Photo: John Sciulli/Getty Images for Playboy PlayhouseLOS ANGELES—As guests entered the Playboy Playhouse, they were greeted by a large wall of text. It was the Editor’s Note from the publication’s 65th-anniversary issue, and strategic highlighting emphasized the real goals of the public pop-up, which ran May 10 to 12 in Los Angeles.
Words and phrases such as “how we’re changing,” “more inclusive,” and “redefining … sexist definitions of beauty and eroticism” were circled—perhaps in contrast to many attendees’ preconceived notions of the magazine, which is famed for its nude photos of women and the celebrity of its founder Hugh Hefner.
The event itself was also intended to challenge these notions. “We know that many people’s idea of Playboy is very different from its reality today, so we felt that by turning the pages of our magazine into an actual live experience, we could show who we are in an informative and entertaining way,” explained Rachel Webber, the chief marketing officer of Playboy Enterprises. “We challenged ourselves to create an experience that would be part immersive art, part arousal of the senses, and part thoughtful and provocative conversation. While, of course, always being something totally fun and playful.”
The free, two-day event, which was produced by the Gathery, featured panels with the likes of comedian Kathy Griffin, author Erica Jong, and former Obama aid Johanna Maska. Their discussions centered around changing gender norms, the future of masculinity, cannabis legalization, sex education, and more hot-button issues.
“Our goals were twofold: To create a space for challenging, timely, and often taboo conversations to take place; and to have two-way conversations among our contributors and our audiences in a way that a print magazine is unable to,” said Webber. “These are topics our editors tackle every day, and we were excited to listen and engage live with our panelists and our guests at the Playhouse.”
With panelists such as popular feminist author Roxane Gay, organizers hoped to show people, specifically women, that Playboy is more than its reputation. “Roxane—who was profiled in our Winter Quarterly—is a great example of [an] influential cultural and social driver who serves as a catalyst for change,” noted Webber. “Our audience is made up of those people who value what we value—that is, equality, free expression, the pursuit of pleasure, and the freedom to express one’s gender and sexuality free of judgment.”
She continued: “We hope that through thought leaders such as Roxane, topics such as redefining the Playboy gaze and the ideas of masculinity and femininity—and, perhaps more importantly, by providing a space for open dialogue at the Playhouse, we can reach more people … who will join us in our mission to change society for the better.”
The stylish space, which drew more than 1,000 people, also offered music curated by Geffen Records and performances by Jacob Banks and DJs Samantha Ronson and Jason Bentley. Contributing photographers from the magazine showcased their work and led discussions on redefining beauty, and a pop-up shop offered collaborations with fashion brands Joyrich and Missguided. And since it is still Playboy, there was also a workshop where guests could personalize their own vibrators.
“Attendance aside, what excited us most was the number of people we spoke to who had never engaged with Playboy before,” said Webber.
While the Playhouse was, perhaps unsurprisingly, only open to guests over the age of 21, Playboy is also currently hosting a Los Angeles exhibition that’s a bit more PG, dubbed “Freedom is Key: A Playboy Exhibition.” Located at the Beverly Center from March through the end of this month, the 5,000-square-foot exhibit, presented by Playboy Enterprises and Circle Exhibits and produced by Chad Hudson Events, explores how the magazine has promoted social progress and civil rights over the last 65 years.
“Our goal through that exhibition was to provide a window into the past for audiences today, who may not be aware of the important role that Playboy played in American history,” said Webber. “We wanted to show them how it has been a catalyst for major social and political change over the last 65 years and became a true cultural icon.”
Playboy has long believed in the power of live experiences, whether it’s the brand’s annual Playboy Jazz Festival at the Hollywood Bowl or its historic Playboy Club, which reopened in New York last fall. The brand plans to bring the Playhouse concept to other cities, starting with New York next month, in conjunction with each of its quarterly issues.
Scroll down to see inside the brand’s two recent Los Angeles events.