Sat, Sep 15, 2018 - Page 13 News List

The Playboy Club is back

Like a lot of media companies, Playboy sees its future in ‘experiences’

By Felix Gillette  /  Bloomberg

Playmates Raquel Pomplun, Brande Roderick, Nina Daniele and Tiffany Fallon arrive at Playboy Club New York Grand Opening on Wednesday in New York City.

Photo: AFP

Two things happened on Wednesday: The same day a seasoned television executive was brought low by a growing scandal over allegations of sexual misconduct at work, the Playboy Club reopened its doors in New York.

At the opening-night party, women in cocktail dresses and men in loafers, no socks, bumped and shimmied around an oval bar while the bunnies — comely waitresses in black corsets, rabbit ears and cottontails — offered plates of sushi and flutes of Champagne.

In a VIP area, a group of well-gelled men were manspreading, drinking and admiring passing bunnies while ignoring, in that great Playboy tradition, the fine collection of readings on the bookshelves around them: Lincoln, by Gore Vidal, The Sensuous Man, by M, Rabbit, Run, by John Updike.

While small fish nibbled at a Playboy bunny logo in a glowing saltwater tank, Playboy Chief Executive Officer Ben Kohn found a quiet hallway and explained that, actually, Playboy is in the midst of a very good year. Profits are up 25 percent, and Playboy sees lots of opportunities to expand, particularly in the US Five years ago, Playboy bailed on its licensing business in the domestic market, investing instead in places where the Playboy brand still conveyed an air of American exceptionalism. There five Playboy clubs, cafes and beer gardens in Southeast Asia and one in London.

The opening of a New York beachhead gives Playboy Enterprises a chance to reintroduce the brand in person to an American audience. In a partnership with Merchants Hospitality, the developer of various high-end New York restaurants and bars, the club will be partly open to the general public, with large sections blocked off for members. Annual dues run from US$5,000 to US$100,000, for which members can frolic freely amid the bunnies and revel in the aura of the Playboy brand — whatever it calls to mind.

CHALLENGES

The timing of all this is challenging. Hugh Hefner, the company’s founder and randy embodiment of Playboy’s revolving-bed ethos, died last year at 91. Over the years, Hefner made Playboy into a lucrative empire, in large part by marrying his libertine sexual beliefs to an upwardly mobile lifestyle: A buxom blond on each arm became a symbol of success, along with a Mercury Cougar in the driveway and a bottle of Glenfiddich on the bar.

Recently, however, insatiable bed-hopping has lost its glamour. These days, the news is strewn with stories about once-revered men who for years allegedly abused their positions of workplace power in pursuit of serial sexual conquests — in so doing, ultimately wrecking their reputations and careers. That one of the highest-stakes, horn-dogging scandals involves the president of the US allegedly covering up a covert extramarital affair with a former Playboy Playmate is a further turn of the screw for Playboy’s brand managers. An aura of pin-striped male entitlement is not what they’re after.

So, what does Brand Playboy — as embodied by its namesake magazine and sundry other media properties — stand for at a time when insatiable male sexuality has become so closely linked with comeuppance and downward mobility?

“We are taking the brand back to its libertarian and personal-freedom roots,” said Kohn. Also fun, he hastened to add. And music. And sophistication. Whether that’s enough to revive a media empire built on the appeal of nude women is another question.

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