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Cavalli to update the bunny costume

Times Staff Writer

The Playboy bunny costume, the Energizer rabbit of skimpy cocktail waitress uniforms that has been shaking its tail for 45 years, will be reinterpreted by Italian fashion designer Roberto Cavalli. The bunny’s new look, which has not yet been created, will be worn by employees of a Playboy Club scheduled to open in March in Las Vegas at the Palms Resort and Casino.

The original bunny outfit was introduced at the first Playboy Club in Chicago in 1960. Reportedly designed by the girlfriend of a Playboy executive and her mother, it was a modified one-piece bathing suit-like design with a collar, cuffs and a fluffy white tail, accessorized with a rabbit ear headdress. Over the years, the cut of the leg inched higher, and a pin with the bunny’s name was added. There’s a bunny costume in the Smithsonian, of course.

The 1960s and ‘70s were boom years for the members-only Playboy Clubs. Women in bunny costumes worked as waitresses and hostesses in 35 locations in the U.S., United Kingdom, Japan and the Philippines. Lauren Hutton and Deborah Harry worked as bunnies before finding success as a model and singer, respectively. Gloria Steinem wore the uniform for three weeks, then wrote about her experiences as a cottontail, and Barbara Walters went undercover in bunny ears and tail as well. About 25,000 women have worn the costume, which was the first commercial uniform to be registered by the United States Patent and Trademark Office.

Cavalli was a logical choice to make over the bunny. The designer has built his brand by offering flamboyant glam-rock styles that often feature more flesh than fabric. Animal prints are a constant in his collections -- zebra and leopard motifs, usually, but his affinity for creatures of the wild should make him feel right at home designing for women dressed as rabbits.

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The 64-year-old designer, who’s based in Florence, has been around long enough to remember the disco days when the Playboy Clubs flourished. His women’s line debuted in the ‘70s, then enjoyed new popularity beginning in the mid-1990s. Beyonce Knowles, Jennifer Lopez and Alicia Keys have frequently been photographed wearing Cavalli.

The last Playboy Club closed in 1988, yet women in bunny mufti continued to appear in the pages of Playboy. “When we have corporate events, like our Super Bowl party, Playmates attend wearing the bunny costume,” said Jay Jay Nesheim, a Playboy spokesman. “If one of our advertisers wants a bunny to appear at an event, that will happen.”

There are Cavalli boutiques on Rodeo Drive and in the Forum Shops at Caesars Palace. But it’s unlikely that the new bunny outfits will be for sale. Playboy has always closely guarded the authentic uniforms. A few turn up on Internet auction sites, where they fetch thousands of dollars.

Playboy Enterprises has licensed its name to the new club, which will be run by N9NE, a company that owns several restaurants and nightclubs in Las Vegas and Chicago.

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The club will be housed in a tower currently under construction, where the penthouse will be christened the Hugh Hefner sky villa, designed in the tech-laden bachelor-pad style of the Playboy founder.

“Mr. Hefner will stay there when he’s in Las Vegas,” Nesheim said. “We’re still in the planning stages for the new bunny suit. Hef will review the sketches. He likes to be involved in all aspects that represent the Playboy brand. And the bunny costume is close to his heart.”


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