LONDON — Philipp Plein is sending a shock down Bond Street with a new lime green “crypto store” that offers prices in alternative digital currencies, an NFT art gallery and a free trading platform for metaverse art.
For all those who are clueless, or just confused about NFTs in particular, Plein has the answers. He wants people to understand them — and to have fun with them, too.
He’s so passionate that he’s hitching complementary NFTs to physical products in the store, namely the sparkly high-tops that are part of the revamped Plein Sport, the designer’s first “metaverse-native” fashion line.
He even gifted branded NFTs to special guests at Thursday night’s store opening party, where Stefflon Don, the British Jamaican rapper, performed.
Plein said his dream is to have people like his skeptical 67-year-old mother say “Yes” to the myriad possibilities of the non-fungible token, rather than “Huh?”
“My vision is to bring this to people like my mother, to the normal consumer, in a playful way. We want to help people enjoy this technology, and we want to make it accessible. We’re looking at it from a consumer perspective,” said Plein, who was fizzing with energy as he toured the space on Thursday afternoon.
On the second floor at MoNA, his new Museum of NFT Art, Plein pointed to a pair of glittering, electric orange high-tops on display inside a glass case.
They’re one of 10 sneaker styles, each of which comes with an NFT counterpart. The latter can be enjoyed as artwork or “burnt” — metaverse slang for traded — into a digital wearable to outfit avatars populating Decentraland.
“It’s playful to buy a product — and get a free NFT with it,” Plein said. “Even if you know nothing about NFTs, you’ll ask yourself ‘What do I do now? Maybe I’ll get a digital wallet for it? Or hang it on the wall? Or trade it, resell it — and make some money?’ And then all of a sudden, you become a collector.”
Plein said he’s not expecting to make money on the NFTs he’s currently minting. “I make money with clothes, and I’m not a speculator. I want to give you, the customer, these NFTs, and I want to be a pioneer” in the space, he said. By September, Plein added, some 30 percent of the physical product he sells will have free NFTs attached.
Crypto payments and NFT bonus art is just the tip of the virtual iceberg for Plein, who is an evangelist for the metaverse. He believes it has enormous potential for his company, his customers and consumers, generally. In a few years’ time, he thinks the switch from the internet to the metaverse will be like the transition from radio to TV, or from radio to the Imax cinema experience.
“You cannot even imagine what it will do. And it will become very powerful when brands start to make money with it,” he said.
For Plein, it’s not about minting profits — yet. He wants to learn more about the metaverse and bring his customers, and community, along for the ride. He also wants to position the brand for success when the new, virtual universe eventually takes off.
He recently splashed $1.4 million on the acquisition of Plein Plaza, a 176,528-square-foot plot of land in the Decentraland metaverse. One of the three skyscrapers he’s “building” on the site will house the MoNA platform where digital artists will be invited to showcase and sell their creative work without paying the usual 20 percent commission.
The new trading platform will allow users to check statistics related to the NFT market, while buyers will be able to bid for custom NFTs created by their favorite artists. Plein said he will do the marketing, contracts, sales platform analytics and offer advice regarding the royalties from original and secondary sales.
The digital visual artist Antoni Tudisco will play a role in the creation of the overall Plein Plaza project, which will include stores, entertainment, a hotel and luxury residences.
Asked why he made the investment, Plein said he’s gaining knowledge, experience and learning how to operate in a new world.
“I see it as a school fee,” Plein said. “The real value for me is not the land, but in the knowledge that we are gaining. Already we’ve had a fashion show and other [events] where we attracted thousands of people. It’s important to be there to experience it, to build and to learn. This is the beginning. You have to start somewhere.”
Plein also sees his metaverse investments as a necessary way of marketing in a 4.0 world.
“We have to bring people into the stores, give them a reason to get excited about the brand. It’s a communication tool. It’s important to have the young generation, the new investor, and others coming to us and getting into the brand. I’m still independent, and I have to survive. Look out the window. I’m the smallest kid on the block here – and I’m also the youngest,” he said.
The store at 9 Bond Street, formerly a Michael Kors unit, is a work in progress. Plein and his team have temporarily refurbished three of the five floors, with retail on the ground and first levels and MoNA on the second floor. Neighbors on the street include Valentino, Stella McCartney and Cartier.
Plein is keeping the store open until the end of August to catch the Middle Eastern tourists who normally flock to London in the summer. In September, he’s planning a major renovation and will transform it into a flagship store, complete with crypto, and metaverse benefits.
The store, with its electric lime carpets, metallic gold palm trees and crystals and shine everywhere, currently stocks men’s, women’s and accessories. Each product carries a QR code that contains the price in pounds, and in 25 cryptocurrencies. Plein said he’s proud to offer that sort of sophisticated technology in a physical store.
Digital currencies fluctuate every 10 minutes or so, so prices can be hard to pin down. With the QR code, customers paying with crypto can see the latest price, and pay on the spot. Plein said so many of his customers are using crypto now: Of the brand’s 100 million euros in online turnover, 3 percent came from cryptocurrencies.
(Alternatively, Plein is also allowing customers who don’t have a clue about crypto to pay cash for the NFTs he mints and sells.)
The MoNA floor at the Bond Street store is a physical art gallery of metaverse and NFT creations. The walls are lined with eight rectangular screens showcasing art by the Crypto Kings and ‘Lil Monster Capsule.
There is also a preview of the NFT Little Monster video game, which the brand plans to launch in mid-May. Players will be asked to collect new, exclusive NFTs similar to an arcade treasure hunt, and find, buy, exchange and upgrade the different NFTs. The game has an ’80s vibe, said Plein, and will be available for a limited period.
At the end of the game, players will have the chance to win high-ticket items such as the Philipp Plein Mercedes-AMG G63, an Apple watch or diamond jewelry.
In the spirit of fusing the physical and metaverse worlds, there are sculptures of the little monsters on display in the MoNA room on Bond Street. Chubby, colorful and utterly endearing, they stand ready to accompany their future owners into a mysterious, but not so scary, new universe.