I meet Philipp Plein 45 minutes after our interview is supposed to begin. I pass the time by becoming acquainted with his $13.5 million upper East Side townhouse, where I’m waiting, which is replete with an 18-chandelier room and an obscene amount of Italian marble.
By now, I’m used to waiting for Plein. The German designer, who just showed his second collection on the official New York Fashion Week calendar, kept attendees waiting a little more than an hour for his show to begin this season. I guess I should be thankful I didn’t wait the two and a half hours those who attended his NYFW debut show in February did.
I suppose I should also be thankful I wasn’t part of a riot trying to get inside the Plein show, as was also the case for those sad souls who tried their luck getting into Wangfest that same night. And I should consider the mob of more than 2,000 people who crowded Manhattan’s Hammerstein Ballroom, Plein’s show venue, hoping for a chance to watch one of Plein’s performer’s that night: Nicki Minaj, rapper Future, and multi-hyphenate actress-dancerTeyana Taylor (unbeknownst to any of us, Dita Von Teese would also perform her signature striptease).
Still, the night of Plein’s event was “chaotic,” as he puts it himself. For a man who is known for sprinkling in fashion shows on top of exploding cars and staged amusement parks, Plein considers his latest burlesque performance meets hip-hop concert meets nightclub a “pop-up,” compared with what he’s used to — that cost his company $7 million.
It wouldn’t be terribly unusual if you’ve never heard the name Philipp Plein. In 2016, the Financial Times wondered, “Who the hell is Philipp Plein?” This year, the Fashion Lawdubbed him the Donald Trump of fashion, though you wouldn’t be too far off to think of him as a Christian Audigier for the social media age.
Plein’s relative anonymity is largely an American anomaly — his brand recognition in the U.S. is under two percent — despite an ever-growing list of celebrity friends (on the payroll or otherwise): Floyd Mayweather, Snoop Dogg, Naomi Campbell (there are photos of Plein and the latter two displayed in his home, and Snoop Dogg’s son and father both walked Plein’s show).
While Plein says Selena Gomez and his friend Young Thug couldn’t get into the party because of the crowd, Paris Hilton found her way in, along with President Trump’s daughter Tiffany, Grace Kelly’s granddaughter Jazmin Grace Grimaldi, Curtis “50 Cent” Jackson, Hailey Baldwin, Leonardo DiCaprio — you get the idea.
Plein is new to America, but he’s a seasoned player in the European market. Plein’s eponymous brand, founded more than 20 years ago, started with furniture and dog beds before he started selling crystal-embellished leather jackets at trade shows in Europe. By 2010, Plein was showing a clothing collection during Milan Fashion Week, though he wouldn’t be included on the officially recognized calendar for a few more years.
There are 120 Philipp Plein stores worldwide, and the brand expects to bring in $300 million in sales this year. His namesake brand, in addition to Plein Sport and Billionaire (the brand he did not start himself but acquired a majority stake in last year), are independently owned without outside investors.
Once Plein arrives for our interview, he apologizes for his tardiness, much as he did on stage before his runway show began. He’s wearing a short-sleeved black T-shirt that shows off his tattoos (including one of his full name on his forearm), jeans, and his hair is spiked straight up. At 39, he appears fit. Despite a collection of rare Dom Perignon champagne bottles on display and a wine cellar in his townhouse, I’m told he doesn’t drink. He does down a Red Bull while answering my questions. We all have our vices.
In fact, it would seem that Plein wants us to lean in to our vices. “Good gone bad” is the name of his Spring 2018 collection, a gluttonous smorgasbord of leather-clad dominatrices and their denim-wearing male counterparts. Cinderella is bound and gagged on T-shirts (acartoon that one artist says Plein stole), and models like Adriana Lima twirl their Rapunzel braids like whips down the runway. Carine Roitfeld helped conceptualize and style the collection.
Suzy Menkes, an industry-respected critic for Vogue UK, was kind to Plein’s collection (a fact not lost on the designer). Meanwhile, American Vogue called it “icky.” And a 17-year-old named Matthew, whom this writer met during Fashion Week, drooled over every minute of it: “Oh my God, I love Philipp Plein. Do you even know how cool he is?”
Of those reviews, Plein is most likely to care most about the last one. He’s focused on dominating the American market, and expresses what feels like disdain for the high-browed intelligentsia. He doesn’t need glossy magazine editors’ approval (if he did, he would devote millions to print advertisements, not a social media-friendly production). And any attempt to intellectualize or contextualize Plein is for naught: He won’t have it, and whatever anyone deduces will disappoint.
“Nobody can really reinvent the dress nowadays,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “Philipp Plein is famous for making fashion for the people. I don’t want to do fashion which cannot be worn by the people. I think this is wrong. I am a fashion designer — I am not an artist. We are here to sell clothes. Fashion is something very democratic.”
Speaking of democracy, Plein has even less interest in discussing politics, something his industry peers were eager to do on their runways after the 2016 American presidential election. “This is a joke,” he says. “I personally hate people who interpret too much into a fashion collection. If we want to do politics, we should go and do politics.”
Plein wasn’t finished: “I don’t have the need or the feeling to create attention by dropping statements or making political statements. This is so wrong.”
Blasphemous as it may be, it would be difficult not to compare Plein to another new-to-America designer, Raf Simons. Simons, a Belgian designer tapped to revive Calvin Klein as its creative head, showed his first collection for the brand last season. Plein would also make his American debut during fall 2017, though the European’s collections are radically different: Simons’s is a commentary on American iconography and diversity while Plein’s is a disruptive statement of aggression — with at least one American flag hoodie, to be sure.
If you think of Simons as fashion’s superego, think of the Plein brand as the id of the American collective consciousness. You might not have noticed it before, but it’s waiting for you to give in to whatever impulses you want — preferably material ones stamped with a conspicuous double-“P” logo.