Philipp Plein - the man, not the brand, although they’re hard to separate - is not what I expect when we meet at his new Crypto Concept Store on London’s Old Bond Street, the first of its kind in the world. It’s not that the German designer doesn’t resemble the immaculately groomed, high-flying individual on his Instagram account, but rather that his views on the potential for the much-hyped metaverse are, at this stage at least, based in rallying the buyers of his often eye-wateringly expensive wears to take up space in virtual worlds in the name of a better reality.
Last year, the Philipp Plein Group became the first major fashion group to accept 25 cryptocurrencies as a form of payment in store and online. Cryptocurrencies, including Bitcoin, are used to purchase digital assets such as NFTs (non-fungible tokens), which are fast becoming a luxury status symbol akin to a Chanel handbag, claims Plein. Over five months last year, the Philipp Plein brand saw $100 million worth of e-commerce sales alone, with 3% of those being crypto payments. This year, the brand expects that figure to reach 10%. 'Money — showing it, spending it, making it, flaunting it — is his purpose', Nick Remsem wrote for the Financial Times in 2016. That's still true today, but money aside, Plein is at this stage focused on getting more people involved in the world of NFTs. He says he wants to balance out the dominant ‘abusers’ - who he names as investment banker types turning profit on the secondary market, or less metaverse-savvy investors like his mother - with the more creatively inclined ‘users’. ‘It becomes powerful when people and brands start to make money. At this stage, we are just pioneers’, Plein acknowledges.
Money and power is the suggested end goal, but Plein is most animated when describing how ‘the metaverse is going to change your life completely.’ Virtual worlds, such as Decentraland where Plein purchased $1.2 million worth of land to build the skyscraper Plein Plaza and Museum of NFT Art (MoNA), will become a place where you can meet friends, have business meetings, and create new online identities via your avatar. That's why in February at the Plein Sport show in Milan, no real world clothes took to the runway, but instead show-goers were greeted by the humanoid Romeo 0.1. Shortly after, the brand took part in the first metaverse fashion week on Decentraland, hosting a fashion show, after party and DJ set. Designed by the Crypto King$, a duo made up of Plein and the NFT artist Antoni Tudisco, 10 NFT Plein Sport Tiger edition sneakers were released. The NFTs were digital replicas of their physical counterparts, the latter delivered in boxes featuring digital screens with video content. Buyers had the option to keep the NFT in their cryptowallet, or 'burn' it into wearables for their Decentraland avatar. Plein tells me that most often, people choose to burn. The Crypto King$ were also behind the PLEINVERSE $EASON 1 digital clothes and six Lil Monster$ Gang pixel NFTs. Those who bought all six NFTs were granted exclusive access to future minting launches and Crypto King$ drops and parties, and could swap their purchase for a physical Monster Gang sculpture worth $20,000, which are displayed on the third floor of the London store.
An in-your-face experience is at the core of the brand’s success, whether that be the marble stores (the first opened in Monaco in 2009) or outrageous runway shows featuring landing alien ships, cars on fire, 18 wheel trucks and a celebrity cast including Irina Shayk and 21 Savage. There were many critics of Decentraland’s fashion week, due to the glitchy, lo-fi aesthetics which were seen as dumbing down designs by Etro, Tommy Hilfiger and other participants, so it surprised me that Plein had chosen to be limited by the platform's infrastructure. When I ask him about this, the designer defends the limited graphics:
'This will go away in the future. The platform is much more decentralised [than others such as Sandbox], the name says it all. I like the approach, the crowd, the community. I feel much more confident in this community because I think this is the future. But this is not the last world, there will be many others coming. The point is to learn how to adapt it to make it useful for the future.' Plein sees the metaverse as being like the switch from radio to television; in the other words, he’s in agreement with other brands who have invested in virtual worlds, such as Balenciaga and Gucci, that this will fast become our reality.
