Hugh Hefner


Playboy made its entire web site an homage to founder Hugh Hefner, who died Wednesday at the age of 91.

The regular contents of Playboy.com were replaced by an image of the young Hefner embodying the character of his brand, as he so often did since launching it in 1953, smoke rising from a pipe. The only text is a quote attributed to Hefner: “Life is too short to be living somebody else’s dream.” A memorial has not yet been set.

“My father lived an exceptional and impactful life as a media and cultural pioneer and a leading voice behind some of the most significant social and cultural movements of our time in advocating free speech, civil rights and sexual freedom. He defined a lifestyle and ethos that lie at the heart of the Playboy brand, one of the most recognizable and enduring in history,” said Hefner’s 26-year-old son, Cooper, who is the chief creative officer of Playboy Enterprises.

The cover of the magazine’s first issue in 1953.  Playboy Enterprises

Playboy, which was both a lifestyle magazine that spoke to a man’s fantasy of himself as a sophisticated ladies’ man and a print publication that featured nude centerfolds interspersed with often surprisingly literary articles, became a cultural touchstone, and Hefner, clad in his signature silk pajamas and robes that exemplified the Playboy lifestyle, was virtually indistinguishable from the brand. “He was very classic. He never wanted anything trendy. He never wanted anything to change,” remembered Hollywood clothier Rick Pallack, who designed Hefner’s silk sleepwear — black for business, jewel-toned and paisley for fun — and formal wear since 1989.

At the magazine’s height of popularity, circulation was over 5.6 million and the company had successful branding and franchises that extended far beyond print.

But in recent years, the publication experienced a downturn, a casualty of both the industrywide forces affecting the magazine world and the ubiquity of free pornography available on the Internet. For both news and porn, it’s hard to get people to pay for something once they get used to having it for free. For the six months ending in June, total paid and verified subscriptions were 450,588 and newsstand sales were 23,632, according to the Alliance for Audited Media.

The company, which went public in 1971, was taken private in 2011 by Hefner, who had maintained a majority stake — following the news that he “was warming up to a sale,” which WWD reported in 2009.

Cooper returned to Playboy in June 2016, following the 2015 announcement that the magazine would do away with nudity — a highly publicized decision that garnered headlines if nothing else. The first issue sans nudes had the soft core, sexually suggestive hipster aesthetic of an American Apparel ad campaign or an early issue of Vice. But that idea was abandoned after a year, following the return of the young Hefner, who took on the role of chief creative officer. This past spring, Playboy brought back topless women, including Cooper’s actress fiancée. It was a return to form, even if the overall aesthetic was still arty and made a nod towards modern feminist movements with cover lines such as “free the nipple.”

“The younger generation is the future,” Hugh Hefner was quoted as saying in a 2007 WWD story. “Any brand — and it’s true for Playboy — has to renew itself.”

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