Greg Lansky is gesturing at the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd while sitting behind a red velvet rope on the rooftop of the Ace Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. “I want to take porn out of the shadows,” he says with his French accent.
The 35-year-old pornographer is wearing a black velvet blazer over a black t-shirt, along with a flashy gold watch and gold-rimmed aviator glasses. The mass of partygoers gathered around the neighboring pool is filled with semi-celebrities, including vaguely recognizable YouTube stars and musicians like Trippie Redd. But the most familiar faces belong to the dozens of porn performers in attendance, including Abella Danger, Adriana Chechik, and Riley Reid.
This party is part of Lansky’s vision for, as he puts it, “elevating” the porn industry. Many of the women in attendance are clad in evening gowns, having come straight from the Pornhub Awards, an Oscars-like event sponsored by one of the mega tube sites currently gobbling up the adult industry. Kanye West was there, having served as the show’s surprise creative director, and now provides the background hum of this afterparty: KanyeKanyeKanye. Earlier, Lansky posted to Instagram a photo of himself hanging out with West backstage.
Ace Hotel. Pool party. Velvet ropes. Kim Kardashian’s husband. It all amounts to a degree of glamour and celebrity that isn’t usually conferred to the contemporary porn industry. It’s the celebrity-studded Playboy mansion parties of the past brought firmly into the tube-site-ruling 21st century. In fact, it’s Lansky’s party, but it’s co-sponsored by Pornhub.
Soon, a couple of women will jump into the pool and make out, seeming to fully realize the vision for the night. But, for now, Lansky leans back in his chair, legs spread, and strokes his well-groomed beard. The logo of his flagship brand, Vixen, is splashed throughout the party. “The kind of stuff we’re creating, it’s not porn, it’s not mainstream,” he says emphatically. “They don’t have a word for it.”
There might not be a single word for what Lansky does, but the phrase “lifestyle porn” comes to mind. He is a purveyor of a fantasy about wealth, power, fame, beauty and, almost as an afterthought, sex.
Lansky, who grew up in Paris, says he decided that he wanted to get into porn when he saw his first Playboy magazine at the age of 13. “I was fascinated by it,” he said. “I was like, wow, that is it, that’s what I want to do.” Eight years later, he made his first adult film in Europe with a childhood friend. Eventually, he worked his way into the mainstream U.S.-based porn industry. But it wasn’t until a few years ago that his star started to rise with his creation of Tushy, which bears the tagline “the art of anal sex,” and Blacked, a so-called “interracial” site. (The latter has garnered criticism for fetishizing black men—and the name alone could support a graduate thesis on cultural representations of race and sexuality.) It was Vixen, though, that quickly became synonymous with Lansky’s name and image.
Vixen produces ultra high-definition porn set against luxurious backdrops—a Los Angeles high-rise, the Aegean Sea, a balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower—for members who pay $29.95 a month. The sex is tame, but the settings are extreme. Most of the videos have little setup and promptly proceed to the spectacle of exquisite naked bodies in locales that might otherwise belong on the latest cover of Architectural Digest. It’s almost like jerking off to capitalism. As Abella Danger, a wildly popular Vixen performer, put it to me, “He really does keep it tasteful, even though we’re, like, suckin’ dick,” she said with a laugh. “That’s really hard to do.”
That literal pornography transforms into the aspirational variety in Vixen’s PG-13-rated social media presence, as well as on Lansky’s own Instagram account. Every month, a new Vixen Angel is announced through a live-streamed ceremony during which she’s given a custom necklace from Tiffany’s bearing a diamond-encrusted “V,” as well as a pair of Christian Louboutin red-bottomed shoes and a lingerie set, both bearing the Vixen logo. Some G-Eazy might play in the background as the camera zooms in on the luxury shoes. Almost always, Veuve Clicquot is conspicuously poured into Champagne glasses. And clink, clink, clink!
