In the first of three interviews with our HS Crowns winners, we speak to Filling Pieces founder Guillaume Philibert about a potential women's range, collaborating with MR PORTER and being our Best Breakthrough Brand of 2014.
Last December we launched the first ever Highsnobiety Crowns – a dedicated end-of-year awards roundup of the best brands, products, stores and sneakers from the past 12 months. Out of each shortlist our readers picked their favorites, and we compiled the votes into one definitive set of results.
With the winners now announced, we sat down with a few of the key players for a more in-depth look at what made last year so successful for them. First up, Filling Pieces founder and Creative Director Guillaume Philibert gave us an insight into exactly what made his street-luxury sneakers our Best Breakthrough Brand of 2014.
Last year was massive for Filling Pieces. After five years in the business now, what does it mean to know you have officially ‘broken through’?
It’s amazing to be credited for the hard work, but even better to see that people are feeling the products we make and understand the vision of our brand.
Starting an independent shoe brand is considered one of the hardest areas of fashion to enter, especially in the sneaker market. What challenges has Filling Pieces faced in its short lifetime?
That’s totally right; for a product like footwear, starting is the hardest part. People tend to feel more comfortable buying clothing from an unknown brand, but it’s way more difficult for them to buy footwear. People just don’t trust the quality, the fit or the look when they don’t know the name.
I think at Filling Pieces we have a strong vision, and we find it very important to stick to that. In this way, after a few seasons our customers understand what we're about and start to recognize our products in amongst the forest of other footwear brands out there.
In terms of challenges, the three biggest ones were mastering the build quality, getting our name and products actually into the market, and then translating all that into a real company.
We started very small, with just 50-pair runs that were all made in Asia. Finding a factory that was able and willing to start with such small production quantity was very difficult, especially with the language barrier! That was one of the main reasons we shifted production to Portugal after three seasons. Now we can produce faster, with better quality and have a greater variety of materials.
Although it seems like online sales are the future, we strongly believe that having good physical retailers is one of the most important things in the fashion business, as this gives potential customers the chance to see and feel our products. In the beginning it was really hard for us to get retailers to buy our product, so we’re glad that’s now changed and we're stocked right across the globe.
Finally, the hardest part of all was building a real company. I graduated in architectural design, so I have a creative background but zero business experience. It wasn’t until two years ago, when I teamed up with my partner who has a lot of experience in building companies, that we had the right balance of skills and creativity to really push things to the next level.
Filling Pieces were everywhere in 2014. How much of that was down to a shift in people’s attitudes to fashion, and how much was your natural growth as a brand?
I think the gap between streetwear and high-end fashion is reaching a point where there’s only a fine line between them. People are combining both styles and creating a very distinctive look of their own, and that’s helped us a lot.
Our vision is to create handmade footwear produced with premium quality leather and fabrics for an affordable price. Thanks to several highly anticipated collaborations and specials last year, we received a lot of attention from the press. For example, our fourth collaboration with Ronnie Fieg was a big success, and I’m thankful to work with him as a good friend and mentor.
The triangular tongue and arrow-shaped silhouette of FPs has become your design hallmark. Was this a conscious decision from an early stage or something that has happened gradually over time?
This was a conscious decision from the beginning. When I started to design the first Filling Pieces model, the ‘Low Top’, I wanted to create a unique silhouette. During that period I noticed people were wearing their pants over their trainers, which is a shame for the shoe because a big part of its silhouette is hidden. As such, I designed the tongue so people could use it to put their pants behind it. That way, the total silhouette can be shown.
How do you approach the creation of a new FP model? Do you focus more on finding quality materials than thinking up new colorways?
Over the years Filling Pieces has built up a strong range of basic silhouettes; these are the foundation of our brand. Each season I try to come up with a few innovative new colorways, but the usage of leather and fabrics is still one of the most important elements. Each season I strive to source a wide variety of the best premium leathers and special (hand-woven) fabrics, as this gives each collection a strong balance between great everyday looks and elaborate design features.
All-red shoes were a big trend for 2014, as were metallic shades. What do you think will be the defining style characteristic of this year?
I think this year things are going more high-end overall, and shoes will be defined by the quality of their materials and the finesse of the detailing.
How do you intend to keep FP fresh moving forward? Could we start to see some more season-specific products in future? How about a women’s line?
Each season I try to design a new silhouette to add to the Filling Pieces range. For example – this year we’re bringing some more athletic styles, and that’s something I’ve been working on for nearly two years to perfect.
However, many people tend to think we produce footwear mainly for men. As a matter of fact, 90% of the Filling Pieces collection is unisex! Still, this year I am also working on something special for the women’s market…
Can you give us any insight into your upcoming collaborations for the year?
This year Filling Pieces is going to collaborate together with Puma. It has been a big part of my childhood, so I was very humbled that they contacted me to create something really special. You can also expect a new chapter in the FP x Ronnie Fieg collaborations. Something that will be totally different compared to the previous releases.
Furthermore, we have started some new partnerships with a few of the best retailers in the business for next year. One early spoiler: MR PORTER.
And last but not least, we are also exploring the possibility of creating something other than footwear, together with a strong force within retail. I can’t say any more than that right now, but you’ll have to keep an eye out!
How about retail space? Is there any plan to expand your number of physical stores over the next 12 months?
Our own retail space in London, which we opened a year ago, is doing very well. The UK is one of the biggest markets for Filling Pieces, so we are seeking the possibility of extending that adventure.
Other than that, the temporary Filling Pieces store in our Amsterdam hometown was a great success; the experience of running a retail space was great, so who knows. Maybe this will be the next step in the future. Then there’s Paris, New York, LA and Tokyo. Perhaps one of those will be the next city where we open a new temporary space.
Finally, what five words will sum up 2015 for Filling Pieces?
Innovation, Consistency, Teamwork, Dedication and International growth.
Stay tuned for Behind The Crowns interviews with Sneakerboy and adidas. For a taste of what's in store from Filling Pieces this year, check out their recently announced Low Top Transformed Peach.