Playboy is working to re-assert itself into American youth culture through a series of creative initiatives, the first of which being Playboy Marfa, a roadside attraction by Richard Phillips in Texas. The brand will commission a series of art projects to reintroduce the company to a younger audience.
The installation consists of a giant Playboy bunny logo that hovers above a black Dodge Charger perched atop a concrete plinth. The art is intended to capture the spirit of the magazine in its heyday by juxtaposing the vast Texan landscape (which captured the imagination of Donald Judd decades ago) against a muscle car, a symbol that plays on America’s luxurious past and Playboy’s vintage aura. The initiative is spearheaded by Playboy’s new creative directors Neville Wakefield and Landis Smithers. Smithers was quoted by the NYTimes as saying:
We’re not going to be a retro brand… We’re challenging artists to capture the spirit of what Hef put in his first magazines. He talked a lot about sitting around with friends talking about politics, enjoying the company of women, jazz on his phonograph and drinking great whiskey. We want to take that and translate it to the modern era.
Thus while these specialized projects seek to leverage Playboy’s iconography, they walk a thin line between trapping the brand in its own past and making a deep connection with today’s young generation. Part of the strategy seems to be combining grit and glamour, but the overall strategy will only become clear once Playboy Enterprise’s next projects are revealed.
Beyond Playboy’s own agenda, it is interesting to acknowledge how this campaign reflects the company’s thinking about masculinity. Although creative intellect plays a more prominent role, age-old traditional elements (i.e. girls and cars) remain the symbolic cornerstones. It begs the question of whether masculinity has changed at all or if Playboy’s commissioned work misses the mark; you can be the judge.