Longing for the days of extravagant shows? Enter Philipp Plein, who returns to NYFW with a show (for the people!) on Saturday night in Brooklyn. THE DAILY stopped by his tony NYC townhouse to discuss his path to the big leagues.
You’ve brought some razzle-dazzle back to Fashion Week. Why do you want to do these big shows?
We have to ask ourselves, “Why do we still need fashion shows?” We live in a world of change. When people talk about fashion, they think it’s a very modern industry, but it’s not. It’s one of the oldest industries in the world. Maybe prostitution is older? It’s dominated by a few big fashion groups, and the way they operate and move is very slow. You can’t recognize it until you are inside this industry. But things are starting to change. Fashion shows are not what they once were. In the past, it was the only tool to let the world know about your fashion and that you exist. If journalists didn’t write about you, you would be invisible. I came from a different background. I didn’t want to be in fashion. I never planned it. It was unexpected. I went to law school, and went into furniture design and from there, I started designing clothes.
What was your first time showing?
It was in Milan, and nobody knew who we were, so they didn’t even give us a slot on the calendar. I put the show on in the evening when every other show was done, and the cost shocked me. I decided to make it a party. If you’re already spending all that money, it doesn’t cost that much to give people a good time. We were focusing more on our clients than the press. And then, it became bigger. Fashion is made for the people. They pay me. You write for your readers. Other brands are selective about who will come to the show and who sits front row. Those people don’t pay for the clothes. I always fought with my press team; I didn’t want to exclude our clients.
What was your approach?
If we want to be a part of the industry, let’s do it in a different way. In Milan, the fashion industry is very old. America is a little more modern and new. When you look at Fashion Week, you have a lot of cool and upcoming brands—in Europe, it’s dominated by old fashion houses. I wanted to be part of the new generation. It helped that I wasn’t part of the industry; I didn’t go to fashion school. I didn’t know anything about distribution. To this day, I haven’t been to any other fashion shows except my own.
No! I didn’t have any way to compare or measure. I tried to make it our own. Sometimes it’s good to be an outsider.
What brought you to New York?
Our production became so big in Milan. So many kids wanted to come to our shows; it was like a back-in-the-day Backstreet Boys concert. I questioned if we still needed fashion shows, but then I thought we should do something completely different, and come to America, where we want to improve the visibility of our brand. When we came, there were no expectations. It wasn’t easy, but it’s a challenge. I like challenges—they keep you focused. I enjoy bringing something to New York that wasn’t here before. The last time I was here, a UPS driver came up to me and said he liked what I was doing, and that he was at our fashion show.
A UPS driver?
Yes. Our party is for the people! A girl who works for me told me that when she came to New York, the immigration officer [at the airport] asked her what brought her to New York, and she said she worked in fashion. He said, “What brand?” and she said, “Philipp Plein,” and he said, “Oh, I wanted to come to the party, but they couldn’t let me in!” These two stories tell me that somehow, we did something right.
Do you sell tickets to your show?
How does a UPS driver know about the show?
It’s viral marketing. Word of mouth helps. This weekend’s show is already full. We’re doing this one in Brooklyn. The last show had too many people trying to get in, but it was a magical feeling: young people, old people, real estate people, fashion people, Suzy Menkes was filming, we had the daughter of Trump there, and Leonardo DiCaprio came to the after-party. I found it really exciting. We brought all these different kinds of people together.
You also work with the best models.
I work with Carine Roitfeld [as the show stylist], and she has an idea of how to put the casting together. We try to cast in a different way. In a classic fashion show, you have the most beautiful people presenting your clothes. Now, it’s more interesting to have people with stories. It’s not only the most beautiful person, it’s the most interesting person. It doesn’t matter how many followers you have on Instagram.
We know some designers like to keep it a secret, but what’s the Fall collection going to look like?
No. I don’t have a secret. I make clothes for the people. Some brands try to be someone else. They aren’t honest with themselves. It’s a big problem for many brands. Our clothes are wearable, and what you see on the runway goes in the store. For our Winter collection, we’re flying to the moon. It’s a new interpretation of [the Jane Fonda movie] Barbarella. There’s a huge spaceship coming from the sky. This is a show and a production. There are a lot of things happening.
Do you read reviews after your shows?