These ceremonies are paired with the release of images from elaborate photoshoots that Lansky says can cost upwards of $30,000. Recently, the company shot Tori Black leaning out of a helicopter over Los Angeles and Kira Noir posing in 127-degree weather in the middle of Death Valley. The resulting images, which don’t feature nudity, live on Vixen’s pay site, but they also show up on Vixen’s Instagram account. Which is to say: Lansky invests in days-long, high-quality photo shoots only for the images to end up as visuals on people’s social media feeds.
When I visited the Vixen offices in Studio City the day after the after-party, Lansky told me, plainly, “This shit’s working.” That’s because he says people discover the brand through social media and then find their way to the pay site. It’s hard to measure the return, but Lansky, who declined to share actual numbers, says that site membership is increasing. He now has a staff of roughly 100, which is remarkable for a porn production company (20 to 40 is average, according to an industry source). The Vixen Instagram account is just shy of one million followers.
His own Instagram account has only a healthy fraction of that, but it’s where things get most interesting. Much like in his porn-porn, Lansky’s social media is filled with signs of wealth: yachts, helicopters, fast cars, gold watches, and, of course, champagne. Sometimes these status symbols overlap absurdly, as in a video where he reveals the bottles of champagne kept chilled in the trunk of a Rolls Royce. In more than a couple shots, he’s shown in a black and gold Versace robe, standing on that same balcony in front of the Eiffel Tower or on a seaside villa in Ibiza, for example. Typically, he’s flanked by beautiful women—perhaps the ultimate status symbol in this particular realm—wearing high-waisted Vixen-branded bikinis.
But there is a particular type of photograph on Lansky’s Instagram that visually hints at the success behind his brand: the images where there’s the implication of himself in the foreground. Sometimes it’s his hand; sometimes it’s his feet.
Instead of a photo of Angela White lounging by a pool, for example, it’s a photo of White lounging by the pool with Lansky’s hand reaching into the frame to grab the deep-v of her swimsuit. It’s his hand—foregrounded by the oversized gold watch around his wrist—opening the bathroom door on Kendra Sunderland or pulling back a curtain to reveal a faceless, scantily-clad woman standing on a balcony.
But while his hands directly perform the fantasy of access and authority, the slyest of this genre involves his feet, which are often clad in Givenchy or Versace slippers. There are Lansky’s feet, visible in the lower-left-hand corner of a video of Sunderland in an infinity pool in Mikonos. There they are again, crossed in repose in the foreground, as two ladies dangle their legs off the edge of a yacht. And again, propped up in the lower portion of an image of a woman standing on a balcony overlooking the Eiffel Tower alongside a bucket of champagne.
The insertion of himself into the frame transforms what might otherwise have been a glamour shot into lifestyle porn. His extremities serve, not unlike a hard dick in point-of-view porn, to transport the male viewer directly into the frame, and into the fantasy. The male gaze is made more literal; it’s self-realization by proxy. These are the shots that, taken alongside his actual porn, reveal how well Lansky understands the breadth of straight men’s sexual fantasies. It’s not just about sex, even when there is actual sex involved. There are almost always deeper yearnings at play—for security, safety, or power. “My job is to sell a dream,” he said. “I’m trying to portray this vision of success, fun, positivity, and beauty.”
But that vision is a total fantasy. “My personal Instagram is definitely more fun than my personal life,” he said. In fact, Lansky says he works 100-hour weeks, so there is little time for actually lounging by a pool or watching a nearly-naked woman stock a fridge with gold bottles of champagne—not unless it is part of an actual Vixen shoot. He added, “Even I look at my own Instagram and I’m like, ‘Fuck, I wish.’” For all its absurdity, Lansky’s social media presence is oddly convincing. So much so that I had to actually clarify: So your Instagram isn’t like your real life? “Not at all,” he said, laughing. “Not at all.”
It’s hard not to compare Lansky to Hugh Hefner. After all, like his predecessor, Lanksy sells a lifestyle that is centered around beautiful, branded women. There is at least one notable difference, though: Lansky doesn’t view those beautiful women as passive “bunnies.” Instead, he refers to them as “artists” and “entrepreneurs.” After winning an AVN Award in 2017, he tweeted, “Adult performers YOU are artists! You are brave & you are beautiful! They do not define what we do.” As Adriana Chechik, a popular performer and recent Vixen Angel, put it to me, “Hefner was very chauvinistic. I don’t feel that he looked at any of the women [he worked with] as an equal.” Of Lansky, she says, “He doesn’t just care about your looks, he cares about your person. He’s trying to humanize us.”
