New York Fashion Week: How Philipp Plein became fashion's bad boy

From BBC - February 9, 2018

"Fashion is one of the oldest industries in the world. Maybe prostitution is older," laughs Philipp Plein.

It's clear from the outset that an interview with one of fashion's most exciting talents is not going to be business as usual.

But you would not expect anything else from the 39-year-old designer, whose clothes (and controversies) have caught the attention of Naomi Campbell, Rita Ora and Floyd Mayweather.

Plein, whose latest collection debuts at New York Fashion Week on Saturday, is noticeably candid when discussing the strange politics and quirks of the industry.

"In fashion, we are all playing with the same weapons," he tells BBC News.

"If you compare two big brands, say Gucci and Prada, you will not find one article that is available at one that is not available at the other.

"They all sell the same type of products, for the same price. Their stores are on the same street, sometimes designed by the same architects. They advertise in the same magazines, using the same models.

"Some of them even use the same suppliers. My supplier for shoes are also producing Tom Ford, Chanel, Saint Laurent and Valentino."

'You buy an emotion, a name'

Which raises the question of what the difference between high-end products actually is, and where Plein's own brand fits in.

"The difference is brand positioning and imaging," he replies. "People in the luxury fashion industry buy brands, and when you buy a brand you buy a dream, an emotion, a name."

The German-born designer has spent 14 years building up his - which started out making furniture before expanding into fashion.

He started small, with minimal investment, but once he ventured into the world of clothes and catwalks, his star rose rapidly.

Fashion's ''enfant terrible' has since become known for his innovative designs - which are playful, daring, colourful... and often jewel-encrusted.

And the decadence, flamboyance and sheer ambition of his catwalk shows have become as much a part of his trademark as the clothes themselves.

"A fashion show is a bit like a happy funeral," he says.

"You work so hard for months on putting a show together, and then the moment you reveal the collection to the public, you have buried it, because then you have to start working on a new one."

A kind of funeral it may be - although the dodgems, chairoplanes, cars, acrobats and stunts present at an average Plein show, not to mention the thudding music and celebrity guests, do not exactly set a morbid tone.

What do the critics say?

"I have never been to any fashion show by myself," he says. "I have never been invited to any. So I do not know how it really is to go to a fashion show.

"I started as an outsider to the fashion industry, and from the beginning, I did not have any clue how to set one up. So we just did it our way."

It's telling that he feels the industry has never fully embraced him - perhaps a result of his refusal to conform. But he is not losing sleep over it.

"I do not know any other industry that's changing so fast," he says.

"Twenty years ago, before the internet took off, fashion shows were necessary. They were the only communication to the industry to let people know about their new collections.

"Today, you have to ask yourself, what is more important, to have Kim Kardashian in the front row, or [US Vogue editor] Anna Wintour? It's a hard decision to make."

Warming to his theme, he then breaks down this recurring battle between traditional media and social media.

"Okay, so how many people are still reading American Vogue?" he asks. [The answer is around 1.2 million within the US, according to the most recent figures.]



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