If Liza Kei’s otherworldly blue-eyed gaze and delicately wrought bone structure look familiar, it’s probably because she graced our March 2013 cover. “When I was first asked, I said, ‘Are you calling the right number?’ ” she recalls, laughing. “So I called my mom and told her, ‘Listen, this is the deal.’ Typical Russian mom, her response was ‘What if you can’t marry a prince because you were in playboy?’ I was like, ‘I can live with that.’ After thinking about it, I decided I want my grandchildren to say Grandma was a playboy cover girl.”

The former ballet dancer and aspiring architect was discovered at a recital in her hometown of Rostov-on-Don when she was 17; she’s been modeling ever since. “The Russian ballerina is a classic cliché,” she says with a grin. “Second on the list after model!” At first Liza wasn’t sure she’d succeed. “Models always used to be super-tall divas. I’m more of a girl next door.”

Ask Liza to describe herself in three words and she’ll say, “Funny, sexy, sarcastic.” So what makes her feel sexy? “Clean hair, beautiful new lingerie and of course those eyes watching me dance and jump around wearing it.” Just as long as “those eyes” don’t belong to a man with petite feet. “It’s weird, but big feet are important,” she says. “Not necessarily huge, but I need guy feet.” Other Liza essentials: Russian food, Adidas pants and a good book for plane rides (she has a thing for French philosophers).

The New York City–based model had a revelation in California a few years ago. “I went on a date to Venice Beach. I realized I’m this little girl from Russia and I’ve made it all the way to the other side of the world. It was like, Oh my God.” While she loves to travel, our August Playmate appreciates a relatively pared-down existence. “It’s the simple things in life,” she says. “I love to cuddle. Who doesn’t? There should be an app just for cuddles—cuddles and puppies.”

Click to see outtakes from Liza’s Playmate pictorial.


AGE: 27 | BIRTHPLACE: Rostov-on-Don, Russia | CURRENT CITY: New York, New York
I have a great solution for when I’m missing Russia. It’s called Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. Fancy bitches are like, “Ew!” But I love it. I have a little tradition: I go to this Russian café right on the beach and FaceTime with my mom. She kind of has lunch with me.

I was until recently a big fan of gin. I like gins in Germany, the ones with the right herbs. But because I was just working in Mexico, I’m slowly going for tequilas.

It would start with a big, big breakfast and turn into a sunny day spent chilling outside in the park. Then I’d jump into a bar for fabulous cocktails with my friends and end with a cozy dinner at home with blankets and movies.

It definitely wouldn’t be at a big fancy restaurant. In the end, you’re not going to remember the food; you’re going to remember that certain pause when you appreciate the moment. The moment is everything.

I’ve had girls say to me, “You’re so normal.” I’m like, “Well, what did you think, that I puke flowers? Of course I’m normal. Of course I have pimples.” The truth is we’re all pretty. Think about people’s favorite flower: You might assume it’s a rose, but it rarely is. Some men love lilies, some love peonies. They’re all beautiful, and it’s the same with girls.

I cannot leave a restaurant without having dessert. It can be the most exquisite meal, but I need the chocolate cake at the end. Just leave me the dessert cart.

It’s a long road to discovering a country. Each one has its rules, its pros and cons. When I’m in Europe, I have nightmares that I’m missing my plane. It’s a classic dream: You’re packing, and then the plane flies away. When I’m in the States, it never happens. Maybe it’s my subconscious telling me New York is my comfort zone.

I’ve carried a teddy bear named Rupert with me when I travel ever since I became a model in 2007. He’s very old and dirty. My mom always sneaks him into the washing machine when I’m sleeping or out with friends. I actually prefer him dirty, though!