Collaborations have been all the rage for quite some time now. So much so, in fact, that the number of collaborators attached to a single project seems to be increasing by the season; look no further than Gosha Rubchinskiy, N.Hoolywood and Vetements, who've included five, six even 18 brand partnerships in their recent collections.

But footwear collaborations don't seem to produce all that often, so it's usually pretty interesting when they do. Remember when Jordan and Converse teamed up back in 2012? Or in 2014, when Nike SB and Jordan dropped their very first Air Jordan 1 together?

Adding to the roster of sneaker pair-ups is German sportswear giant PUMA and independent Dutch footwear label Filling Pieces, who've joined forces for a unique take on PUMA's ever popular Blaze of Glory silhouette.

Ahead of the shoe's release, I sat down with Filling Pieces' Creative Director/Founder, Guillaume Philibert, and PUMA's Global Senior Head of Lifestyle, Yassine Saidi, to find out more about how the collaboration came about, how the two brands merged their respective aesthetics into the new silhouette and more.

So, tell me how this collaboration first came about?

Guillaume Philibert: PUMA has always been a very big part of my childhood. I always loved PUMA products, because back in the day, there was always a link to sports - all these athletes, it was quite diverse when it came to athletics. The experience I had buying and wearing PUMA footwear actually helped me design my own products at Filling Pieces.

Through a mutual friend, Ronnie Fieg, I got in touch with Yassine [Saidi, Global Senior Head of Lifestyle at PUMA], and we got along very well. Then all of a sudden there was a conversation about how we, as two footwear brands, could work together on a project. We sat down and looked at the strengths of the companies; Filling Pieces is a very small, independent, up-and-coming footwear label, and of course PUMA is one of the world's biggest athletic companies. It was interesting because if you approach [this project] like you would from a smaller label, you have all this craftsmanship, all these materials from Italy and a more luxury approach to footwear, whereas we can’t make athletic footwear because we don’t have resources or factories, unlike PUMA.

I think for PUMA, it was interesting to work with a brand like Filling Pieces because you have this craftsmanship and taste for luxury leathers and luxury footwear. Where the market is going now, high-end is coming closer to streetwear, and of course there’s a difference in price and brand awareness, but it’s getting very close. If you look at Givenchy, Kenzo and Balmain, you see that the ready-to-wear stuff is very much inspired by streetwear and vice versa. So those two markets are coming very close together and for us at Filling Pieces, we try to bridge that gap with our product and that was a very interesting space for us to work in.

How did you choose the silhouette?

G: We actually got together and worked on the Blaze of Glory, which is quite a well known PUMA silhouette. The name of the concept was “Deconstruct to Rebuild,” so we actually looked at the shoe and completely took it apart. We mixed and matched different fabrics that we've used in the past and are very known to the Filling Pieces clientele and applied them to the collaborated shoe.

How hands on are you with the whole design process?

G: I started the company in 2009, and I used to do everything - from marketing and finance to design and logistics. When the company got bigger, I had certain people taking care of those kind of projects and sides of the company. Now I’m just fully focused on creative direction. So I’m the Creative Director of Filling Pieces and involved in marketing as well, but in terms of design, me and my design team work very closely together.

How did you compromise in regards to preserving both Filling Pieces' and PUMA’s aesthetic?

G: If you look at the shoe, the colorway is quite simple. It’s black and white, but there’s a lot of detailing on it. If you look at the Blaze of Glory, it’s a little bit bulky in the front, which is just the design. But we at Filling Pieces always have more slick toe boxes, so we took some layers off and changed some lines in the front to add a more luxury feel to the shoe. For example, the toe box is completely laser-woven leather, then there's the elastic strap which gives off this athletic look. If you look at the lateral side of the shoe, you see the foam and the padding, and that’s what we always have in the shoe in the heel part.

With using all of these different fabrics, we felt that we could push for a more luxurious approach to the Blaze of Glory. And of course, there's the tongue, which is a trademark feature for all Filling Pieces shoes - that was actually both the biggest change and challenge.

How has this collaboration been different from previous PUMA partnerships? Yassine Saidi: Every collaboration is different because every relationship is different and everybody works in a different way. What makes this one different is we created a completely new product bearing the PUMA and Filling Pieces DNA’s, that’s the main difference.

What are both the strengths and difficulties of working with such an independent brand? Y: There have been no difficulties really as it has been a really organic process. Though they [Filling Pieces] are independent, they know a lot about footwear, they know what they can do and what they can’t do. I just made sure both brands were represented well.

Filling Pieces has had a pretty big year, and the brand just seems to be getting bigger. So looking back on where the brand started to where it is now, is it all a bit surreal?

G: It’s super surreal. Unfortunately, because we’re in this super fast lane, I appreciate and respect everybody that has helped out and I love where we are right now as a brand, but you don’t realize how fast everything went, and how happy you should be. But sometimes, when I’m on vacation or when I take some time off, I suddenly realize how happy and how grateful you need to be for your success. It doesn’t happen a lot. The whole concept of independency stands for the moment, and the era, that we as Filling Pieces are in right now. When we start designing the collection we feel really independent, we're at a certain size now where we can do our own sourcing, our own fine-tuning, we’re not depending on leather or any other fabric suppliers anymore and we can do what we want, and we feel a sort of creativity and freedom there and that’s why the FW16 collection stands for independency.

Like I said before, the biggest difference between PUMA and Filling Pieces is that PUMA is such a big company, and Filling Pieces because we’re smaller, we're more flexible in terms of size and strategy. Working with PUMA, we felt there were more restrictions on doing the production ourselves because PUMA is such a big company and they need to work with licensed suppliers and certain factories, so there were boundaries which let us be, in some ways, more creative. When you have all the freedom, it’s easier to design a product than when you have restrictions, and these restrictions really helped us design the shoe and put it together.

Y: I think what’s important is the timing, because when we talked about working together, that was almost two years ago. We met in London, and Filling Pieces’ brand was not at the level where it is today. The timing and the alignment, with respect to each other’s brand DNA, we just thought that we could make it - and it really wasn’t a huge risk for us. Filling Pieces is more than an up-and-coming brand, it’s established now. The timing was right for this project, because it happens to bring a different feel to our aesthetic; it talks to a different consumer, talks to different press, brings the brand, through Filling Pieces, to a different level. That’s the whole objective of the exercise, and we’re excited and we hope to work on something else soon.

The PUMA x Filling Pieces Blaze of Glory is currently available on Filling Pieces online shop and will be released at select retailers including Dover Street Market London, colette, KITH, Isetan, Luisa Via Roma, Très Bien, SSENSE and Sneakerboy from July 30.

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