Designer Philipp Plein‘s nod to NBA great Kobe Bryant during his Milan Fashion Week runway show has sparked outrage among fans.
Plein closed out the Saturday night show with a glitzy tribute to the late basketballer featuring spangled versions of Bryant’s No. 24 Los Angeles Lakers Jersey, Page Six reports. The brow-raising looks were modeled by celebrities, including “Red Table Talk’s” Jada Pinkett Smith and beauty queen Olivia Culpo, against a backdrop of several gold-plated vehicles — and a pair of helicopters.
Backlash was swift, and fans slammed the decor as grossly insensitive considering how Bryant died. The five-time NBA champion and his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, were among nine people killed in a helicopter crash in Southern California late last month.
The German designer has defended himself against the outrage, telling USA Today the catwalk was planned and designed in November, “way before this tragic accident occurred.”
“This is the reason why they were gilded helicopters on the runway,” the told the paper in an interview published Monday. “I would have clearly removed them if possible, but it was too late to replace them.”
Fans mourned Bryant and his daughter, along with the other crash victims, in a final farewell at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Monday. Emotions are still very much raw in the wake of the tragedy, and critics didn’t hold back in their rebuke of Plein’s “disgusting” tribute.
“Distasteful, tacky & material waste,” one critic tweeted. “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.”
Others characterized Plein as “nothing but a culture vulture & uncreative designer, adding “he knows exactly what he’s doing.”
“Philipp Plein … you can’t call it a tribute when all I see is your name on a bedazzled Lakers merch that belonged to the great KOBE,” another chimed in.
On his website, Plein features pieces from his “Plein 24” capsule collection, which is dedicated to Bryant and includes $2,070 glittery purple jersey bearing the late basketball star’s number, 24, along with a hoodie costing upwards of $3,000. Plein said proceeds from the collection will benefit the Mamba and Mambacita Foundation, adding that the “first $20,000” was given the day before the runway show.
Like much of the rest of the world, the designer says he was “deeply affected” by Bryant’s passing and felt his show was “the best moment to express my respect and admiration” for the late athlete.
“It’s sad to see how something positive and constructive can be misinterpreted by people who obviously want to interpret negatively without even having a reason,” Plein told the newspaper. “As a matter of fact, I am really doing something to help and support the foundation. Actions speak louder than words.”