FROM SCOTTSDALE, ARIZ. Last night, longtime Super Bowl weekend party host Playboy found itself going up against a new brand (and considerable competition): Victoria’s Secret. While Sports Illustrated, Fox, and Penthouse were also hosting parties, in addition to concerts by 944 magazine and the Bud Bowl, the general consensus around town was that Playboy and Victoria’s Secret were the tickets to land.
While the two brands' titillating content is similar in genre, the parties themselves were vastly different. Playboy’s 2,000-plus guest list forced the magazine to head outside of town, to the recently relocated Rawhide venue in Chandler, some 25 miles from the resorts and nightclubs of Scottsdale. “At this point, after nine years, we’ve built a rep as the best party on Saturday night, so we have a comfort level that we didn’t have to be in the heart of Scottsdale,” said Playboy division vice president of creative services Donna Tavoso. (She told us about her Arizona venue hunt here.) “And we have experience to back that up—we weren’t in South Beach in Miami, and we were 25 minutes outside of Detroit, and people were waiting in line 90 minutes early in a snowstorm. And that even shocked me.”
The party, dubbed “Playboy’s Desert Oasis and Resort,” was production-heavy, with a two-day build-out led by Relevent’s Tony Berger (who has worked on several events for Victoria's Secret). Inside the cavernous 52,000-square-foot tent, resort-themed vignettes abounded. A gift shop offered (gratis) Corona baseball caps, sponsor Jet One Jets' sleep masks, and a rack of vintage-style postcards that paid homage to Playboy and event sponsors. Also on-site: an old-fashioned photo booth sponsored by Sirius Radio, a “Girls Next Door” diner serving up mac-and-cheese bites and mini cherry pies, a retro TV lounge celebrating Playboy TV’s 25th anniversary, and a pool-inspired area with celebrity-only cabanas.
Victoria’s Secret, meanwhile, opted to take over downtown Scottsdale’s brand-new Taste Ultra Lounge, adding little decor to the red-hued, Tao-esque venue. With 600 guests on the list, nearly all were V.I.P.s of some sort, and Victoria's Secret executive vice president of public relations Monica Mitro told us yesterday, “People are going out of their minds to get into this event. Considering the amount of people we’ve had to turn away, I’m not too concerned about our competition.”
Airing its first Super Bowl commercial since 1999, Victoria’s Secret opted to leverage the ad (in a move similar to Audi’s) by hosting a daytime gifting suite and the “What Is Sexy 2008” party last night. The event celebrated Valentine’s Day (one of the retail chain’s biggest-selling holidays), the commercial starring Adriana Lima, and the release of the brand's annual “What Is Sexy” list. Singer Josh Kelley performed (his second turn on the stage this weekend), and his new wife, Katherine Heigl, joined him to celebrate their status as Hottest Newlyweds.
“Even though there are a lot of parties on Saturday, there’s a huge amount of buzz surrounding ours,” Mitro said. “People are used to the parties they’ve seen before. They’re excited to check out what we’re doing.”
Over at Playboy, rapper Nick Cannon DJed in what was likely an attempt to avoid his ex-fiancé (and Victoria’s Secret cover girl) Selita Ebanks, who who hosted “What's is Sexy” with fellow angels Lima and Karolina Kurkova. In terms of celebrity power wattage, Victoria's Secret garnered Ryan Seacrest, Michael Clarke Duncan, Blake Lively, and the omnipresent trio of Maria Menounos, Stacy Kiebler, and Jerry O'Connell. Hef, buoyed by his girlfriends, was the star at Playboy, which The Hills stars Lauren Conrad and Audrina Patridge attended.
Correction: The original version of this story included an incorrect name for Victoria's Secret's “What Is Sexy 2008” party.