On a wall within his Cannes residence are mirrored letters that read: “The Jungle of the King.” There is nothing subtle about the self-proclaimed “King of Bling,” be it his comments, ‘blinged-up’ residences or his fashion shows. Philipp Plein, the founder of the eponymous Philipp Plein International Group which now includes Plein Sport, Plein Junior and Billionaire Couture brands, is high-fashion conservatives’ biggest nightmare. He is an outsider, independent, self-funded, growing at a phenomenal rate, has a partisan band of fans, is blunt and opinionated, has a disdain for the industry’s critics and has likened its established order to the mafia.
Plein did not graduate from a reputed fashion design institute nor is he a man of the streets. Born in Munich to middle-class parents who are both doctors, he was sent to Schule Schloss Salem, an elite boarding school in Switzerland. By the age of 15, he was dating an older woman and frequenting nightclubs. He liked the glitzy lifestyle, so he decided to become an entrepreneur. He noticed that a lot of CEOs had been to law school so he enrolled in one to study Business Law, all the while looking for business ideas that would make him rich.
One day he came across an article about the pet industry and its resilience to a recession. So he quit law school, borrowed some money from his grandmother and started manufacturing luxury dog beds in the basement of his parents’ house. It was a low-risk and high-rewards business as customers always prepaid, and his only cost was that of raw materials. He has claimed that he was making over 2,000 Deutsche Mark per piece. By the age of 23, he had bought and crashed his first Porsche.
As time passed, along with his turnover, he expanded his portfolio and began making luxury furniture for humans under Philipp Plein International AG, first registered in 1998. From the excess materials left from furniture making, such as leathers and other exotics, he fashioned handbags and accessories which he sold along with his furniture at trade fairs. By 2003, his reputation had grown such that Moët & Chandon entrusted him with designing their lounge at that year’s CPD Düsseldorf fair where he claims to have sold over 100,000 euros worth of accessories.
The switch to fashion came shortly thereafter at a Paris trade fair where one of the items he was selling was a steel clothes rack. He needed clothes to hang on the rack as display, so instead of just buying some, he decided to go about it the Philipp Plein way. He procured some army surplus coats and embellished them with some of the Swarovski crystals that he was using on his furniture. The jackets, each of which cost Plein around 12 Euros, were sold for around 204 Euros. In 2004, the Philipp Plein fashion brand was launched, and in 2008 it was upgraded to include luxury wear. In 2009, the first stores were opened in Monte Carlo followed by Milan.
When he first arrived in Milan to promote his wares at the Fashion Week, he was given the snub, and when he persisted, they gave him a late night slot when few, if any, critics would show up. Plein, who has never cared much for industry critics, turned his show into one big party and one big success. Big, brash and ‘bling’ have been the hallmarks of his events ever since: a symphony orchestra performing in an artificial cave, full-size rollercoasters, monster trucks, jousting on jet-skis, performances from the likes of Snoop Dogg, Rita Ora or Theophilus. Each show, estimated to cost in the millions, was topped by an over-the-top party.
2019, marks the 20th anniversary of the Philipp Plein brand. In this time period, Philipp Plein’s brand value and his company have grown at a rate that can only be described as phenomenal. He now employs nearly 500 individuals, with over 40 stores worldwide, seven of them in China alone. In May of 2016, Plein became the majority shareholder in the Flavio Briatore founded Billionaire couture.
What makes this phenomenal growth rate even more remarkable is the fact, according to Plein, that he is entirely self-funded, no banks and no investors. He insists that he is following his father’s advice of never spending what he does not have in his pocket.
Philipp Plein has kicked off the 20th birthday celebrations of his namesake brand with two high-profile, limited-edition collaboration with Mansory, the luxury car modification specialist. One is the ‘Star Trooper’ AMG G63, and the other, a Billionaire branded Rolls-Royce Cullinan. This was followed by the SS19 collection as a tribute to one of his lifelong heroes, Michael Jackson, with a military-meets-Rock’n’Roll motif. It features some of Plein’s favourite fabrics like distressed leather, denim, shiny latex and gold-leafed python, embellished with paillettes, precious stones, fringing, studs, skulls and crystals in black and white gold.
While his detractors foretell his impending demise like others before him, Plein has never been one to bother with the naysayers nor is likely to tone down his glitter to fit into the crowd.