Although many struggled with Kobe Bryant’s complicated legacy after his sudden death, February 24 was a day dedicated to celebrating his life, and that of his 13-year-old daughter Gianna who perished with her father in a tragic helicopter crash nearly a month ago. But while a stadium full of people were paying tribute to the late basketball player and his daughter in beautiful, meaningful ways, one attempt to honour Bryant was getting attention for far less honourable reasons.
For his fall 2020 ready-to-wear show at Milan Fashion Week (which, for the record, took place two days before Kobe and Gianna’s public memorial service at the Los Angeles Staples Center), German fashion designer, Philipp Plein decided to pay tribute to the NBA All-Star by unveiling a limited-edition capsule collection of Swarovski-studded Los Angeles Lakers-inspired jerseys and sweatshirts adorned with Bryant’s number, 24, an image of a black mamba (an homage to the player’s nickname) on the back and the designer’s own last name (yes, “Plein”) in place of the team’s name. Models donning said items included influencer Olivia Culpo and actor-turned-TV-host Jada Pinkett-Smith.
But that’s not the worst part—the runway show set also featured two gold Philipp Plein-branded helicopters, serving as a dark backdrop to the supposed “tribute” to Bryant.
We honestly couldn’t make this shit up if we tried.
The items were immediately put up for sale on the designer’s website, with the jersey priced at $2,095 and the sweatshirt for $3,675. According to the site and an Instagram post from Plein, sales from the collection will support the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, but it is unclear how much is being donated from each purchase. Plein has since said, however, that the “first $20,000 have been transferred to the foundation already last Friday, the day before the show.”
Naturally, the Twitterverse came for Plein’s tone-deaf attempt to pay homage to Bryant, calling the entire ordeal “disappointing, distasteful, and disrespectful.”
“Philipp Plein made two gold helicopters for his show today, which falls 27 days after Kobe died in a helicopter crash…BUT DON’T WORRY he whipped up a bunch of Swarovski Kobe jerseys (with ‘Plein’ written on them??) so it’s cool,” wrote one user.
“Distasteful, tacky & material waste. Philipp Plein who has so long been making clothing that adds nothing but clutter to the fashion landscape has decided to include gold helicopters along his crystal basketball jerseys after the passing of Kobe & Gianna Bryant. It’s disgusting,” tweeted another.
Still thinking about Philipp Plein in a Swarovski encrusted Kobe Bryant hoodie dancing above a gold chrome Plein logo emblazoned helicopter pic.twitter.com/HCxT2Gut4I
— Louis Paul Pisano (@LOUIS_via_ROMA) February 25, 2020
Philipp Plein made two gold helicopters for his show today, which falls 27 days after Kobe died in a helicopter crash
BUT DONT WORRY he whipped up a bunch of Swarovski Kobe jerseys (with “Plein” written on them??) so it’s cool.
Fuck you, Philipp. pic.twitter.com/UHjbubXuG9
— Bliss Foster (@BlissFoster) February 23, 2020
distasteful, tacky & material waste. philipp plein who has so long been making clothing that adds nothing but clutter to the fashion landscape has decided to include gold helicopters along his crystal basketball jerseys after the passing of kobe & gianna bryant. its disgusting. pic.twitter.com/zvFq4oU5gG
— ꪑꫀꪀᦔꫀꪶ (@gaultiercouture) February 23, 2020
this is disappointing, distasteful, and disrespectful .Philipp Plein making a “tribute” to Kobe Bryant by featuring a gold helicopter and tastelessly placing his name all over lakers style jerseys with kobe’s number. I am actually shocked. pic.twitter.com/AD4gBjY0zm
— b e l l e (@bellesmiith) February 23, 2020
Plein has since responded to the backlash, telling Vogue he felt bad about the two gold helicopters.
“If I would have known what happened, after the accident, I would not have put the helicopters there…It was terrible what happened, but I couldn’t cancel the helicopters anymore,” he told the publication.
Later, he released a statement published by WWD alleging that the runway was planned and designed in November and it was “too late” to replace the helicopters.
“The catwalk set-up was already planned and designed in November 2019, way before this tragic accident occurred, this is the reason why they(sic) were gilded helicopters on the runway,” he wrote in the statement. “I would have clearly removed them if possible, but it was too late to replace them.”
“This tragedy affected myself and all the world deeply and I feel that my fashion show have(sic) been the best moment to express my respect and admiration for Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and his family,” he continued. “It is sad to see how something positive and constructive can be misinterpreted by people who obviously want to interpret negatively without having a reason.
“As a matter of fact, I am really doing something to help and to support the foundation. Actions speak louder than words,” he concluded, underlining the worlds “I am really” in pen and adding in a written explanation point at the end.
We would perhaps give Plein the benefit of the doubt, but given his sordid history (ahem, inviting alleged sexual offenders Tekashi 6ix9ine and Chris Brown to perform at his runway shows, fat-shaming a journalist who gave his fashion show a bad review and releasing a Black Friday ad that depicted a female murder victim in a horror film with the captions “Time to kill some prices” and “price killer” one day before the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women.
He did get one thing right though: actions do speak louder than words, and Plein’s actions just scream of the tone-deaf narcissism of a designer wanting to capitalize on a tragedy for his own clout.