By  on October 13, 2005

NEW YORK — American Playboy icon Hugh Hefner is apparently still a swinger at 79.

Sandwiched between his three vivacious live-in girlfriends — Kendra Wilkinson, 20, Holly Madison, 25, and Bridget Marquardt, 31 — the founder of the $329 million Playboy Enterprises empire was at the Virgin Megastore here Tuesday to launch a line of undies, apparel and accessories.

The licensed line, which is produced by the Los Angeles-based California Sunshine and bears "The Girls Next Door" label, is named after the eight-episode reality show on "E" which began airing in August and dwells on the bombshell blondes' secret lives shared in the Playboy mansion with Hefner. Suggested retail prices range from $13.99 for cotton undies to $24.99 for baby T-shirts.

Hefner noted that when it comes to lingerie he prefers "French lace," but quickly added that a cotton T-shirt also is sexy looking.

The foursome made an appearance Wednesday at the Virgin Megastore in Chicago, and will visit the Los Angeles unit Tuesday. The line will be sold exclusively at 18 Virgin Megastores nationwide, as well as at the Playboy Concept Boutique at The Forum Shops in Las Vegas and on playboystore.com.

In New York, a line of 300 frenzied Playboy fans turned out to catch a glimpse of Hef. Over 500 November issues of Playboy were sold at the two-hour signing event.

Regarding "The Girls Next Door" show — which he described as "Charlie's Angels meets Alice in Wonderland" — Hefner said, "You wouldn't believe how many times I've been approached about doing a reality TV show at the mansion. But I trusted producer Kevin Burns, who did an autobiography of me on A&E called 'American Playboy.' He had a notion of doing a show from a young, personal point-of-view."

Indeed, the show provides an intimate snapshot of the world-famous party mansion and his girlfriends. Madison, whom Hefner calls "The Sweet One," loves party planning and her miniature dogs; Marquardt, "The Beauty and the Brains," is a horror film buff, and Wilkinson, "The Wild One," is into massage therapy and martial arts. Wilkinson said the "biggest challenge" while taping the show is "getting miked" (microphoned) around her breasts.As for Hefner's love life, he said, "I was married for eight-and-a-half years, a monogamous marriage. I was faithful. But that folded in 1998 and I was really bummed out. At one time I was dating seven girls at the same time. It keeps you young and keeps out all of the hype and BS. It worked for me for a time, but it was getting out of hand. Now, I'm interested in the quality, not the quantity."

Life may appear to be one big party for Hefner, but his 52-year-old firm, which is headed by daughter Christie Hefner, is rapidly moving beyond its iconic magazine. Playboy's licensed products generate sales in excess of $500 million in more than 130 countries. Licensees include Playboy Pink label foundations produced by California Sunshine, and a new line of Playboy White bras by Viamode.

Assessing the potential of Playboy's growth, Robert R. Routh, an entertainment analyst at Jeffries Co. Inc., said, "Playboy is taking its cue out of Marvel's playbook, rather than relying on a capital-intensified business. The bunny logo is recognized around the world. Why put up capital when you have licenses? And 'The Girls Next Door' expands the reach of the Playboy brand and lifestyle beyond an audience they would normally reach on Playboy cable TV. It's a very smart business strategy."

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