There's of course no reason to have reality tv waistrel Heidi Montag on the cover of the September 2009 issue of Playboy. She and her husband simply take up space. But for magazine design people, it's worth noting because Ms. Montag's bikini-clad body is smeared with dirt and has the Playboy rabbit drawn on the dirt.
That, of course, is an homage to one of the most famous Playboy covers ever (image left), a very simple July 1964 cover featuring Playboy staffer Cynthia Maddox, the magazine's assistant cartoon editor. In a bikini, she appears to have drawn the bunny head around her navel with lipstick. (She appeared on several Playboy covers over the years. Apparently, working at the magazine was the best way to get into the magazine.)
Another homage to that cover came this year from Chicago magazine, with its recent issue on sex and love in the Windy City (including an article recounting life at the Chicago Playboy Mansion way back when). That issue was controversial, at least judging from the letters to the editor in subsequent issues (though not to Playboy founder Hugh Hefner, who was interviewed in the article and praised the issue in his own letter to the editor). But again, the cover was at least a cute wink back to the Maddox cover. Chicago's cover featured a model mimicking Maddox, complete with white bikini, blonde hair, sunglasses in one hand, lipstick in the other, and a liptstick-drawn character around her navel (though in her case, it was a heart instead of the ubiquitous bunny).
Playboy has revisited that image itself many times before Heidi Montag tarnished it. For example, in 1991 and 2001 covers featured very similar images, and foreign editions have also jumped on the bandwagon.
We are unlikely to have seen the last of the Maddox-inspired magazine covers. Whether it's a lack of originality on the part of modern art directors or it's a true love for the golden age of magazine cover design, it's a simple cover image that evokes fun. We'll see more of them.