I can’t say for certain that I was terrified. Or that I was, perhaps, nervous I’d say the wrong thing. This is Philipp Plein, after all. A man who’s the face and name behind a luxury fashion brand that sells T-shirts embellished to the high heavens in rhinestones, sequins and the like, for at least SGD1, 000. A man who’s as well known for being the King of Bling as he is politically incorrect; his latest scandal involved a spat with a fashion writer who was unimpressed with his autumn/winter 2019 womenswear show.
I was, at the very least, intimidated.
We meet at The Fullerton Bay Hotel’s The Landing Point, an indoor dining area overlooking the Singapore River and the Marina Bay Sands complex. It was a quarter past six in the afternoon and the Munich-born designer was scheduled to attend the opening of his first flagship store in Singapore at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands in about two hours.
Dressed in a paint-splattered leather biker jacket, a black T-shirt and jeans, and (of course) embellished high-top sneakers, Plein was all smiles as we shook hands. We regaled quite a bit about Singapore—my typical complaint of the furiously hot weather in response to the other party’s “I love Singapore!” or “Singapore is great!” comments.
I was ready to start the interview proper, in an attempt to squeeze in as many questions as I could within the time allocated. Then, he interjected me.
“What’s your name again?” he asks.
“Asri,” I reply. His brows furrow and I attempt to enunciate my name: “As-Ri”.
“Okay. It’s an Asian name?” he asks, but still somewhat unconvinced that he’s heard it right.
“Umm… yeah. It’s Malay,” I answer and proceed to briefly expand on Singapore’s racial demographic.
“Can you write it down for me? I’m curious. I want to know how it’s spelled,” he requests. I instead, show him my name on the list of interview questions that I was holding on to.
“Okay. Cool,” he says after correctly reading my name once.
If this was a planned move to make me feel at ease, or to make it seem like Plein cared who he was talking to, it worked. I relaxed quite a bit. After that moment, Plein appeared to be less of a difficult enfant terrible and more of a brutally honest individual in an increasingly politically correct era. And he was, by all accounts, honest.
On his high-octane fashion shows
“Basically, I'm trying to make all my childhood dreams come true. Because inside, I think every man stays a boy, or everybody stays a child, you know? One time we had a show related to cowboys—when I was a child I'd always dress up as a cowboy during carnivals. Then one time, we built a rollercoaster because I liked to ride the rollercoasters during Oktoberfest in Munich, where I was born.
So you know, you always link it with something that happened in your life, or what you’ve always wanted to do but never had the chance to.
You’re not really rich when you have money; you're rich when you have the tools to make your dreams come true. And this is not necessarily linked to money. It can be a dream dinner, a dream vacation—it can be many things. Because people always think: "Okay, you have to have money. You have to be rich for this.” No. Creativity doesn't cost anything.
When we started to enter the fashion industry, I can tell you, we didn't have any money. We really had nothing, but we had to put something together. And that was when we had to be creative.”
On who the shows are for
“I never really tried to make the press or the media happy. I’ve always tried to make my clients happy because they are the ones who pay my bills; they’re why we exist. And from season to season, we had more and more clients, so the shows became bigger and more extravagant. It's a way to say thank you, you know?
Nowadays, the idea of a fashion show has to be questioned. Back in the day, there was a clear vision why we do shows—to communicate with the media on what we have done this season and what we want to do next season. Now everything can be communicated over the web, social media, Weibo or WeChat or whatever. So we had to find other reasons to put on a show; it’s a get-together.”
On his comparatively subdued fashion show for the autumn/winter 2019 menswear collection
“I like to go against the mainstream. Like when nobody did the shows, we did them big. And now, when everybody is trying to do the big shows, we did it small. So I like to be a little bit, sometimes, controversial because I don't have to always do what everybody else does.
I also believe that Philipp Plein is one of the new-generation brands, against all these other old, established fashion houses. And every generation has to be different than the generation before. Every generation has to have its own DNA. And I think that's important. I didn't what to do what everybody else in the fashion industry was always doing. So if I have the chance to change something, then I'll try. Why not?”
On the nature of the industry
“It's extremely difficult nowadays to create a brand amongst all these mega brands in the industry. We are a small, independent fashion company competing with 40-billion-dollar monsters. I don't even call them brands; I call them monsters because they're monsters, okay? They have more money to advertise, more money to push their products in the market, more money to open stores. We have to be much more—we are like Robin Hood, you understand what I mean? You have to fight against all the people around you to keep your space.”
On his brand identity
“When I started fashion, there was nothing like this in the market. I was really one of the few, especially in menswear, who was going a little bit more extravagant. Men were not fashionable at all at the time. When you are going into an industry which is so saturated, you cannot come up with something which everybody already has; you have to find a niche. And my niche was this loud and extravagant, and rock-and-roll kind of edgy design.
In the beginning, people were laughing and joking, but there's a clientele who was looking for exactly something like us. Then, now, everybody who was talking about minimalism back in the day kept their mouths shut in this time of Gucci when you have stones, sequins and so on all over.
This is the thing about the fashion industry: everybody looks at what everybody else is doing because nobody has the recipe for success. And then people go, "Oh, why this brand is successful, why this is working well, why this is not working" and then they doubt themselves.”
On being controversial
View this post on Instagram
FERRARI GAVE ME AN ULTIMATUM OF “48”hours to remove a photo of my PERSONAL FERRARI FROM MY PERSONAL INSTAGRAM !!!!! 🤡 🤡 🤡The CEO of FERRARI Louis C. Camilleri should think twice before he let his lawyers send a letter like this to a valuable costumer who bought 4 brand new Ferrari’s in the last 10 years !!! I am still speechless about the unprofessional and aggressive behavior of the company FERRARI towards his clients ! This is a clear BLACKMAIL !!!! I will not remove the pictures and I will start legal action against the company Ferrari for this unprofessional behavior ! I expect an official APOLOGY from MR. Louis C. Camilleri !
“Listen, I'm not a politician. And I'm not owned by either an investment firm or anybody else. So I don't have a board, I don't have anybody to tell me what I should or shouldn't do. So I tell you, when you ask me a question, I will always tell you what I think and I will tell you the truth. I'm not trying to be politically correct, not always. I don't try to hide. I don't want to harm or talk bad about anybody. But in this industry, there's so much bull****. And people don't talk about it, okay?
When I entered this industry, I was not really welcomed from the beginning. They didn't want me to be part of Milan Fashion Week and so on, so I had to fight for everything. I know how the reality is and if somebody asks me for my opinion, I will tell you my opinion. And I think this is what people think then is controversial—how can you say this? Everybody knows it's true, but how can you say it? Because a lot of people wouldn't say it, you know? But I don't have anybody who's controlling me about this, so I just say the way things are, the way I see them; which doesn't have to be always right.”
For more stories like this, subscribe to Esquire Singapore.