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LONDON (Reuters) - Hugh Hefner opens a new Playboy club in London's swanky Mayfair district on Saturday after an absence of 30 years, and the imminent return of the "bunny girls" has some feminist groups and commentators hopping mad.
The 85-year-old entrepreneur is in London to launch the new venue, where life membership costs 15,000 pounds ($25,000) and a single "Sazerac" cocktail will set a member back 2,000 pounds.
He expects a mixed welcome at the plush new club at its official launch, with up to 200 feminist protesters promising to make their objections felt under the banner "Eff Off Hefner!."
Inside, young women dressed in the famous Playboy rabbit ears, collars, cuffs and skimpy corsets will offer him and his guests champagne and deal cards at the gambling tables that will be the key economic ingredient to the venture.
For Hefner, flanked by his 25-year-old fiancee Crystal Harris during an interview with Reuters, the opening will be a nostalgic return to the 60s and 70s when the hugely successful London club bankrolled much of his magazine empire.
"The club I think that most of us remember, certainly on an international level, with the greatest fondness, the most iconic of the clubs, was London," he said.
"So with the return of the bunnies, which began five or six years ago in Vegas ... London becomes really key to all that. It represents not only the future, it represents the iconic past."
The famous London Playboy club closed in 1981 after its gaming license was revoked, although by then the A-list glamour had faded and the venues were on the decline around the globe.
After a long hiatus, Hefner re-launched the concept in Las Vegas in 2006, although he said he did not expect to return to the days when Playboy had 30 clubs in the United States alone.
The Playboy brand, however, had made a comeback, he argued.
"There is a great appeal for that retro-chic quality I think," he said. "There's a feeling for a lot of people that it was may be the party they missed, they want to go back there, with the Beatles and the Rat Pack and the bunnies."
For some commentators and activists, the party should remain in the past.
Kat Banyard of UK Feminista, who will be at the Playboy club opening on Saturday evening to demonstrate, said Hefner's porn empire had "laid the groundwork for the sex industry as we know it today ... which relentlessly exploits and degrades women.
"The Playboy Club represents a step back in time to a place where women retreated as sexual objects to serve, titillate and decorate in a world where men are all-powerful."
Commentator Ruth Wishart wrote in the Herald Scotland newspaper: "'A sanctuary for masculinity', gushes an alleged branding guru. Or a warren of retro-sleaze if you're a vaguely sentient citizen of the 21st century."
Hefner, no stranger to objections to his business model, believes the publicity the protests attract has been good for the club, not feminism.
"I think it's a complete misreading of history," he said of the "Eff Off Hefner!" campaign.
"The reality is that Playboy and the Playboy clubs were the beginning of the sexual revolution. When the Playboy clubs first opened the bunny girls were the center of it all and ... were empowered in a way that women had not been before.
"It was the beginning of independence for women and the magazine has represented personal and sexual liberation for both men and women ... Playboy represents personal freedom. That's what feminism ought to represent too."
Reporting by Mike Collett-White