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Can Hugh Hefner's Son Convince His Generation That Playboy Is Sexy?


In the nine months since Hugh's death at 91, Cooper Hefner has stepped fully into his father's role as the creative mind of Playboy.

Cooper Hefner has his father's translucent skin and mischievous smile, which stretches across his face like a flat line. He's lankier but has the same eyes, impenetrable bits of brown seaglass below that high forehead.

"He looks just like his father," marvels a woman catching a glimpse in a dark nightclub. True, if you can imagine Hugh Hefner without the satin pajamas and harem of spray-tanned blondes.

The comparison is inescapable because Cooper, 26, is the only Hef left in the family business. Which, of course, is Playboy.

In the nine months since Hugh's death at 91, Cooper Hefner has stepped fully into his father's role as the creative mind of a sprawling 65-year-old empire - cable channels, cocktail lounges, clothing and accessory lines and, of course, the flagship nudie mag.

The task at hand is daunting: to save one of the world's most recognized brands from its own graying boomer-ness; from its slide into bunny mudflaps and other cheesy merchandise; from the ugly shadow of reality TV's "The Girls Next Door."

"We were producing twerking videos," says Playboy's chief executive Ben Kohn, as evidence of how far the brand had gone off the rails. But the identity crisis for new-era Playboy peaked in 2015, when the company abruptly concluded that it should no longer publish nudes.

"That's the exact opposite of what makes Playboy Playboy," Cooper says now, exasperated. "We should not apologize for sex."

It's a sentiment Hugh Hefner might have uttered in his heyday, when millions subscribed to his magazine and stayed up late to peer into his televised "penthouse." For Cooper, the path forward in the era of online porn and cable-TV skin is to look back to the days when his father, writing in the first issue of his magazine, conjured the kind of guy who sought the company of women for "a quiet discussion on Picasso, Nietzsche, jazz, sex."

The son is sipping a Coke in the lounge of a swank hotel in Washington, D.C., where hobnobbing with power and the intelligentsia is another key part of Playboy's strategy. Later, he and other company execs will huddle around a table at the White House correspondents' dinner, the first one graced by Playboy. The group will dip out early, before Michelle Wolf cracks a single joke, to throw one of the buzzier parties of the weekend, featuring R&B crooner Miguel and a bunny-to-guest ratio hovering near 1:1. In June, the crew would return to attend the Hugh M. Hefner First Amendment Awards in the nation's capital for the first time in its four decades, mingling with journalists and think-tankers at a Newseum reception.

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