Can a buxom babe in a cottontail costume still attract a crowd of men, even in an age when bare breasts are flashed for free on the Internet and during the Super Bowl half-time show? Apparently, the answer is yes. Case in point, a recent co-branding event between frou-frou specialty shop Henri Bendel and 50-year-old media empire Playboy Enterprises attracted a throng of Playboy magazine subscribers to the store's Bunny Boutique.
Owned by Limited Brands and located on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, Bendel is basically a collection of designer in-store boutiques that stock cosmetics, accessories and clothes for chic women. But on a Thursday night last month, the second floor was throbbing with testosterone as a pack of men invaded the Bunny Boutique — a small space that sells sleepwear, collectibles, and limited-edition merchandise featuring Playboy's iconic rabbit-head logo.
Playboy magazine had invited New York readers to stop by the boutique and shop for Valentine's Day gifts for their wives and girlfriends. Three Playboy playmates, clad in the trademark bunny costume, provided the bait. Sexy models sporting skivvies from Agent Provocateur, which has its own boutique at Bendel's, sashayed through the crowd. Free cocktails were served, and a deejay amped up the mood with high-volume club tunes.
In keeping with Bendel's tony offerings, some of the Bunny Boutique's goods are designed by big names such as British milliner Philip Treacy, hip-hop trendsetter Sean John and wrap-dress impresario Diane von Furstenberg.
Brendan Moran, a 27-year-old art director from Brooklyn, was one of the attendees who admitted to being more intrigued by the nubile beauties than the merchandise. But he did need to find a Valentine's gift for his wife. When Brendan signed in, he was given one plastic “Bunny Money” card worth $50 to use toward a purchase of $100 or more. The scene is so packed with salivating men, it's hard to imagine how he's going to get any shopping done. Miss November 1999 Cara Wakelin walked him through some of the merchandise, including swimsuits and camisole sets. But he ended up leaving empty handed, not willing to shove his way through the throng to find a cash register. Brendan's wife Jessica would end up having to settle for a dinner out for Valentine's Day.
Though Bendel wouldn't reveal specific sales numbers generated by the event, a rep for Playboy says it was a huge success. Red-heart-patterned camisole sets. slippers and flip flops turned out to be the night's biggest sellers.
Playboy is taking the Bunny Boutique concept on a world tour, dedicating similar shop-in-shops, themed window displays and in-store events at Colette in Paris, Harrods in London, Playboy's fashion concept store in Tokyo and Seibu in Hong Kong. Playboy began licensing apparel in 1999 and opened its Tokyo store in 2002. By 2003, Playboy's branded fashion line and consumer products posted global sales of more than $350 million. Though the company won't comment on the status of its plans to open its own stores, insiders indicate the brand is finalizing licensing deals and looking to make a splash with a first U.S. store in Las Vegas.
Henri Bendel's Bunny Boutique
Location: Fifth Avenue, Manhattan, New York
Date Opened: November 2003