One Thursday evening last month, I sat sandwiched between Playboy’s CEO and its editorial director inside Marilyn Monroe’s favorite bungalow at the Chateau Marmont. Playboy had fled the mansion to unveil its 2013 Playmate of the Year, the 25-year-old Mexican-American beauty Raquel Pomplun, who was plucked from the Playmate pile to represent a “reimagining” of the brand for the millennial generation. In order to appeal to a new era of Playboy readers, “we’ve got to be female-friendly,” the CEO, Scott Flanders, emphasized. “We’ve got to create events that women are as comfortable attending as men.” In other words, they had to figure out what women want—in other women.
The first order of business was to bury the ditzy reverberations of The Girls Next Door—the E! reality show that followed three of Hugh Hefner’s girlfriends, stitched up with silicone and marinated in peroxide, as they fluttered about the mansion—and dial the brand back a few generations to a time when it seemed sexually revolutionary for women to hop into Hef’s arms. Scattered across the party were issues of the June cover, on which Pomplun fingers a rotary phone in hair curlers and white panties, grinning broadly over her shoulder. Two of Playboy’s trusted accessories were notably absent. “We’re moving toward what we’re calling the three G’s: God-given gorgeous, with no artificial enhancements,” Flanders explained. “I’m sorry—no obvious artificial enhancements.”
“I prefer to call it Darwin-given gorgeous,” editorial director Jimmy Jellinek said. “The magazine used to have this aesthetic of unattainable perfection” that prompted “unhealthy competition” among women, he said. It hopes to appeal to men and women alike with a “more healthy, naturalistic look.”
I suggested that, instead of tinkering with the female form, Playboy consider appealing to women by featuring men in the magazine.
“We used to have a pickle shot now and again,” Jellinek allowed. “Not anymore.”
“Men aren’t comfortable with it,” Flanders said quickly.