I did in the beginning, because I wanted to really understand how people would see us, and the reviews were bad. They would write things about us, the collection, “What is the guy doing here? He’s not one of us, blah, blah, blah.” I got upset because I put a lot of effort into it. I thought, “Okay, guys! What am I doing wrong?” I’m coming here, and I’m not stealing anything from anybody. They were comparing us to other brands, and I didn’t want to be compared. We were here because we worked hard for it. We’re an independent brand. We don’t have a loan. I don’t have rich parents. I started from zero to do this business, and last year we made $300 million. I can do whatever I want in this company. There’s no investor, no partner. I’m proud of this. Somehow, we must do something right or we wouldn’t be here. It can’t be that we are so bad and somehow successful. Something doesn’t match. Our product is selling. If you don’t like it, I get it, but there are people who like it, and that’s why we exist. Over the years, people started to respect us more. It was hard to ignore us and not respect us. The perception of the brand changed. At the end of the day, what makes a brand become a brand? Brand awareness. If you’re not visible in the market, nobody knows you exist. We’ve brought a lot of fun to New York. In America, you have a global stage, and access to celebrities. When Madonna or Kylie Jenner come to our show, people around the world see it.
Do you think of yourself as a fashion rebel?
I’m a dreamer and a believer. I have a dream, and believe in it until it comes true. We don’t look left or right about what’s happening around us. We’ve never tried to be like someone else. We are who we are, and we’re proud of who we are.
Tell us about your new Soho store!
It’s a permanent store, but I call it a pop-up, because it’s a pop-up concept. After the show in September, there were so many people on the streets trying to get in, and I thought they should all go to the Madison Avenue store and buy something. Then I realized this crowd isn’t necessarily the Madison [Avenue] crowd, and maybe our price points were too high. If they don’t come to me, I have to come to them. So we decided to open in Soho. As fashion is changing, the buying behavior of the customer is changing. You can buy everything online now, at any time. This means there is no more desire. If there is enough supply, the desire goes away. This is the big problem of fashion houses today. In the past, they were desirable, and now, more and more people have the money to buy, so [fashion brands] became more commercial. I thought I should open a store in Soho, which is completely different than all our other stores. I have 200 stores between Billionaire by Philipp Plein and Plein Sport, and they all look the same—the same marble, the same chandeliers. This store won’t have any marble. I don’t want any catering for the opening; I want beer! It’s an experiment. I already have the idea to do this in other cities. I want to have different selections in the different stores. I made a collection called No Mercy on Mercer, because the store is on Mercer Street. We have T-shirts, hoodies, and street-style looks. We also have a really cool sneaker; it’s one of the first with LED technology inside.
What was your upbringing like?
My mother was married to a man who was an alcoholic, and she left him when I was 3 years old. It was a tough time for her, because she was alone and a young mother. We didn’t have a lot of money. My mom remarried, and they built a great life together. My father is a heart surgeon. The first time I came to New York, we stayed in a Days Inn Hotel on Broadway. It had no windows. I was 14, and [my father] was in New York for a convention. It was exciting for me to be in America. In Europe, we grew up very Americanized, with Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, watching American TV shows.… When we were in New York on this trip, my father took a picture of me in front of what is today my office in New York. When I celebrated my birthday, my mother sent me the photo. She didn’t even know it was my office!
Do you pinch yourself over everything you’ve achieved?
When I was young, I only had one dream—I wanted to be rich. I’m honest about that. I’m proud that I built a company in an industry that’s competitive. It’s not the new economy, where you come up with an idea and make a billion dollars overnight. I’m proud to say that I built something in an industry that was not supporting us. When you work so much, you start to question why. [Picks up phone and scrolls through photos of the late Franca Sozzani.] She was one of the people who believed in me. We never talked about fashion, ever. Not one time. This was my dream. When you work so much, you start to question why. Money doesn’t make you happy. At a certain point, I stopped working for money. I have what I want. I have houses in France, New York, I’m building a house in Los Angeles; I have two houses in Switzerland. I like doing something that I feel nobody has ever done before. It’s even more challenging when people don’t believe in you—you become more motivated. I’m proud of what I’ve reached. You can call it the nouveau riche. I am one of them because I enjoy it.
You’re so honest!
Why should I lie? I always say what I think. I don’t have any shareholders who I have to impress. I’m not a politician. If you find me having sex with five men and five women at the same time, I couldn’t care less! My clients would probably think it’s cool. I can do what I want. I can’t get fired. I don’t have to say thank you to anybody for helping me. This is the biggest advantage. I feel independent. When you don’t have a bank supporting you, you are free. If I decide tomorrow to spend $5 million for a show or $1 million for a show, I just do it, because I can. If I wasn’t enjoying it, I wouldn’t be doing this kind of production. I don’t do it to make myself bigger. I get excited!
Will you pop open champagne when the show is over on Saturday?
No—I don’t really drink alcohol. I’m always the one who goes home first! When the show is done, it’s done. I hate when there are so many people around you at a certain point. I’m not a celebrity. In that environment, they treat you like one.
We know you love Red Bull! How many do you drink a day?
Quite a lot. I’m a fan. I’ve been to their headquarters.
Tell us about having your name tattooed on your arm.
It was my first tattoo. I did it when I was 24 years old, and I made my first million-selling dog beds!