The Philipp Plein Crypto Concept Store in London merges physical and digital shopping, real world money and cryptocurrency. They may be the smallest brand on Old Bond Street, sitting alongside the likes of Valentino and Alexander McQueen, but they’re the only brand accepting crypto as payment. Plein says that his brand has 500,000 paying customers a year, minimum, and the goal for next year is to have 200,000 buying NFTs from them, with 30% of products in store to be automatically sold with an NFT by September this year, whether you want it or not. ‘I really have this vision that I want to make the majority of my physical products into NFTs, without making this a problem for anyone. I just want people to start to use them’, he explains. Currently, products in store such as the trainers which start at £1,000, have a scannable QR code on the sole taking consumers to different buying options including cryptocurrency. With the cryptocurrency exchange constantly in flux in line with demand, Philipp Plein adjust their cryptocurrency prices every 20 minutes to give buyers the best value for money. Physical product prices will remain the same, whatever the value of your digital Philipp Plein assets.
Notably, the brand won’t be taking commission on NFT purchases, unlike platforms such as OpenSea. Ensuring the buying process is as accessible as possible, purchasing a Philipp Plein NFT will be inclusive of the frustrating ever-changing ‘gas’ fees elsewhere (think of it like a shipping fee, says Plein). In the future, Plein will also be selling hardware on MoNA for people to hang their NFTs in their homes, just as you would with traditional art forms. ‘MoNA's mission is to make NFT trading easy for everyone on the street’, says Plein, and users can purchase NFTs with hard real world cash for the first time.
Currently, Plein's NFTs can be purchased through their dedicated site, then transferred to an online wallet such as Metamask. However ‘the idea is in the future, or by the end of the year, that we can create our own metawallet that is an investment’, the designer says. ‘I really want to be part of making this accessible for people like my mum, in a playful way so you can enjoy it. The point is, once we have the users, then you can start making money. But what’s the point in trying to sell something to people who don’t even want it? It’s too complicated bar a few tech freaks who know how to use it.'
Accessible, yes. But these NFTs will likely only be accessed by the rich few who can afford Plein's sky-high pricing. For instance, the seven looks from the Crypto King$ NFT sneaker collection were priced between $1,500 - $15,000. The fast-emerging millenilal millionaires, making their money through crypto, will certainly be a core target market for Plein moving forwards. Gen-Z and millenials make up a driving force behind the metaverse, deeming their digital and physical apperances to be equally important. This has not gone amiss by other brands such as Fendi, who launched a crypto hard wallet case in collaboration with Ledger back in January. Philipp Plein may still be priced for the super rich, but it doesn't make the designer's latest ventures any less revolutionary.
What surprises me most about Plein is how adamantly he believes in the metaverse due to its potential as a levelling field, doing away with a society made up of outsiders and insiders, as he recalls visiting a school for disabled. ‘Everything you cannot be here, you can be there. You can build a different identity. It’s going to be incredible’, Plein says. ‘But it’s going to make people very addicted. It’s going to be really fucking great, but it’s going to become dangerous’, he adds, as we discuss the Black Mirror effect of virtual realities, and how the titan Mark Zuckerberg is likely to suck all the current 'Facebook' and Instagram users into his rebranded Meta. Still, we may never want to return to our IRL selves.
'What makes a world successful is the amount of people who live in it. A King or Queen is only as powerful as the people who live in their country. The same goes for the metaverse countries', Plein tells me, adding that their hefty investment in Decentraland will probably ‘go down the drain' in the long run as virtual worlds evolve. ‘Changes are happening quickly, but we are going to gain a lot of knowledge and a reputation in the community because we are there [in Decentraland], we are learning and we are growing. We are here to learn how to do it in the future, and to be able to do it by ourselves in the future.’
Fashion and the way we shop is changing, that's undeniable. Plein’s ambition clearly knows no bounds, and love or hate him, what's also undeniable is that Plein is fast on his way to becoming a crypto king.