I’d arrived at the Manhattan restaurant formerly known as the Four Seasons, dressed in black-tie attire, as instructed on my invitation to the Fall 2019 Philipp Plein show and dinner — which was and then wasn’t going to come with a Kanye West performance — to find a line of dozens of attendees outside. I’d been sent to review the collection for the site Fashionista.
I didn’t expect that I would be reviewed the next day. Review may be putting it mildly: Philipp Plein dug up a year-old photo of me on the BFA image site, and fat-shamed me to his 1.6 million followers on Instagram, mere hours after my article was published.
After the show, I wrote what I saw, that his looks contained a “regurgitated tasting of other designers' hits from recent seasons past.” And that, judging by this and other recent shows, “Plein's muse is an urban cowboy futurist with a trust fund and a coke problem.” I wrote that though I had been assigned a seat, I ended up relegated to a standing-room-only balcony sardined in with 100 other people (who also thought they’d get a seat at the seated dinner). I wrote that I thought his collection was vapid, and its “billionaire” theme in poor taste.
I can see how this would be upsetting to the designer, but I was being honest, and doing my job to be the eyes and ears for Fashion Week fans and readers who came to me and that site for a report on what went down.
Rather than begin a discourse with me, the fashion writer, about my review, Plein came after me, the person. In an unexpected and cruel social media blitz, Plein posted images of me (this really isn’t about whether I looked good or not, but I’m not fond of the ones he found) with the Spongebob Squarepants cartoon character Patrick Star shoveling hamburgers in his face. He fat-shamed me, saying he’d make sure I got a free meal next time, and apparently confused me with a photo of Amanda Bynes. (That, or he was somehow using her to denote a person who had gained weight? Truly, one can never know.) What is clear is the he thinks weight, and eating, are things women should be ashamed of. It was bizarre, mean, and incredibly unprofessional.
These are the IG stories posted. I hope you’re proud of yourself for fat-shaming someone who struggles with body image anyway ???????? and for what it’s worth, I was on time. pic.twitter.com/HUYDW1ZzbX— Alexandra Mondalek (@amondalek) February 13, 2019
I don’t follow Plein on Instagram, so I learned about the attack via trolls who came straight to my DMs to echo his harassment. “LMAO Plein ROASTED your fat ugly ass!” one person said. I was shattered.
I am acutely aware of the Internet’s power as a breeding ground for vitriol and hatred. I just didn’t expect it from a professional designer, one who himself is no stranger to a bad review. (Strangely, Plein has not used his Insta story to personally attack Vogue’s Luke Leitch, who last year wrote that his “braggadocio/balls cocktail” gave way to “meh” clothes and “hilarious” shows.)
I’ve actually written about Philipp Plein before, too, after spending nearly an hour with him in his Upper East Side townhouse in 2017. That was for a reported piece about Plein and his business, in which I glossed over the bad things people had said about him in the past — including admonishment for his “Alice in Ghettoland” show, for example — and included a relatively positive review. This time, clearly I struck a nerve.
Dinner looks so nice wow happy to look down from upon yonder pic.twitter.com/R9bjhi8zUx— Alexandra Mondalek (@amondalek) February 12, 2019
I have no delusions about who I am in the fashion world — I am not an influencer with hundreds of thousands of followers, or an editor-in-chief who deserved a front-row seat. I am not an industry-revered critic like Robin Givhan (who herself didn’t attend the Plein show.) I am a writer and reporter who did her job with integrity and professionalism, and expected to be treated the same.
As I was writing criticism of Plein’s work, I welcome criticism — harsh or otherwise — on my own. That’s the kind of dialogue that fosters rewarding conversations and deeper thought. It’s what any of us hopes to do when we challenge a designer to do better, by writing that their collection fell short. But to lash out at a review and attack my body? It’s hurtful, but also neither here nor there. I was deeply ashamed of the photos he’d posted of me, before realizing it is Plein who should be ashamed. And perhaps he is; Plein deleted the Instagram stories about me by the next morning, though I’ve heard nothing from him nor the PR team that handled the event.
Fashion has come a long way in terms of promoting body positivity and changing beauty standards, and I hardly think individual designers behaving badly are worth allowing us to regress. As the industry continues working toward being a more inclusive and celebratory space, it is they who will be left behind.