Instagram accounts dedicated to giving a blow-by-blow report on home renovations are a growing trend. Anyone can follow the refurbishment of a house in the Cotswolds, see how the chief interior designer of Soho House decorates her own home, or how a 1970s hotel in downtown San Juan, Puerto Rico, is given a facelift. From the comfort of their own armchair, Instagram users can offer their opinion on whether the tiles are the right color.
But the Chateau Falcon View account is something else altogether. Fashion designer Philipp Plein is charting the evolution of his magnum opus – the Bel Air mansion he is building on land that once belonged to tycoon Howard Hughes, and which he bought in 2014 and has been working on for almost a decade.
The 14.5 hectares (145,000 square meters) cost him $280 million and who knows what he will have spent by the time he is done with the house, which will have a total of 3,700 livable square meters.
If the guesthouse is like a Petit Trianon – Marie Antoinette’s coquettish retreat – perched in the hills, the main house is a palace: neoclassical columns – also favored by Donald Trump – Versaillesque moldings, wallpaper hand-painted with the opera lyrics from Mozart’s The Magic Flute, leopard-print ceilings, a gold-laminated gaming arcade, a Beauty and the Beast-inspired main staircase, Swarovski-crystal chandeliers galore, and a bathtub imported from Portugal in the shape of a diamond that the website Highsnobiety said “looks like a Tesla Cybertruck fucked a spa.”
Although he has already installed the giant custom-made Italian windows in the main dining room (which has nine-meter-high Gothic cathedral ceilings) and installed a giant chessboard on the terrace of the guest house (the pieces are made of marble and have LEDs in case the guests want to play a game at midnight), Plein still has a few months of work ahead of him.
Still, it’s probably already the world’s most expensive self-advertisement; he has even declared his love of Lucia Bartoli, his girlfriend and mother of his baby Rocket Halo Ocean, in neon letters from the roof.
In his interviews, Plein likes to emphasize his extravagant personality while selling himself as a fashion outsider, the guy from Munich who climbed the ladder by making leather jackets embedded with Swarovski crystals; he now has 250 stores worldwide. In April 2020, during the first month of the Covid pandemic, when the world was retreating and it was almost obligatory to start every e-mail and article not related to the coronavirus with an apology, he launched his first men’s perfume, whose bottle is shaped like a black card and which smells, according to Plein, of “desire, money, energy and muscles.” In other words, “the embodiment of the Philipp Plein man,” as he told Vogue Man.
To sell the idea of an ostentatious brand, based on a baroque take on urban fashion classics, what could work better than a house that includes giant marble sculptures in the Michelangelo revival style decorated with tattoos? Plein’s personality and the brand are so intertwined that the entrepreneur often posts about the house’s progress on Philipp Plein’s official account. He has already held a runway show for his Billionaire brand here and photographed a Philipp Plein campaign with Megan Fox and Steven Klein in the guest house.
In his first Chateau Falcon View posts, Plein went out of his way to highlight the history of the house, especially its connection to Howard Hughes, the millionaire hustler portrayed by Scorsese in The Aviator. Producer, engineer, pilot and founder of the RKO movie studio, Hughes was something of a legend in Hollywood until his death in 1976 – a playboy who is said to have had affairs with Bette Davis, Yvonne De Carlo, Ava Gardner, Ginger Rogers, Hedy Lamarr, Janet Leigh, Joan Crawford, Gene Tierney, Joan Fontaine, Katharine Hepburn, Olivia de Havilland, Jean Harlow and Jane Russell, to mention a few.
However, Hughes did not live in this Bel Air enclave, he only owned the land.
Even so, the Chateau Falcon View clearly follows a tradition of Californian delirium: opulent homes with dimensions to match the egos of their owners, such as William Randolph Hearst and Michael Jackson. Hearst, for example, built Hearst Castle, which can now be visited by the public, as a four-building complex, one hour from San Francisco. It has 177 rooms, none as spectacular as the so-called Neptune’s Pool. The castle even had its own exotic animal zoo, just as the King of Pop’s famous Neverland Ranch had an amusement park.
On Plein’s Instagram account, the comments tend to be enthusiastic. If Plein posts a rendering of the future interiors of the main house with the caption “working with my Italian architects,” Chateau Falcon View followers reply with lots of emojis of fireworks and hearts and comments like “I wish I lived in Los Angeles and was your mover.” One follower asked if there would be a pool and Plein replied, in capital letters that there will be a private beach club called The Swan. That is, THE SWAN.
The media has, however, questioned Plein’s taste. High Snobiety’s headline was Philipp Plein’s $200 million mansion is even tackier than Drake’s. And several magazines and blogs have drawn attention to the sheer vulgar extravagance of the project. There is a clear element of Schadenfreude involved here: since we can’t afford these homes ourselves, let’s at least have fun criticizing how over the top they are. Architect Jaume Prat recently talked about this in a piece titled Influencer Architects.
“Helen Lindes and Rudy Fernández, Sergio Ramos and Pilar Rubio, Ibai Llanos lack that social status [of Ludwig Wittgenstein]. They also lack the aesthetic taste. This, and this alone, is what they are reproached for: they have not been taught, they have not internalized, they have not communed with the tastes imposed by the privileged status they have achieved. They have not been forgiven. Nor are they forgiven for the fact that many of these privileges have been obtained through an exchange, pure and simple.” The text also talks about how the celebrities who build these houses often push the architect out of the picture to take the credit themselves.
Considerations on taste aside, what Plein is likely to face is drought shaming – like many other Californian millionaires, he will be taken to task for skirting irrigation water regulations in a state that is experiencing a historic water shortage. It has already happened to Kevin Hart, Sylvester Stallone, Kourtney Kardashian and other celebrities whose water use far exceeds the stipulated amount. And those 14.5 acres of lush vegetation won’t irrigate themselves.