man to the present.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Venus returns: Lui magazine relaunched in France - a review

It's back, with a lot of front!

Classic French men's magazine Lui was relaunched last month, after a break of 19 years since the last official issue.  The cover of the new incarnation features French actress Léa Seydoux wearing just a transparent chiffon cape designed by Alexandre Vauthier. It's a good strong cover shot by Mario Sorrenti and it is nice to see the original Lui logo back in a deep, rich purple which matches Mlle. Seydoux's cape. As it is, the cover would be too revealing for both the UK or the US but the French have a much more sensible view of nudity, exemplified by the topless models in TV beauty products (when a UK firm tried a similar approach in a TV commercial shown after 9.00pm there was an uproar), on posters in the streets and on magazine covers, of course. There is a gratifyingly small amount of text on the cover and we have to give it full marks for design.  Sexy and elegant.

Lui magazine was quite literally France's answer to Playboy, first appearing in 1963. Created by Daniel Filipacchi it was published by the Filipacchi group until 1994.  Plummeting sales saw the title sold and it was bought by another publisher. Michel Birnbaum the publisher of French Penthouse who produced another fourteen issues under the name Le Nouveau Lui between 1995 and 1997.

Original Lui creator Daniel Filipacchi in his heyday

New editorial director Frédéric Beigbeder acknowledged the contribution of Filipacchi enough to feature an interview with him in the first issue.  Agent Triple P has acquired a copy of this issue to examine what is the first major men's magazine launch for many years.  Interestingly, in France at least, men's magazines circulation are seeing a rebound with a 2.8% growth in 2012 compared with a 3.4% drop in women's magazines sales for the same period. Despite Beigbeder describing the new magazine as for "heterosexual bastards" the publishers expect 30% of the readers to be women.  Whether that is women reading their men's copies or buying their own isn't made clear. Certainly three of the key staff are women, with Yseult Williams, who launched Grazia's French edition, being editor in chief.

The initial impression is of a very high quality production indeed.  It's also quite chunky, coming in at 218 pages and perfect bound.  It has the heft that Playboy used to have and no longer does.  It's also very cheap at just €2.90 - considerably less than most UK monthly magazines.  This is because of the massive amount of advertising they have managed to attract.  These are top names as well: Chanel, Dior, Georgio Armani, Bulgari, BMW, Kenzo, Hermes, Visa, Nespresso, Yves Saint Laurent, Paul Smith, Paco Rabanne, Ducati, Fiat, Jeep and on and on.  There is no nervousness about putting their name to a magazine with naked women in here, obviously.  Probably, also, in France there would be an element of nationalistic support for reinventing a French national icon.  

Léa Seydoux

Jean-Yves Le Fur, who is behind the new magazine, has said that it will not be like the old one.  He believes that the internet has destroyed any possibility of old style Lui photographs of women being successful.  We think he is wrong on this as we will explain shortly.  While he has said that there will always be a woman on the cover there will be no centrefolds and his approach is to have top photographers photograph actresses (very old Lui) and fashion models (also very old Lui).

Another old Lui feature is the return of the full page pin up art..  In the original Lui these were done by the legendary Aslan, copying the Vargas nudes in Playboy.  The new ones are done by the young French artist/photographer Jonathan Bey in coloured pencil.  We are certainly looking forward to more of these.

Léa Seydoux's is the first pictorial in the issue (96 pages in) and features an interview with the Palme d’Or winning actress, plus 12 pages of photographs.  Her controversial lesbian love story La vie d’Adèle (Blue is the Warmest Colour in English speaking markets) (2013) hits the big screen shortly.  Her pictorial is the best in the magazine. The initial print run of Lui is for 350,000 copies, which is what the old Lui was achieving in the late seventies and early eighties, with 15,000 copies having 16 pages of English text inserted at the back offering abbreviated versions of some of the articles for the English language market.  It is certainly a magazine that has more articles than pictorials covering culture, politics and current affairs.  It is very much a grown up publication with the target market being from 30 to 50 years of age.  This contrasts with Playboy which has been desperately chasing the younger demographic, unsuccessfully, for years.  It will be interesting to see if this works.  For some time Triple P has thought that rebranding Playboy to aim at an older readership would be sensible, especially if they can tap into the nostalgia market.

