LAS VEGAS – After a lifetime of undressing beautiful women, Playboy now has a new cause -- dressing men.
Seeking to expand its lucrative licensing business, Playboy Enterprises Inc. (PLA) has launched a line of menswear that represents a hip departure from the silk smoking jackets favored by its 80-year-old founder, Hugh Hefner.
At the Magic Marketplace apparel trade show in Las Vegas this week, fashion buyers got their first peek at a 2007 spring line of men's T-shirts, jackets and swimwear, all emblazoned with variations on Playboy's iconic bunny logo.
At a nearby booth, rival entertainment brand Penthouse International Inc. unabashedly showed that sex is always popular, displaying a line of four- to six-inch high heels in red satin, metallics, and faux leopard and snakeskin.
While Playboy's women's apparel line emphasizes sexy, Playboy executives said that for men, it's cool that sells.
"If they (young males) can't gain access to the Playboy mansion, then they'll buy a T-shirt that makes them feel like they're affiliated with the lifestyle," said Aaron Duncan, Playboy's creative director of licensing.
Designers envisioned a young Hef when creating the men's collection, which is influenced by retro fashion, Duncan said. Silk-screen images of 1970s-era Playboy cover girls adorn swim trunks and T-shirts, for example, while the ubiquitous bunny ears pop up track suit jackets and tees.
The theme for Playboy's upcoming fall 2007 men's line is "On the Prowl."
THE RISE OF LICENSING
The company, known for its Playboy bunny centerfolds, has battled slumping revenue in its publishing business amid declining ad sales and higher paper costs, and second-quarter results were also hit by sales shortfalls in its domestic television business.
But its licensing division is expanding through boutique shops and Playboy clubs around the world, and now encompasses not only apparel, but accessories, makeup, lingerie and home decor. A fragrance is in the works.
Retail sales of Playboy-branded merchandise are expected to hit $650 million in 2006, up 8 percent from 2005. The company does not disclose its cut from licensing.
The licensing business may be high-profile and profitable, but it's small compared with the publishing and entertainment operations. Licensing accounted for $28 million in revenue in 2005, compared with $106.5 million for publishing and $203.4 million for entertainment.
However, licensing enjoys high profit margins of about 45 percent, compared with about 10 percent for the entertainment business, based on data in the company's most recent earnings report.
Playboy's vice president of licensing, Adrianna Chinnici, said the company plans to eventually make menswear 40 percent of its apparel and accessories mix, up from 20 percent at present.
Club-hoppers who want to emulate some of the magic of Hefner can also choose from an expanding line of suits and fitted jackets with patterned linings. The company makes smoking jackets, but "it's not a big thing," Chinnici said.
WHAT TO WEAR DURING A PLAYBOY PHOTO SHOOT
And for those seeking even less cloth on their bodies, the Magic Marketplace trade show offered Nippies, a line of decorated pasties for women who want to reveal more, but not too much.
The maker, Bristol 6, is in talks with Playboy because some high-profile celebrities don't want to bare all in photographs, said Greg Blanc, Bristol's international sales chief.
Blanc assured buyers that women wearing the multicolored and patterned patches won't get thrown off public beaches.
The self-adhesive patches, which can be worn for an extended period if helped by a little eyelash glue, are not uncomfortable, insisted Blanc.
"It's not painful at all -- I tried them," he said.