'Playboy' Celebrates the Art of the Playmate at Chateau Marmont

Amanda Cerny Cooper Hefner Nikki Leigh - H 2013
Getty Images

Amanda Cerny Cooper Hefner Nikki Leigh - H 2013

Heir apparent Cooper Hefner joined the fete for three artists and their centerfold model, Raquel Pomplun, as the magazine works to reinvent itself as an upscale men's outlet.

Cooper Hefner was just a guest at Playboy’s recent Chateau Marmont party, but it was impossible not to notice his tall, lean frame among the assorted Playmates and revelers, especially with his striking resemblance to the magazine’s patriarch. The youngest of Hugh Hefner’s four children (Hef and his mother, Kimberley Conrad, divorced in 2010), 21-year-old Cooper is the heir apparent to Playboy Enterprises -- once he completes his film degree at Chapman University in Orange, Calif.

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If the vibe at Bungalow One was any indication, the empire young Hefner inherits will center on a sophisticated lifestyle brand, one that recalls the magazine in its '60s and '70s heyday, when it was known for publishing literary voices such as Nabokov and Norman Mailer alongside its light porn. Now that Playboy’s role in the nudie-pics biz has been dwarfed by the flood of product online, the magazine in recent years has made a concerted push to reinvent itself as an upscale men’s lifestyle publication.

Playmate of the Year Pomplun with Wakefield

So while there was plenty of pulchritude on hand Thursday, the focus of the evening, sponsored by Jaguar, was high culture: New York curator and art-world influencer Neville Wakefield, who joined the company as creative director of special projects last year, recruited three artists to create work centered on Playmate of the Year Raquel Pomplun, a 25-year-old San Diegan. “There are always cultural icons that mean a lot to a lot of people -- the Playmate being one,” said Wakefield. “As Playboy is being reimagined, my role has been to refract that iconography through a more contemporary lens.”

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Hours before the first champagne cork was popped, Pomplun’s, er, iconography was refracted by two Los Angeles–based artists: First, uber-cool Alex Israel -- known for his YouTube interview show, "As It LAys" -- filmed her for what Wakefield calls “a video portrait, using a Proust-style questionnaire where all the questions are non-sequiturs.” Next, Pomplun sat for Malerie Marder, a photographer with works in the permanent collections of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art and Guggenheim Museum. “Typically the Playmates are photographed by men,” Wakefield said. “So I thought it would be great to have a woman’s photographic perspective.”

Pomplun and artist Israel

Pomplun, 25, a petite, radiant beauty (natch) and the first-ever Mexican-American Playmate, was “very cool, uninhibited and totally open” to the artists’ ideas, said Wakefield. For the cocktail party she wore a long white gown and a demure updo -- but after three hours of toasting and mingling, it was back to the bungalow’s makeshift studio for a session with a third artist, New York's Aaron Young, a hot sculptor and performance artist who himself was just photographed as the face of the fall ad campaign for French luxury menswear line Zilli.

In homage to Yves Klein, a leading figure of post-war French Nouveau realisme, Young covered a nude Pomplun in gold and green paint and created several body-press paintings on canvas. “Usually the imagery with a Playboy photograph is very graphic and could possibly sometimes be seen as vulgar,” Young explained carefully. “I wanted instead to create a kind of outline with the body.” Pomplun was familiar with Klein and also had researched Young’s work, he said. “I haven’t been around many Playmates so I don’t have any comparison to go from, but I thought she was pretty amazing,” the artist added, noting that Pomplun was his first live model since art school. “There was nothing she wasn’t down for. It was a great collaboration.”

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Wakefield, who has several more upcoming projects with Playboy, isn’t sure how or when the works created at the soiree will be presented -- but his haute-hip influence is already making its mark on the brand. Said one young male guest as he surveyed Thursday’s lively but sedate gathering, “This isn’t what I expected from a Playboy party.”

Indeed, the crowd included a slew of chic names. In attendance were designers Haider Ackermann and Juan Carlos Obando, China Chow, photographer Douglas Friedman, MOCA's Lyn Winter and Emma Reeves, stylists Patrik Milani and Keegan Singh, Vogue's Lisa Love and Gina Gershon.