Cooper Hefner is 26. tall. He wears all black save a white undershirt. Casual but focused, he resembles old photographs of his father at a younger age. He has a vintage, gentlemanly look—a kind of Jimmy Stewart drip. The son of Hugh, and one of four children in the line, heis the only sibling currently working with Playboy Enterprises. He helms the position of Chief Creative Officer, which oversees more or less the entirety of the company’s being. I meet him to talk at Playboy’s new offices in Beverly Hills. Bunny logos abound. Black and white photos of the sui generis nature of Playboy Magazine hang on the walls—laughs, lipstick, men in suits, girls in martinis, great thinkers and great legs. The Playboy HQ employees look to be a mélange of 20-somethings and 50-somethings. Amen—it’s about time the Boomers learned how to pronounce quinoa.
Being the Chief Creative Officer of Playboy Enterprises sounds like a job that is one part workload nightmare and one part American extravagance; an occupation fit for an old pro of the editorial ranks, decades behind the desk, someone with permanent scars on their heels from pounding New York City pavement. But that’s not Cooper—that’s not what we have here. What we have here is the heir to the mystique, the actual blood in the actual veins. He’s the man for the job because he’s got the epigenetic gift.
“My dad was much more of an editor than I am,” Cooper says, looking out of the window, parsing memories like a man with a thousand things on his mind. “In the sense of my day-to-day, I certainly spend time putting the magazine together, but we have an amazing editorial and design team that does an exceptional job of that, operating with the understanding that I’m sort of guiding the direction of the entire brand from a higher level...” he pauses, then reminisces about his father. “But it does not get more amazing than just thinking about watching my father edit that magazine. Those were some incredibly special moments. It was like watching a master at work.”
Cooper’s presence marries legacy with fresh thinking that is bringing Playboy up to speed with the 21st century. In this they’ve already made strides, highlighted by the recent decision to feature French model Ines Rau, the first transgender Playmate of the Month, in December of 2017. “It was a compliment like I’ve never had,” Rau told The New York Times. “I’ve had a lot of beautiful compliments from gentlemen before, but this one really made me feel very special, beautiful, and feminine. I was speechless.”
Cooper Hefner, who spearheaded the decision, noted in the same article that choosing Rau “very much speaks to the brand’s philosophy. It’s the right thing to do. We’re at a moment where gender roles are evolving.” Another recent example is Cooper’s decision to take Playboy Enterprises off of Facebook due to the their complicity in the unscrupulous use of user data and the platform’s janky community guidelines. Cooper noted in a tweet, “Facebook’s content guidelines and corporate policies continue contradicting our values.” The brand was one of the first to take a decisive stance on the issue.
Playboy is a billion dollar enterprise. Come October the magazine will celebrate its 65th anniversary, though at this point the magazine is now merely the physical and romantic flagship of the 1.6 billion dollars worth of retail product sold globally—with brand collaborations across every medium imaginable, from clothes to food products.
The identity of the brand is a curious one. Embedded is the ever- present erotic mystique, but Playboy is as politically and culturally concerned as any other publication with a spirit, and it has always kept its finger on the pulse of what’s now and what’s next. The highlights of each issue go far beyond Playmates. You really can read it for the articles. Throughout its tenure, the magazine has served as a launchpad for bold new writing and ideas, and Playboy has long been one of the pinnacles of American literary life, where a writer goes to make their name.
“That was the core of what my Dad wanted, and of the Playboy Philosophy—the idea that we should celebrate sex and we should celebrate arousal, alongside really thoughtful and sophisticated editorial content. In the 1950s and ’60s that was a revolutionary idea, and it’s still a very controversial idea, because people are very uncomfortable with sex.”
We live in an American culture rip-roaring drunk on sex, yet we still have Playboy Magazines wrapped in plastic bags. The art of eroticism is subjected to suspicion from all sides. To Cooper, American hang-ups around sex are fundamentally absurd, especially considering our tolerance for violence. “There are few things that people are interested in more than sex and violence. My point of view is that in the same way Vice exploits violence, Playboy uses sex—our preference is to celebrate life and celebrate the act that allows all of us to be here. Sex is a fundamental part of existence. It is a driving force of the world. It’s of interest to every single person you talk to—whether they admit it or not.” Cooper leans in, phone rings, doesn’t answer, fingers tap the chair, speaks softly, “How could you put a book or a magazine together or a brand together that encapsulates male interest across the board and leave sex out of it? It would be absurd.”
From the infamous “Playboy Interview”—which has featured the likes of Martin Luther King and John Lennon—to the elusive and dreamy Playboy Mansion, Playboy Enterprises is a pyramid of American culture, with the capstone being a moment to worship the female form. “I always make the joke that we’re the first generation that didn’t grow up stealing our Dad’s Playboys,”Cooper says, “because we had access to our computers. Our introduction wasn’t a centerfold; it was the most grotesque video you could imagine. The question is: what does that do to a generation that was introduced to relationships in that capacity?”He ponders this as I offer up the idea of millennial hyper-sexuality, gripped by streams of daily and nightly amateur T&A and endless Instagram tiles of titillating content, paired with ads and fueled by likes, produced by young people in their bedrooms.
The future of the stimulated brain hangs in a delicate balance.
“Not one day goes by where I’m not taking a step back and saying to myself, ‘Okay, we have something that very few companies do, which is an amazing legacy and history, one that other brands I think would pay for or die for.’ But then the question becomes: how do we translate that to a younger demographic while still inviting this older fan that has been with us for so many years? And, although I think a lot of people say, ‘Wow that must be a challenging place to be,’ it’s actually quite fun. Because what you find with a brand like Playboy is that there really are infinite possibilities.”
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Written by Augustus Britton
Photographed by Clay Gardner
Groomed by Nathaniel Dezan