Thursday, 7 July 2011

Playboy Club

My review of the new Playboy Club in Mayfair is presently in the July Architectural Review. Not surprisingly you can't buy the Architectural Review in Bethnal Green so I haven't read it yet, also I doubt many of you subscribe, and on top of that I'm absolutely certain it will have been hacked about by an intern or two. However, of course, that is their job. So here it is in the original for your hopeful pleasure:

It’s easy to feel despondent when you walk down Park Lane. The tyranny of opulence, a low millage Lamborghini for £199,000 or a white Range Rover that looks like it’s been crossed with a Gucci handbag all unspeakable, and I’m escorting my somewhat flagging middle-aged mojo for a spot of re-vitalization at the newly opened Playboy Club. Playboy has certainly managed to put a twinkle back in it’s own eye. Playboy started with ‘Heff’ at the kitchen table with a big idea and a naked pin up of Marilyn Monroe in 1953, grew to make Playboy one of the more radical publications of an era, spread itself to kooky mansions and into aeroplanes and hideaways of rock and roll largesse, started gaming clubs for everybody who thought he was James Bond (I am of the age where my only slightly older colleagues married Playboy bunnies) and then retired to the surer ground of broadcast media as feminism grasped the physically preposterous politics of girls dressed as rabbits.

As I strolled in through the discrete glass portal, full of these imaginings and half memories, I was rather hoping to be met by a buxom playmate who would nuzzle up and gently sooth my battered ego over several cocktails until I tottered out, temporarily sated, back into the bruising metropolis. So what if it was five thirty in the afternoon.

How old fashioned I am. I was greeted by half a dozen executives for this and that, including the highly obliging architects from Jestico and Whiles. This was not rumpled suit territory; this was corporate new tomorrow. Playboy is back with a brand stronger than ever in the franchise business. We have Playboy Las Vegas, Macau, and Miami, there will no doubt be Moscow and Cancun, all franchises under the wing of umbrella casino operations. Playboy now sells style like Lacoste but with no merchandise other than itself. There was the US representative for Playboy, a man of smart dark suit, white open necked shirt and the more than a smidgen of essence of Daniel Craig or Jude Law. He reminded me of those young entrepreneurs, living the dream at both ends, who grace the pages of LA Style. There were PA for the club and PA the architects, there are many stories to be communicated about this new brand, this new atmosphere, this new experience. There are also plenty of questions that nobody wanted to answer. That is the post-modern business world for you.

The design, which you might be able to detect down into the microfibres of the carpets, bares the theme of heaven and hell, with a side of Alice in Wonderland (disappearing down a rabbit hole). It is louche, louche, louche and nothing, nothing is left to accident. Cigar smoke curls on the ceiling, but as an effect. There are monograms on the walls and silhouettes in the lifts, there are series of fabulous bar displays. Sumptuous ice buckets descend into tables. It is not the memorabilia store of the Hard Rock CafĂ©, and neither is it the sexualized warehouse of Spearmint Rhino. The architects flexed their subtlety muscles just as far as they could, squeezing themselves into every detail, with printed movable translucent fabric screens around the fine dining area that offer, when in action, rather a nice parody of Maurice Binder’s intro sequences to the Bond films. The toilets offer bewildering complexity worthy of Lewis Carroll. There are some large retro prints on the wall, but only around the comparatively neutral staircase linking the two floors. They have resisted the museum, instead this is all about detail, nuance, accent and atmosphere; an architecture which includes the minimum two inch high heels for the bunnies and possibly their perfume too.

So of course that restaurant is not serving Bond’s favourite spaghetti bolognaise washed down with a rough Chianti, it is serving fusion food. Fusion food is what you get in Mayfair, just as Park Lane symbolizes everything and nothing simultaneously. Bond was a phantom of already bygone Britain. International late capitalism replaced him in as many guises as you like, and you will no doubt find them all in the Playboy club. To paraphrase AA Gill, you’ve couldn’t be shabby here, you’d let down your car.

And what of the burning question; the contemporary relevance of those bunnies? The answer could not be easier; with the current fashion for the burlesque, what was considered degrading in ancient history is now easily considered rather cool retro chic. Four thousand ladies applied for the eighty-two bunny costumes.

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