But while the women he works with may be celebrated co-collaborators, and humans, they are also effectively cast as aspirational objects, right alongside the designer watches and shoes.
He was quick to tell me that many of the porn performers that he works with could lead business seminars in branding. As he points out, when he’s taking sleek photos of himself—or his slippered feet, really—with a bunch of women by the pool, they are doing something similar. Many take selfies of the bubbly poured poolside, creating their own PG-13 fantasy for hundreds of thousands of followers. In fact, some Vixen Angels, like Abella Danger and Angela White, have millions of followers—far more than the brand itself. Of course, in Lansky’s porn, as on his Instagram account, the women are often the ones fully centered in the frame, not hinted at as kicked-back viewers or thrusting dicks in the periphery.
Neither Lansky’s porn, nor his social media presence, are particularly interested in subverting the male gaze. (Although it bears mentioning that Lansky has recently hired Kayden Kross, a longtime performer and co-founder of indie porn site TrenchcoatX, to direct high-profile features that are cinematic and narrative-driven.) His work and brand are largely about people, overwhelmingly men, looking at women. But with Vixen he is trying to take the secrecy and shame out of both the looking and the being seen. It is objectification on a gold-encrusted, Gucci-branded pedestal. The women in Lansky’s photos and films are portrayed as relishing it, because that, too, is part of the fantasy. It isn’t fueled by the erotics of guilt and debasement, rather enthusiasm and luxury.
As Danger, a Vixen Angel, tells it, this overall aesthetic pours over, like so much bubbly, into the experience of shooting with Lansky. “From the moment you step on set you’re treated like royalty,” she said. When asked for concrete details of this royal treatment, she gives the example that wardrobe is provided and that there are fittings ahead of time, both now a rarity in the industry. She says Lansky also runs concepts by performers and is highly amenable to changes. His sets can have around 10 crew members, she says, whereas other shoots might only have a single production assistant. Danger mentions that she doesn’t even have to ask for water on his sets.
Given the dramatically slashed budgets of the current adult industry, this is all, perhaps sadly, worthy of note. Chechik mentions similar perks: wardrobe, assistants, and creative feedback. “Most companies you go to shoot for it’s just: this is how it is and I just want to get the scene in the can,” she said. “Most directors just want to feed the machine. They aren’t trying to make it about you, they’re just trying to make a product and have it be done with.” Recently, when she had her Vixen Angel photoshoot—in which she donned satin gloves, diamonds, and a white fur shawl while flanked by tuxedoed men in homage to Marilyn Monroe in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes—she says Lansky wanted to keep shooting until she was happy with the results. “For a director to even say that, and to actually even care about how you look in a photo, is astonishing in porn,” she said.
But it’s Lansky’s rhetoric around the work that seems to make the biggest impression on performers like Danger. “He makes you feel like you’re creating art,” she said. “He never forgets to remind you that you are an artist.” Danger adds, “You’re reminded that you’re the number one reason that everyone is on set.” Again, this is worthy of note in an industry where women performers can feel highly disposable, particularly amid abuse allegations in which some accusers have faced greater consequences than the accused.
The politics of Lansky’s work might not be impenetrable, but they are unusual. When Tori Black returned to the industry after a several-years-long retirement, she went to Vixen. Her comeback film begins with her being interrogated by a bunch of men—in a high-fidelity rendering of the infamous scene from Basic Instinct—about her decision to return. “Do you feel that having sex on camera has… devalued you?” one of the men asks. She responds, “Sex work doesn’t devalue people. People devalue sex work.”
Later, she adds, “I’m an artist. My body is my art.” And then she proceeds to make her art.
