Hugh Hefner founded Playboy in 1953, assembling the magazine with nothing more than a $1000 loan from his mother and an unused nude photo of Marilyn Monroe which she was paid $50 to shoot. This came after he left a job at Esquire following a rejection of a $5 pay rise, and his risk paid off, with over 50,000 copies of the debut issue selling in a matter of weeks. Hefner followed this up with a series of literary coups, facilitating the publication of a number of classic novels for authors which had gone largely unnoticed for little to no reason, with Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 a fine example of this – the novel was serialised in the March, April and May 1954 issues of playboy alongside lewd imagery of celebrity actresses, musicians and models, as well as a number of high-brow interviews and comics.
The intent was clear from the get-go: while the draw for consumers was undoubtedly the magazine’s unrivalled ability to make sex sophisticated, Hefner’s aim was always to expand into more than just a well put-together porno mag. The Art Paul-designed bunny logo that was once merely an adornment on the second issue of the magazine’s cover now decorates retail stores, countless accessories and garments, and is globally one of the most recognisable trademarks. Scrolling through the brand’s instagram page now, one sees commonplace nudes alongside clothing collections, perfumes, and collaborations – in the 70 years of operation, there’s been an undeniable transcendence from mere magazine to a multi-hyphenated empire.
AUGUST 1968 – GALE OLSON
In the 60’s Playboy’s rise to dominance was in full swing, with Hefner’s Playboy Mansion garnering worldwide attention and becoming famous as a headquarters of sorts for all things sex. The 22-room mansion was built with a waterfall, a zoo, a game room, swimming pool, basketball court, and so much more, being the home of rampant partying all year round. His brand was already mainstream, and he’d capitalised on this like no other, opening casinos, clubs, resorts and countless other ventures off the back of the magazine’s success, and his Playboy Bunnies – or entourage of scantily-clad women – were global symbols of empowered women free from financial constraints and burdens facing the conventional woman in that era. Bunnies would model in the magazine, then work in the clubs, casinos and resorts, with their career in glamour modelling extending far beyond their tenure in Playboy.
SEPTEMBER 1980 – GIRLS OF THE SOUTHWEST CONFERENCE
Three decades in, Playboy had expanded to over 40 nightclubs across the globe, each staffed by bunnies – who had been flown out to the Mansion for training on the Playboy Bunny handbook – that were earning upwards of four figures a week in some cases (nearly $4000 now). These Bunnies were taught everything from appearance to conduct, even going so far as to dictate their technique for smoking in order to fall in line with the brand’s image.
MAY 2007 – ANNA NICOLE SMITH
Thanks to modernisation, the internet and social media’s ascendance to prominence, Playboy’s fame was taken to new heights, with the reputation and aura being translated in the digital age far easier than through physical print. Not only had Playboy’s stock skyrocketed, the public opinion was soon to change – moving on from here is a decline in magazine sales in line with the rest of the print industry, as well as the shift from magazine to a broader corporate entity. In short, the consumers of today that are buying up collaborative outputs, products and services from Playboy, the Gen-Z, will only have a small inkling to the otherworldly hysteria which once surrounded the Playboy brand.
In 2021, Playboy’s print magazine has disbanded following the passing of founder Hugh Hefner a few years back, and the logo now finds its way onto collaborative clothing pieces, custom sneakers and a slew of products from lighters to candles. Being such a recognisable logo, it is easily employed anywhere – while the original magazine has vanished, the image and brand of Playboy has been maintained despite a number of rumours and documentaries baring all and telling the true story of life working with Hefner. While it’s nowhere as successful as it once was – it might be impossible to equal that level of attention – the name carries immense significance and weight to it in a marketing sense, so the business is still incredibly powerful.