e are maximalist, we are loud, you hate it or love it but we don’t try to be something we’re not.” Philipp Plein, the 43-year old German fashion designer known for his bold creations and over-the-top events, embraces watches the way he creates the clothes, shoes, or jackets that you can see Cardi B, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj, Naomi Campbell, Kylie Jenner, Floyd Mayweather, Cristiano Ronaldo and other A-list celebrities wear. And that is the beauty of the watch world: everyone can contribute to the expansion of its universe, since the first fashion brands dared enter this enigmatic universe as outsiders in the 1970s.
Since then, almost all fashion brands have at least attempted the horological adventure. A few have had success imposing their own mark, most have had mixed results, as simple “accessories” complementing their fashion lines. Now is the turn of Philipp Plein, the specialist of aspirational luxury, who has partnered with the Luxury Division of Timex Group to launch a first line of timepieces under the umbrella of the brand he founded in 1999 at the age of 21.
What is his own take on watches? It’s a world he’s been standing alongside for a long time – physically at least as his company is headquartered in Switzerland. And he’s used to moving from one segment to another as he started his own business in furniture before launching apparel. We interviewed him.
Almost all fashion brands have at least attempted the horological adventure. A few have had success imposing their own mark, most have had mixed results. Now is the turn of Philipp Plein, the specialist of aspirational luxury.
- German fashion designer Philipp Plein has founded his eponymous brand, that operates today more than 200 stores worldwide. He is now adding watches and jewellery to his portfolio.
Europa Star: What is your personal experience with watches?
Philipp Plein: My first watch was a Swatch, actually a few of them – a chronograph, a diving watch and then a metal timepiece. I was fascinated as it was a “watch for everybody”: even for people wearing expensive timepieces, it was cool to have a Swatch. It was related to fun, fashion and sports. At 16, my first luxury watch was a Breitling that I received for my birthday.
How do you regard the appeal of watches in the broader scope of fashion?
What I observe is that today, if I say the word “watches”, the first models that come to mind are luxury, higher-end timepieces. Watch aficionados are looking for exclusive models, a sense of detail and design, fine materials, heritage, craftsmanship, customisation and practicality. In the affordable range, you don’t necessarily expect to find these elements.
- The most iconic symbol of Philipp Plein is the protagonist of The $kull.
What motivated you to launch your own watches and jewellery collection?
I’m a watch enthusiast and my life journey has always followed the same thread: from passion to business. This is how my clothes, shoes, jackets and now watch collections were born. So, I decided to design a watch collection speaking the “Philipp Plein language”.
“My life journey has always followed the same thread: from passion to business. This is how my clothes, shoes, jackets and now watch collections were born.”
- This timepiece is inspired by the $keleton sneakers collection. Punctuated by hexagonal screws, the top ring is embellished with carbon fibre effect or a setting of multicoloured baguette crystals, echoed in the indexes.
What is your ambition with it?
When a fashion brand enters the watch industry, it is often to try to sell its name. I have never been a fan of that approach, as the quality is often not aligned with the price you pay. I studied the price segment of fashion brands in terms of watches and many of them are active in the entry-level segment, they try to compete for the “first price”. I wanted to position my collection in a range that is not overcrowded by fashion brands, that is between entry and premium at 300- 900 euros, with an average price tag of 600 euros. There are fewer competitors and that’s an interesting middle segment for a brand that is not just a name on a product.
- Philipp Plein’s Hyper $hock is a digital timepiece available in sparkly yellow gold or stainless-steel versions, with a pave of white crystals covering the top ring and bracelet links.
How do your translate your fashion spirit into watches?
We are still a relatively young brand, sort of the “new kid on the block”, and the success we’ve had in the fashion industry is because our products are really selling. Why? Because we offer a strong product and design, so that some people who have never heard of the brand will like it based on the product itself. At the first meeting for the watch creations, our partners came to me with a fully developed collection proposal. But I was not excited enough. The team I work with is very open minded: what you see today is very different from what we had at the beginning, as they gave me the possibility to really develop the watch I wanted to personally own.
This is something really key to me: I’m a watch consumer myself and today I have the possibility to own most of the timepieces I could desire. I want to design a watch collection that people who may already wear a Patek Philippe, a Hublot or a Richard Mille find attractive, but also cater to people who cannot buy those models. I don’t compete with those brands: at the same price, customers will always opt for the traditional brand, but I try to offer something yet unseen. Actually, when I put the first designs on Instagram, most people expected something more expensive. But if you are too high in terms of prices, you get too close to the leading traditional brands.
“When I put the first designs on Instagram, most people expected something more expensive. But if you are too high in terms of prices, you get too close to the leading traditional brands.”
- The G.O.A.T. aka the “Greatest Of All Time” features a multifunction digital display. It is adorned by the designer’s $kullbones symbol.
Could you share your inspirations and processes in designing the collections?
The inspiration came from the watches I used to dream of when I was younger. Our success is that we were born at the level of a niche product but that we grew out of this “niche”. This is the same approach I’m having with watches. We are in the fashion industry but with a luxury process. The look and feel is very cool, related to the spirit of the brand. The packaging itself is in the shape of the skull, a key motif for us.
I like timepieces with bigger diameters and would define the Philipp Plein brand as “maximalist”, bold, fun, flashy and loud. We like to work with stones and crystals and our main shapes are the hexagon and the skull. You love it or hate it, but we don’t try to be something we’re not. I have seen too many fashion brands try to be something else when embracing watches.
What is the distribution strategy in terms of your own outlets – there are over 200 around the world – and specialist watchmaking stores?
The collections are distributed in our boutiques and on our own e-commerce website, which is growing fast as we generated over 100 million euros online in 2021. We will also use wholesale distribution. The real compliment for a designer is when people actually spend money on the products we create. Our average price point for our fashion apparel is 800 euros so we are a bit below that in terms of watches. The distribution has to be aligned with the price point.