Q & A
By Melissa Hoon
Cooper Hefner ’15 was born into a world of storytelling. Growing up in a home next to the Playboy Mansion, he met a wide range of creative people, including those responsible for production at Playboy Enterprises, Inc. He says that his father’s creativity and his mother’s groundedness give him a balance that serves him well in his role as chief creative officer at Playboy.
Hefner fondly recalls a childhood full of late nights with his father, the two of them watching old Hollywood horror films. “I think that’s where my passion for storytelling was born,” he said.
As he grew, he realized how special it was to understand the origins of his father’s love for entertaining communication. “Playboy is not just a brand,” Hefner said, “it’s a communications platform with a story to tell.”
Over the six decades that followed Hugh Hefner’s founding of Playboy in 1953, the magazine morphed into an empire that reflected the evolving cultural climate, from sexual revolution in the ‘60s and ‘70s to the spectrums of sexuality and gender at the forefront of conversations today. However, the essence of Playboy’s story has remained the same, Cooper says: Freedom of choice and self-expression should be valued, fought for and utilized.
With his dad’s passing in September 2017, Cooper Hefner, 27, has fully embraced the role of creative leadership at Playboy. During a recent interview, he spoke about his childhood, how he differs from his father and his plans to ensure that Playboy supports those who choose to exercise their freedom of expression.
Chapman Magazine: How would you describe yourself?
Cooper Hefner: My environment growing up allowed me to craft my point of view around individuals’ freedom and expression, and about how to bring the most value to quality of life. Nothing is more important than choice, assuming that choices we make don’t hurt other people. I was exposed to so many individuals from different walks of life growing up. A lot of that came from my dad and also from his points of view. There were a tremendous number of decisions that my dad made that I didn’t agree with. But he always did things in a way that made sense to him, and that was something that I always admired. We don’t have to agree with everyone, but we should respect decisions that people make. Being honest is one of the roads to earn respect.
CM: What is your creative vision for Playboy?
CH: To communicate what made the brand so special in the ’60s and ’70s to my generation and young generations. We communicate daily through our platforms that the brand represents freedom and choice. It’s more important now than ever before to point to that.
CM: In the past, Playboy models seemed to fit in a narrow mold—sanitized, without a single blemish. Today, with decisions such as featuring a transgender Playmate, it seems the idea of beauty at Playboy Enterprises has expanded. How does Playboy define beauty today?
CH: The company used to be based on my dad’s interpretation of beauty. When I stepped into the role (of chief creative officer, beginning in 2016) and dug my hands into the brand, I had a conversation on how the brand should evolve. It was important to me and the company to take a breath when it came to defining what beauty is. That’s my interest (diversity in beauty), and I feel comfortable stating that it’s the interest of my generation. Part of selecting a transgender Playmate was to address the way that gender roles are expanding in real time.
CM: How does your Chapman experience serve you today?
CH: Today I get to work with unbelievably talented people who are Chapman alumni. It’s remarkable to see the Chapman seeds that are planted in this city (Los Angeles), as well as in entertainment, and how small of a world it is. It’s a really valuable tool to have a shared experience like this.
CM: You’ve said that Playboy Enterprises “should not apologize for sex.” What does that mean in the era of #MeToo?
CH: It’s important that while we have the conversation around consent and gender roles, which is so long overdue, we do not collectively make sex the enemy. #MeToo is about consent and abuse of power, where sex is used as an abuse of power. A lot of us are uncomfortable when we talk about what turns us on, and we shouldn’t make that the enemy.
Playboy has supported an initiative for over six decades that encourages people to live the life they want to live. We’ve contributed financially to changing policy, including as one of the initial funders in supporting Roe v. Wade. We’ve given people space for freedom of speech for decades, and have fought for individuals’ freedoms since the company’s inception. There’s an interesting conversation going on about feminism. If we define feminism as a way for a woman to live the way she wants to live, then Playboy is a feminist company.
CM: Tell us about the women in your life and their impact on you.
CH: The four most influential women in my life are my fiancé, my mother, my grandmother and my sister. My sister (Christie Hefner) was in a similar place to me growing up, and even now. We have differences as well, since she was (and still is) a very successful woman running a company at a time when there were so few female executives. She’s an amazing sounding board. I have the utmost respect for her.
The older I get, the more respect I have for my parents. I respect my mother (Playboy cover model Kimberley Conrad) based on the fact that she was there for my brother and me so much growing up. She is compassionate, loyal and grounded, and made sure to surround me with people with similar qualities. My grandma was the same way.
My fiancé (Scarlett Byrne) is an unbelievable woman. She is an actress and is part of the community of the #MeToo movement. I really value the conversations she and I have. I admire her tenacity, drive and determination.
CM: What similarities do you share with your father, and what are your differences?
CH: It’s important for me to constantly take a step back and consider his point of view. The brand is what it is because of him. He contributed to a number of different entities – publishing, media, branding – while normalizing sex. He understood how to communicate effectively through branding and messaging. But I constantly step back and consider how different the world is today.
We are both very creative. My desire to want to tell stories – whether on paper or in film or through branding and marketing – came from his love for storytelling and old movies. It’s special to me to have seen the films and cinema that were important to him. It led me to Chapman and to develop a strong passion for film. His political values are completely aligned with mine – fundamentally rooted in that the individual should live the life he or she wants to live, whether or not others understand the choices that person wants to make. That’s why I love what I get to do every day – I get to work on a brand that is fundamentally rooted in celebrating freedom of expression and choice. I don’t take that for granted.