WELCOME TO THE PROVOCATIVE WORLD OF PHILIPP PLEIN
BY RHIANNA JONES
As luxury designers struggle to keep abreast of fast fashion’s meteoric turnover and influencer demand, few manage to not only play the game but win by their own rules. Philipp Plein, self-proclaimed “King of Bling,” has built a multi million dollar empire doing just that, selling Swarovski studded shock value that disregards the status quo. Plein’s world is a hedonistic one a perspective also apparent in the 41 year old’s fascination with luxury cars. Wanna ride through life like they do on the Autobahn? Take his $655,000 limited run G “Couture” Wagon for a spin (see sidebar on next page). Put simply, Plein has made a mission and brand of deliberately not appeasing the fashion system instead attracting young and often well to do rebels who crave a life on the edge of their python seats.
The Munich born designer fell into the business somewhat haphazardly. His entrepreneurial endeavors started young the law school dropout’s first effort was producing luxury dog beds. He ventured into design in 1998, making fur, leather, and steel furnishings fit for a debauchery den. Repurposing those products’ exotic scraps into handbags and accessories, Plein launched a first fashion collection in 2004. While most luxury houses begin with clothing and eventually expand, Plein envisioned his to be more of a lifestyle than a singular brand. 15 years later, his crystal encrusted collections and sumptuous streetwear have a loyal following amongst celebs, socialites, and the jet set. Setting his sights on the world’s richest destinations, from Monte Carlo to Macau, his extravagant visions can now be bought in over 120 stores around the globe.
His secret sauce is a winning combination of inventive thinking, barrier breaking, and seduction. Plein doesn’t host traditional fashion shows, but spectacles. From staging cage fights and space invasions to building full sized roller coasters, he’ll spare no expense to turn his haute hellions on. Notables like Snoop Dogg, Naomi Campbell, and Paris Hilton have graced his runways, which often culminate in a signature “Champlein” shower of Red Bull and champagne.
Such lavish spending seems unfathomable in an era of retail recession, but Plein’s unconventional model has paid off in spades, with annual sales figures near $250 million. He is the sole owner of the Philipp Plein Group: comprising Plein Sport, Billionaire Couture, and most recently, Philipp Plein Parfums.
But beyond the sexed up swagger lies a larger message stitched into these thousanddollar threads, one of inclusivity and individuality. While the industry is just now slowly expanding its historically narrow beauty standards, Plein’s been championing gender and sartorial fluidity for years. Despite a hyper machismo facade, his masculinity is actually a multi-faceted entity. An emphasis on unisex designs allows both genders to play interchangeably men can sport lipstick and studded gowns while women pair oversized blazers with thighhigh sneakers. His cultural references reflect this, paying homage to gender bending icons from Grace Jones and David Bowie to Kiss and Michael Jackson. Plein’s latest venture, his debut fragrance, The $kull, is also unisex. As the designer detailed in a press release, it is “the strongest statement of living life to the fullest provocative, irreverent, embodying non conformity and freethinking.” For a mere $445 for the limited edition scent, his legion of misfit followers can be bedazzled to the bone.
Over the years, Plein’s presentations have challenged racial, gender, and social norms: the SS14 women’s runway featured exclusively black models; the SS15 menswear show was set in a historic lido and opened with a water ballet, and viral “hot convict” and former Crip, Jeremy Meeks, opened the FW17 spectacle fresh out of incarceration. He perhaps best encapsulated this “come one, come all” vision in that last show, dubbed #PLEINLOVESNY, about which he enthused: “There are no barriers here: music, style, race, gender… everything is mixed together. There is no distinction between women’s and menswear. There is no distinction between streetwear and couture. This New York gang is free to express themselves however they want and free to dress however they feel. Their strength is in their individuality and their differences are what unify them.”
And so, Plein’s world is an invitation to experiment with self-expression and wear individuality on wearers’ sleeves. The house’s latest Men’s and Women’s Spring/Summer 2020 collection, The World is Yours, fetes the brand’s 20th anniversary of breaking industry molds.
This anomalous success can be attributed not solely to irreverence of design, but also to the enduring relevance of the “Plein State of Mind.” In a tumultuous era of people clamoring to be seen and heard, his zeal for life resonates with sincerity, on and off the runway.
Examples of the latest spring/summer collection are seen here, and evoke, as a press statement reads, “road warriors in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. Mutant monster trucks and flaming biker gangs. A giant thunderdome where there are no rules… a high volume, unapologetic roar of Mad Max attitude.”
An exclusive collaboration with rock legends, KISS, adds yet another unique touch its logo appearing on patches, tee shirts, suits, and dresses, with the line unveiled at an event that featured suitably blasting rock tunes.
Put simply, the designer’s approach, at its core, enables wearers to turn fantasies to reality reminding us to inject some fun back into life, and to live as if the world was indeed ours. As the slogan on his website’s Play! section suggests: “Philipp Plein is the Best! F*ck the Rest!”