Philipp Plein doesn't do things by halves. For his cowboy-themed Fall show—"Noir Cowboy" he called it—he installed a mechanical bull and rider in the entryway to the Teatro Alcione. The stage was set with a saloon, and the proceedings opened with a cap-gun fight between two desperadoes on real, rearing horses, and ended with a shootout that left several fighters playing dead. Between those bookends, the rapper Angel Haze, dressed in Plein, performed.
And yet it's a measure of how far out Plein originally was that this show represented a significant step in the direction of restraint. The clothes, which as recently as last season were garish, were here largely confined to basic black. (Johnny Cash, the Man in Black, provided the soundtrack.) The wilder excrescences of last season had been stripped away, even if "minimal" is still not exactly the word. The P.P. cowboys wore black jeans and leather pants, five-figure exotic skins (from mink-lined moto jackets to croc bombers), and tea-stained, much-distressed denim. (Plein's favored skull insignias were kept to an absolute minimum.) Add to that the fact that all of a sudden every top male model currently treading the boards in Milan appeared in the show, and it became clear that the designer has been making some conscious changes. (A rep confirmed that there is a big-ticket stylist working with the house but preferred not to name names.)
If Plein is after the validation of the fashion industry, steps like those he took tonight give him the best chance of getting there. Yet he found commercial success without it. Will the two sides of his ambition eventually have to face each other down outside the saloon?