Philipp Plein has big global ambitions — and the U.S. is high on his list.
This story first appeared in the October 27, 2014 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
A 1,400-square-foot flagship at 250 Rodeo Drive in Los Angeles opening on Tuesday will be the German designer’s 38th store worldwide. Plein plans to quickly ramp up his store count. By next year, he hopes to have 80 to 100 stores in operation. “There’s a big Asian expansion, but Europe will continue to grow,” he said. “We’re going to open some outlet stores in Europe.”
New units are slated to open in St. Moritz, Courchevel in the French Alps, Istanbul, Moscow and Samara, Russia. In China, stores will open in Tianjin, Dalian, Zhengzhou and Shenyang. Four more stores are planned for Seoul, where there are three existing units, a fourth shop will open in Moscow and a second store in Dubai is planned.
Ever since he was a child, Plein has been infatuated with America. His hunger for U.S. culture was fueled by a trip he took when he was 14 years old when he accompanied his father, a heart surgeon, to a convention in Dallas.
The Los Angeles store is Plein’s third store in the U.S. In just under a year, he has unveiled flagships in Miami and on Madison Avenue in New York. He’s also opened a U.S. showroom, proving to American retailers — with whom he wants to do business — that he’s not a flash in the pan.
“In the U.S. we’re looking for more locations,” Plein said. “Las Vegas will probably be our next one. We’re targeting cities with a high frequency of tourists and high visibility.”
The Rodeo Drive store will have many of the same elements as other Philipp Plein units, such as his trademark giant skull studded with Crystallized Swarovski Elements. Illuminated hexagonal shapes in polished steel can be seen throughout the store, bearing the “PP” initials. The store is decorated with black-and-white stone, crocodile-embossed leather and a Murano smoked glass chandelier. “When you enter a store, you enter a world,” Plein said. “I control the music, lighting and even the smell.”
Plein said the key to success will be “to become a brand. It’s brand awareness. We have a strong retail network in Europe. We’re only missing London in Europe.” Plein has begun advertising in the U.S. and celebrity publicity will come next, with the company courting celebrity stylists, he said.
Plein’s $253 million business is 75 percent driven by wholesale sales with 600 points of distribution worldwide. “We are not yet in American department stores because I don’t want to be,” Plein claimed. “I want to build the image of the brand first. The next step in the U.S. will be wholesale. My team from Milan is traveling the country and going to New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami and Dallas to do a market study. Our biggest markets to date are Asia, Russia and Europe. The U.S. is a different market. It’s not hungry for luxury goods like Russia.”
Plein’s business is divided equally between men and women. He said 90 percent of the manufacturing is done in Italy, with the remaining 10 percent in Istanbul.
Wearing a black V-neck T-shirt and baggy jogging pants slung low to reveal the waistband of his Philipp Plein underwear, the designer, 36, last week discussed his business with intensity, barely stopping to take a breath. A can of Red Bull sat on the table in front of him. Asked if that’s how he gets his energy, Plein said he doesn’t normally drink the beverage, but thought he might need it to fight off jet lag since he arrived from Europe the night before. Plein was sitting in his New York showroom, which occupies a two-story penthouse on 58th Street, across from the Plaza Hotel and has views of Central Park. The designer, whose arms are heavily tattooed, wears a trio of Cartier Love bracelets. He explained why his runway shows are spectacles; Rita Ora, Iggy Azalea and Grace Jones have performed in past seasons. “Today, people don’t dream,” he said. “We have to give them something to dream about.
“People talk about inspiration and going to India and blah, blah, blah,” Plein said. “It’s all bulls–t. You can get inspiration from anything. I like to be surprising.”
Plein’s designs are not for the shy, retiring type. Handbags have names such as “Little Weapon,” T-shirts are emblazoned with the message “The Bitch Is Back” and a recurring theme in Plein’s collections is the skull.
“Luxury has to be fun,” Plein said. “At the moment, the market is dominated by big groups with big names. They’re getting boring for the customer.”