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Eddie Plein’s innovation sparked a revolution in street fashion

Black culture has a vast history of influence, innovation and creativity. Self-expression is a driving force for many eras of Black excellence. One of the pioneering influences of the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s was the creation and expansion of rap and R&B.

Underground Black fashion trends have always been popular in the U.S. but were taken to new heights after street fashion appeared on red carpets. Brooklyn rapper Lil’ Kim symbolized the shift in high fashion in the ‘90s and was a muse and longtime friend of Marc Jacobs. 

One of the most iconic fashion staples during this era has transcended periods and genres: Grillz. Some of the greatest inventions in history were started in a basement, and Grillz were no different. 

Who said visiting the dentist’s office couldn’t be inspirational? 

Suriname immigrant Eddie Plein learned the art of dentistry and jewelry to create a revolutionary accessory that later became a fashion enterprise. Plein traveled to New York in his early teens and was exposed to the rising hip-hop scene. 

In 1983, during a visit to his South American home country, Plein cracked a tooth, forcing him to visit the dentist. He was offered a gold cap but refused.

“Eddie didn’t really want to commit to having permanent gold,” Lyle Lindgren, videographer and writer of Plein’s biography, “Mouth Full of Golds.” “And that was the lightbulb moment in his head when he thought: ‘Maybe I could do something here.’”

When he returned to the U.S., Plein abandoned his footballer dreams, inspired by Pelé, dropped out of college and enrolled in dentistry school. 

“He attended just enough dental school to learn how to make crowns, and then just started in the basement of his family home,” Lindgren said.

Plein learned to work with acrylics, metal and eventually gold. He created gold tooth coverings fastened together and thin enough to easily fit between teeth. 

It is rather poetic that gold was the material of choice, as it is one of Suriname’s biggest exports. Not only is it commonly used for tooth gaps, but gold is also a $2.03 billion industry for the country as of 2024. Gold teeth have a special connection to the Black experience. 

Black female music artists have used gold teeth as a status marker since the age of the blues. This rich heritage later created a family business and legacy for the Plein name. 

In an interview with WePresent, Plein said he would travel from Brooklyn to Queens to advertise, gaining a small clientele. 

“Remember, this was in the Run-DMC, Adidas era … It was poppin,” Plein said. “I remember courtin’ guys, tellin’ ’em, ‘I can make you gold teeth. All I gotta do is take your mold, a couple dollars of deposit, we can make it happen.’”

Plein traveled from New York to Virginia and Atlanta. His brother, Lando Plein, went to Miami to expand their family trade. 

Aspiring jeweler and daughter of Plein, Kyra, talks about the magnitude of her father’s shop in Atlanta. 

“My dad’s shop in Atlanta was kind of like a hang-out spot … We had a big-screen TV, a pool table, people out front and in the back,“ Kyra said. "It was like the Mecca."

Plein created Grillz for legendary music artists and groups. Some of his most notable clients were Slick Rick, Outkast, Ludacris, Goodie Mob, Lil Jon, Flavor Flav and Kool G Rap. 

Eddie Plein’s creation has enforced the influence of hip-hop

While Grillz remain in the highest realms of fashion, Plein’s legacy has seemingly been lost to time. In an interview with NSSMagazine, Lyle Lindgren recounts how he learned about Plein

Plein’s legacy was reduced to that of a whisper in the street, but he still garnered the respect of those who knew of his accolades during the ‘80s and ‘90s. Today, Plein’s image is back in the mainstream after the resurfacing of his book, “Mouth Full of Golds.”

That book honors his legacy, showcasing pictures from his many adventures in the jewelry industry including creations for his star clientele. It includes messages and comments on Plein’s legacy from ASAP Rocky, Marc Jacobs and David Da Jeweler. 

His creation shows how interconnected self-expression and culture are. Writer Vikki Tobak perfectly stated this in an interview with VogueUK

“Jewellery is such a personal thing,” Tobak said. “It’s what we put on our bodies, so everything from the specific style of a link on a chain to the type of stones is communicative. So much is rooted in African design, and I wanted to ensure that was represented.”

Plein’s legacy and contribution to the infamy of street fashion will continue to live on, showcasing the beauty and influence of Black excellence. 


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