From top shelf to coffee table

New men's magazine Paradis draws inspiration from classic French titles of the 1960s and 70s. Susie Rushton reports on how sexy met cool
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The Independent Online

he new men's magazine Paradis, which launches in the UK today, is unlikely to provoke the ire of Claire Curtis-Thomas, the Labour MP who last week in an early-day motion proposed that lads' mags and their porn-stars-and-sharkbites should be relegated to the top shelf. Paradis, which is based in Paris and is biannual, certainly has erotic content, including its star feature, a 10-page shoot of the actress Emmanuelle Seigner, the actress wife of Roman Polanski.

Seigner is photographed, half-dressed, sprawled across a bed or kneeling on a chair with her buttocks in the air. Then there's the feature about female pubic hair and spreads that drool over geisha girls or dominatrixes. Yet it is a magazine that actually has more in common with Art Forum than Nuts. Paradis embodies the classic rejoinder of the clammy-palmed Helmut Newton enthusiast: "It's art, innit?" And indeed many of the 288 pages are devoted to art subjects (50 are erotica). Its spare layout even resembles an art catalogue.

"We're calling it a magazine for a contemporary man," says Jonathan Wingfield, its British editor-in-chief. "I don't think you'll find many 22-year-olds interested in it, because the content is such that they'll think, 'Hold on - there's a pair of tits, and here's a story about finance in the art world: I'm not into that'."

Its initial print run is a modest 40,000 (British FHM sells 500,000, US Playboy over 3m) and is to be published in both English and French. Outlets are more likely to include museum bookshops than mainstream newsagents. And despite its Gallic personality (complete with a feature about the joys of rare steak) Wingfield and Thomas Lenthal, its co-founder, publisher and creative director intend Paradis to have international appeal. "None of those French celebrities that aren't famous outside France," dismisses Lenthal, the archetypal dapper art director in heavy-framed specs and perfect cufflinks. They expect the main markets for their 10-euro tome to be Western Europe and the US.

Its editorial mix - with soft-focus, soft-core shoots bookended by, say, a lengthy interview with Herzog & de Meuron by the art critic Hans Ulrich Obrist, and an account of a night on the tiles with photographer William Eggleston - is confessedly nostalgic.

"When we started, the idea was to do a little erotic review, in a small format, maybe hardback," Wingfield says. " Then we thought about marrying a fashion magazine to erotica, and that in turn quickly mutated further."

Paradis carries other echoes. "We're referenced Playboy and Lui of the 1960s and 1970s," Lenthal explains. "Lui was pretty much equal to Playboy but less goofy and more sophisticated."

Their choice of culturally weighty interviewees certainly aspires to Playboy's heyday (Jeff Koons, Oliver Barker of Sotheby's). So too does the calibre of Paradis' writers (Obrist, for example, andVanity Fair regular Nick Tosches) and photographers (Robert Polidori, Araki).

Wingfield and Lenthal see their magazine's retro character as a plus. Their intention, Wingfield explains, is not to cover "what's hot now or next week - since the magazine will come out only twice a year. It has to sit on the proverbial coffee table for longer. We're not a trendy magazine."

Lenthal, who has invested "about a hundred grand" [in sterling] of his own money in the start-up, is convinced that its vintage personality will resonate with a certain type of man. "Whenever we talk to any guy from the age of 30 to about 50, they say, 'I'd love to see a magazine like that'. It began as a purely egotistical project, but I know for a fact that men are interested in this."

If Paradis is old-fashioned in an entirely fashionable manner, that's no doubt connected to the backgrounds of its two founders. Wingfield, 32, and Lenthal, 41, who conceived the idea for Paradis 18 months ago, both also work for French fashion bible Numéro, as editor and creative director respectively. Wingfield began his career at IPC in London, first, briefly, at James Brown's Loaded ("You're going to pounce on that, aren't you? But it has in no way informed this magazine").

In his early twenties he moved to Paris. Lenthal, meanwhile, a founder of Numéro in 1999, had previously worked as art director for French Glamour and various commercial clients including Missoni, Dior and YSL - income from which Lenthal has now sunk into Paradis.

Paradis is proudly elitist, in the manner that Parisians know best. While the lads' mag revolution that began in the 1990s allowed men to consume soft-core porn with impunity, Paradis offers an older, more affluent and cultivated reader the chance to view erotica with no more guilt than if he were leafing through Frieze or a fashion magazine. "The thing is," concludes Lenthal, "erotica is no longer available - there's only pornography. If you wanted erotica, where would you find it? Probably in French Vogue - there's a high tit count there!"