This fantasy world, where diamonds drip from women’s necks and Veuve Clicquot flows freely, feels wildly out of step with our current political and social reality. But it’s even more so contrary to the current reality of the porn industry, which has been decimated by tube sites. As Lansky puts it, “Everyone in the adult industry is just really fucking trying to make it.” The Vixen Angel ceremonies are, in some ways, a throwback to the bygone “contract girl” era, where a female performer could sign a lucrative multi-film deal with a major studio like Wicked Pictures (whose website is now managed by tube-site behemoth MindGeek), as opposed to having to hustle for declining fees as an independent contractor. Just over 15 years ago, the average porn performer could expect to make $100,000 a year, but now it’s roughly half that, according to porn talent agent Mark Spiegler.
Then again, fantasies are about escape. Lansky, however, says his over-the-top vision works with viewers simply because “everybody likes a winner.” I asked him, “Why? Is it because they want to believe that they can win, too?” And he immediately shot back, “They can.”
That’s the thing about Lansky. He is earnestly optimistic about the ability to believe your way to success. He’s a devoted fan of the 1903 self-help book As a Man Thinketh, which, like The Secret, is about the power of human thought. Lansky says he tries to read it once a week. “What really changed my life was realizing that I wasn’t going to get what I wanted, I was going to get what I think about,” he said. It’s the gospel that he preaches right alongside all of those images of beautiful women by bodies of water. In the caption of a photo of him lounging poolside in Mikinos with five thonged women, he writes:
Surround yourself with positive people and hold on to YOUR vision in your heart & in your mind even when it’s hard. Something amazing will grow out of it I promise. . YOU WILL NOT GET WHAT YOU WANT BUT WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT so be watchful what you put in your head and don’t let anyone get in there that’s not bringing you up!
In another photo of him driving a yacht with six women in the background, he writes: “Be willing to fail. Again and again until you succeed! If you keep trying the odds do not matter! #motivation #greglansky.” As he told me, “I grab people’s attention with the beautiful women and then they read it and they’re like, ‘Oh shit, this is actually a motivational post.’” He’s aware that it can come off as “corny or cheesy,” but to quote a #greglansky ‘gram, “you will never turn a hater into a fan.”
“Ultimately, it’s about elevating the game,” he said. “It’s not about worrying what other people are going to say.” This “elevating the game” soundbite is one he returns to frequently, and it has a certain DJ Khaled-esque hollowness, but it also reflects his earnest-seeming desire to convince people of the value of porn. If he can get the general public to see sex workers as artists, maybe porn viewers will open their wallets once again. At least, that’s his gambit—and he claims it’s already working.
Everything about Lansky’s branding approach—including the Ace Hotel party, the picture with Kanye, the Instagram-friendly lifestyle photos, the heavy-handed symbols of luxury, and even the inspirational quotes—is in service of trying to mainstream the adult industry. That’s what he means when he says that he wants to “take porn out of the shadows.” Lansky wants to see porn treated like any other part of our culture.
His big vision, he says, is to be the first porn company in the iTunes Store—as in, he wants to be accepted by Apple, a company notoriously unfriendly to adult content. “If I can elevate all of us and elevate the game so that there is no difference between ‘adult’ and music and movies, then this is inevitable,” he said. “It has to happen.”
This might sound delusional, and yet so did his vision a few years ago of pouring money into high-quality porn at a time when the mindset of the tube-ravaged industry was to make the cheapest content possible. Now, he’s one of the leading producers in the business and the envy of many a porn producer who can only dream of having access to his big budgets.
Part of this vision is simply about good business and accessing more customers. “If you’re part of the culture, you get noticed more, and if you get noticed more you get more customers,” he said. But then there’s the more human piece about craving acceptance.
It wasn’t always that way. He first got involved in the industry in part because he loved that it was taboo and unconventional. “It would make people uncomfortable and frown upon you, and I wanted that,” he said. “My biggest fear was to be a real estate agent or something like that. I didn’t see myself in a conventional life.” These years later, though, that’s exactly what he wants to change. “For me, the more doors you close on me, the more motivated I’m going to be to keep pushing them open,” he said. “When I’m with the women that I work with, I like this idea that together we’re on this mission to basically kick the fucking door open together.”
And, of course, they’ll be kicking it open with Louboutins and a glass of bubbly.