LOS ANGELES — Proving that turning 50 can still be cool, Playboy Enterprises is marking its half-century anniversary next year in a very haute way.

Versace, Garrard, Sean John, Vivienne Westwood, MAC, Wolford, Philip Treacy and other brands are marking the company’s milestone through limited-edition capsule collections available at retail this November and one-off items for auction, Playboy told WWD exclusively.

Retail partners — including Henri Bendel in New York, Seibu in Hong Kong, Selfridges in London and Playboy’s flagship in Tokyo — will carry a mix of the Anniversary Playboy Designer Collection and select product from its licensed product catalog. Some of the retailers will host in-store events and sweepstakes where consumers can win access to VIP anniversary events. Individual participants, such as MAC and Garrard, also will offer items through their own stores and distribution channels.

Revealing there’s a little bit of the playboy or playmate throughout fashion (one only need look at the provocative ad campaigns used by major houses in recent years), it seems no one involved in the effort could resist hopping on board.

“I am a huge fan of what Hugh Hefner has created,” said Donatella Versace Wednesday. “Playboy is an amazing global phenomenon — the brand, the lifestyle and its presence is a force to be reckoned with.” A Playmate’s poster girl if fashion ever claimed one, Versace is creating a couture gown with the rabbit head and “DV” logo hand embroidered in gold filament thread on silk netting.

The $75,000 dress is among the one-of-a-kind looks that will tour retailers worldwide, along with other big-ticket items, ending in auction next spring to benefit the Design Industries Foundation Fighting AIDS. Other items up for dibs: A bustier and hipster minikilt by Westwood; a Katherine Baumann minaudière, and a wool gaberdine and silk tuxedo from Sean John that incorporates the bunny head and his company logo in the cummerbund and lining. A sheared rabbit fur-lined overcoat rounds out the look, according to designer Sean “P. Diddy” Combs.

“Being a playboy is about being bold without coming off like you tried too hard. It’s natural, and effortless, said the hip-hop mogul.”From hip-hop moguls to Midwestern mall rats, a new generation of fans has catapulted Playboy’s licensed consumer products division — which includes everything from flip-flops, cell phone covers and barware to stationery, costume jewelry and swimwear — to sales of more than $350 million at retail so far this year from a $60 million entity in the U.S. only three years ago. And that’s yet to include the fourth quarter, its strongest because of the gift-giving season.

As Playboy Enterprises enters its next half century, challenges lie in its global growth, from introducing new categories to opening new markets, said Hefner. “We are very pleased with what we’ve accomplished over the last two years in Europe, especially in the U.K. We have signed a number of apparel and accessories licensing deals throughout Europe, and our products are now being sold in leading European retailers, such as Selfridges and Harrods in the U.K., Colette, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps in France, just to name a few.”?

Playboy, of course, is no longer your dad’s magazine. Circulation numbers may not be what they once were, but the idea and icon have become a lifestyle brand empire, thanks to a second-generation Hefner, Christie. At the helm since 1982, she has resuscitated and reinvented the brand in a way that has allowed the legend that is Hugh to become the toast of young and cool Hollywood again, from his weekly nightclub outings here to turning the manse in Beverly Hills into a favorite stomping ground again. Brandishing the bunny logo has also become irreverently chic among the likes of women such as Stella McCartney, Sarah Jessica Parker, Lil’ Kim, Faith Evans and Mandy Moore.

“The idea of Playboy is irresistible. I’ve always loved the glamour of the old Playboy Clubs, loved the glamorous women associated with it,” mused Garrard creative director Jade Jagger, who turned 30 in 2001 with a Hefner-style slumber party and Playboy product-filled goody bags.

Jagger designed a 10-carat diamond-covered key pendant inspired by those given to Playboy Club members (the last of those legendary clubs closed in the mid-Eighties), as well as rabbit head cufflinks in yellow gold or sterling silver and an 18-karat gold locket featuring Hef’s photo. And what of the officially sanctioned royal jewelers flirting with an institution so dripping in Americana and overt sexuality? “They’re not mutually exclusive,” Jagger insisted. “A modern jeweler should be able to do both tiaras and rabbit heads.”Milliner Treacy has created both a one-off hat and another style for greater distribution; Wolford will offer tights and stay-ups, and MAC Cosmetics custom-made the Bunny Pink lipstick and Playmate Pink Glitter Cream — embossed with the rabbit head logo — and is packaging them in shiny black boxes studded with pink bunny heads. From the action sports arena, Burton has a snowboard and skate superstar Tony Hawk skateboard under his Birdhouse brand.

And DSquared2 designed two T-shirts for men and one for women. “Hugh was just genius to associate sex and the rabbit in a sweet and nonoffensive graphic,” said twin designers Dan and Dean Caten by e-mail from Milan. “It is sexual freedom and we can all buy into that.”

While retail prices are still being determined by almost everyone involved, it is the added value in the cobranding —rather than the retail sales — that participants appear most excited about. The Designer Collection is not commercially driven, noted a company source.

For London-based Peter Golding, it’s the chance to work with a “hero. I love America and I love what Hugh Hefner has done.” Golding said he’s injecting a “touch of Britishness” through a stretch denim tailcoat, along with jeans and a jacket. “Hugh Hefner’s taken the spirit of women and celebrated it in a feminine, sensual way. The bunny logo represents American freedom and female empowerment and sexy girls.”

Lest anyone look down their noses at the collaborations, participants see the grander cultural picture, the almost naïvely sexy high life that Playboy conjures up.

“This is not about pornography,” said MAC president John Demsey. “This is about lifestyle. This is about a kinder, gentler era, where the sophistication of that bunny, of the Rat Pack and that world were the epicenter of cool, something that is very relevant today. In a very sweet, chic way, Hugh Hefner revolutionized the sexual mores of the world. What does that have to do with fashion and makeup? Everything.”

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