However, this is where I think Lui has got it wrong; particularly with the pictures. The second pictorial Plein soleil by Mikael Jansson looks exactly like a fashion shoot for a continental woman's magazine.  In fact all the pictorials look like pages from Vogue or Elle.  This one, oddly, being a couples one, harks back to the boy girl pictorials of Oui, the Americanised version of Lui which Filipacchi set up in conjunction with Playboy's Hugh Hefner in 1972.  Except they were not part of the French material used in the US but were shot in America.  These are pictorials aimed at a younger artistic sensibility.

Each picture in this pictorial, and there are some of just the woman alone, feature credits for clothes and accessories although in the picture above the couple are not flogging anything.  Even when they are not advertorial the pictorials have a host of credits attached.  Plein soleil, then, is a bit of a curious hybrid pictorial then: part arty erotic feature, part fashion feature but far preferable to the male models posing in the likes of GQ.

The only problem with the pictures, and actually this is true of virtually all of them, is that most carry no erotic charge at all.  In the old Lui even a photograph of a woman's face (and they featured quite a few portraits of their models) often dripped sensuality.  This curious picture at least tries a bit of shock value as the girl in the shower lets water run over her, inevitably, bald mound while the fully dressed man takes a piss.


One of the problems is that too many of the pictures are shot in a similar style; the now increasingly pervasive single camera mounted flash picture as exemplified by this shot from Terry Richardson in the magazine's third pictorial.  It gives the pictures and, indeed the women, a very cool, sterile quality.


The fourth pictorial features Polish model turned actress Malgosia Bela, who featured in the Pirelli Calendar in 2009 and 2012.  Probably not coincidentally she is the girlfriend of  Lui's president, Jean-Yves Le Fur.


At least half of the shots of the models are black and white and the colour ones have that equally trendy pale, washed-out look which, again, takes all the life out of them.  The fifth pictorial, of Isabeli, has another very beautiful girl.  In fact you cannot fault the beauty of the models but they do pretty much all have that semi-emaciated fashion model look (probably because they are all semi-emaciated fashion models).  Some different body types would be nice.

Somewhat surprisingly, given their approach elsewhere, one of the models, Zoe, displays a glimpse of her labia as she ascends a staircase.  This is done in a perfectly natural way but they could have PhotoShopped her or left the pose out which they didn't.  The real problem, we think, is that they are so worried about having sexy pictures in the magazine and not being taken seriously (and a lot of the articles are very serious) that they have gone slightly too far the other way. Whether it's because they don't want to offend women or whether it's because there are too many woman on the team (exactly half or the editorial and creative team) we're not sure. Certainly Beigbeder's "heterosexual bastard" would expect a bit more oomph from the pictorials than the magazine delivers. The models are just naked women photographed without any attempt at sensuality.  It will be interesting to see if they stick to this or try to mix up the styles a bit.  

So, a very interesting first issue and we were surprised that they had as many as six pictorials.  We are sure the first edition will sell well but we have now ordered the second one to see if they can maintain interest and perhaps offer some more visual variation.


  1. Interesting. I wonder if they can persuade Audrey Fleurot to take her clothes off?

  2. Very interesting review, thanks. Agree about "fashion style" nude, unfortunately. But Alyssa's "tongue" picture (the one where she's trying to lick her nose) totally cracked me up :D Loved it! And cover - mmm...

  3. Great - this news has made my weekend, and it's only Friday night... Interesting comment that the photos lack the spark of the 60s/70s originals - a shame, but I think fashion is such that a degree of detachment and irony is now necessary if nudes are to be successful - look at Deliciae Vitae 10 years ago, S magazine 7 years ago, Treats magazine and now nouveau Lui - great photographers, beautiful girls, but the prevalence of mainstream, generally cheap and trashy porn and the degree to which it has appropriated the trappings of sensuality (badly, mind) has sadly resulted in the sexless nude. Even Kenneth Clark would regret that...

  4. A wonderfully sensual cover. Thanks for posting it. The other photos seem dull and lifeless as if no one was sure what they were trying to do.

  5. Thanks for sharing.
    Interesting. I would have thought that those print magazines are the walking dead, another casuality of the Net. Of course this is a ridiculous low price for such a magazine.

    You are right about the photos, though. Very artful - and awfully cold. As if they would take an effort to eliminate any sensuality. Strange.

  6. I blame Lady GaGa... She's cornered the market in hiding the beauty of nudity behind overtly arch 'statements' that seek to extract any sensuality from nudity...