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Designer Philipp Plein defends Kobe Bryant tribute at Milan Fashion Week

Models in the show wore "24" basketball jerseys and walked a runway that included two giant helicopters. Bryant died in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash.
Image: Philipp Plein
Designer Philipp Plein, Jada Pinkett Smith, and Olivia Culpo walk the runway during the Philipp Plein fashion show as part of Milan Fashion Week Fall/Winter 2020-2021 on Feb. 22, 2020 in Milan, Italy.Pietro D'Aprano / Getty Images

Designer Philipp Plein is facing backlash on social media over his Fashion Week tribute to Kobe Bryant after models donning purple bedazzled "24" basketball jerseys walked a runway that featured a gold-coated helicopter.

The tribute sparked outrage, coming after Bryant, his daughter Gianna, 13, and seven others were killed in a Jan. 26 helicopter crash.

Plein debuted his autumn/winter 2020 collection over the weekend at Milan Fashion Week and closed the show with his models, including Jada Pinkett-Smith and Olivia Culpo, wearing sparkly purple and gold jerseys and hoodies in honor of Bryant, who played with the Los Angeles Lakers.

The catwalk was decorated with a number of gold-coated vehicles, including two helicopters.

"Philipp Plein made two gold helicopters for his show today, which falls 27 days after Kobe died in a helicopter crash," one Twitter user wrote. "But don't worry he whipped up a bunch of Swarvoski Kobe jerseys (with 'Plein' written on them??) so it's cool."

"This is disappointing, distasteful, and disrespectful," another wrote. "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."

Another Twitter user commented: "This is disgusting. What a shame. They want hype so much so they lost their humanity. RIP Kobe & Gigi."

Others, however, defended the designer.

"It was a tribute to Kobe. Proceeds from the jerseys will be donated to Mamba and Mambacita Foundation."

Plein responded to the criticism, telling USA Today in a statement that the runway was planned and designed in November, and it was too late to remove the helicopters and replace them.

"This tragedy affected myself and all the world deeply and I feel that my fashion show [has] been the best moment to express my respect and admiration for Kobe Bryant, his daughter Gianna and his family," Plein said.

"It is sad to see how something positive and constructive can be misinterpreted by people who obviously want to interpret negatively without even having a reason," he added.

In a description on Plein's website, he said the show was designed to be a look inside "a giant garage space filled with the ultimate big boy toys. A fighter jet, helicopter, offshore boat and super cars all covered in gold leaf."

"This is the playground of someone who can have anything they want," it continued.

The description said Plein chose to honor Bryant because the NBA legend was "the perfect example of what can be achieved with a no limits attitude to dedication."

It also stated that Plein would be donating to the Mamba & Mambacita Sports Foundation, an organization that "exists to further Kobe and Gianna Bryant's legacy through charitable endeavors in sports," according to its website.