Last season, Alyssa compared Philipp Plein's fall 2015 show to a rock concert, and I had the same thought while watching his spring 2016 spectacle, which included gigantic functioning robots that were not just for show. Some played instruments (they were programmed to play in time with the music), while others handed the models sunglasses and handbags as they walked the runway — or, rather, stood on moving conveyer belts — with such precision that it kind of blew my mind. The technology topped what you might see during an arena tour of your favorite pop or rock star. It's also the kind of thing that makes you believe musicians when they say they don't make any money on tour, because putting on such highly produced shows every night is so expensive. While Plein only puts on two shows a year, no one has ever bought a ticket — though judging by the crowd of people we saw desperately trying to gain entry, they would probably be willing to.
It also was an actual rock concert: Courtney Love performed Hole's "Celebrity Skin," and sounded great. And given how rarely Love performs at all — let alone her biggest mainstream hit — we doubt she just did it because she felt like it. There was a big payday involved there, too.
After the show, Plein enthusiastically explained that he wanted Love there because she's "very authentic." He continued, "In the fashion industry you have a lot of people who are not authentic anymore, they are just slaves to the industry. Courtney is a real rock star, she doesn’t give a shit about the industry."
In addition to preaching authenticity, Plein also wanted to make a statement about how "machines control your life," hence the robots. "That's why the machines are styling the models. You can't imagine your life without technology," he ranted.
Of course, he got that point across in the most insane, over-the-top way possible. This is typical for him, as past shows have included an all-black model cast, actual fire, a functioning roller coaster, machine guns and a sea aquarium. As for why Plein feels the need to present these themes in such excessive, entertaining ways to such larges crowds of people (his audience is exponentially larger than most shows in Milan and clearly includes many guests who do not work in fashion), part of it seems to stem from insecurity. "I invite everybody because when I was starting, nobody was coming to my show and I was afraid that nobody would come because, who am I? I am a nobody."
He downplayed the amount of money he spends on shows — "I don't spend more money than other brands; you think that Gucci, Dolce and Louis Vuitton spend less money than us? They spend even more, they have more money," he said humbly. Comparatively, he says, he's on his own: "I'm an independent label, I don't work with licenses, I don't have investors... no one in the industry is supporting me." At the same time, that's why he feels he has to market his brand in such a big way. "We have to work 10 times harder to make 1 euro than they do."
His clothes are loud, too. He's not exactly reinventing the wheel design-wise — some of his designs look a tad too familiar — but they do pack a punch, often covered in rhinestones and crystals or featuring a dramatic slit or cutout. His explanation for that: "I cannot sell a black T-shirt like this because the people will not give me the money for this, I have to put something on it."
Essentially, Plein is trying to overcompensate for having less name recognition and industry respect than the decades-old brands he's competing with in Milan. Only time will tell if and when he'll ever get to a point at which he'll stop feeling the need to go to such extremes. But if he does, we have to admit, Milan Fashion Week will become a lot less fun.