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It was when he was studying architecture that iconic designer Guillaume Philibert realized the gaping void for high concept, low price sneakers in the footwear market. Today the creative director still runs things over at his Amsterdam-based high-end footwear label Filling Pieces, which received Best Breakthrough Brand of 2014. By founding the label in 2009, Philibert set off his own design concepts, eventually introducing his fine Italian-made, thick-soled beauties into an oversaturated sneaker market and solidifying his name in the industry. The designer spoke with i-D about his latest projects, including a smashing collection for 2016 fall/winter that was inspired by Surinamese culture of South America. Read our favorite excerpts from Guillaume Philibert’s interview below, and read the full piece over at i-D.
What were your favorite releases?
I remember the first pair of shoes I bought myself were Air Jordan Breds. A good and strong design like the Air Jordan still sells well so always feel like buying a pair when they release them again. Before Ronnie Fieg became a good friend, I always looked out for his releases. I’m still get excited for his upcoming releases so I feel super fortunate when we release a project together that involves Filling Pieces. Besides that, I remember the excitement of the first Kanye West Nike release and the Lebron Corks. The Corks are still unworn, on a shelf in my house, as it’s such a piece of art when it comes to innovation and aesthetic.
What was the catalyst for stepping into the shoe-game in 2009?
Frustration! I had saved up money to buy a pair of Dior trainers, all white crisp sneakers. I felt super confident and strong in them. I thought I was super unique wearing them. But when I hit the city a few days after, end of 2009, with my friends, I ran into at least 10 to 15 people wearing that very same sneaker. I was missing a trainer that was affordable, still very lux, high quality and exclusive. That was the point when I thought about designing my own sneaker, one that was affordable yet exclusive. There weren’t a lot of independent brands that were bridging this gap, that’s where I found the niche.
What hole in the market did Filling Pieces fill/what was its launch a reaction to?
There used to be a significant gap between high end and athletic sneakers. Growing up I didn’t have the money to buy a pair of €500 [EUR (approx. $567 USD)] sneakers, so I had to do it with the the more affordable brands, like Nike, Vans, Adidas and Jordans. However, those were the more athletic trainers. So, at some point during my studies I asked myself ‘why isn’t there any brand that is providing for those that can’t afford the big fashion labels but also want something different than just a pair of Nikes’. That’s exactly the hole in the market we targeted when we started out. Our brand name speaks for itself, our products are the ‘filling pieces’ in the gap between those two segments.
The Spring/summer 16 collection is called “Metamorphosis.” Over the last six years, what have been the most profound changes to Filling Pieces’ form?
Well, we started out with just one silhouette, the now classic Filling Pieces Low Top. A basic style with very recognisable features; the signature tongue, the padded heel and the Italian cup sole. These design details we still use today, but our collection now has at least 14 silhouettes. We have added seven new sole units and tons of new design details. I think what defines us as a brand is not only the changes and innovation in fabric use and silhouettes and techniques, but holding on to our concept and strong basic outlines.
How has the team developed and what have you learned along the way?
In footwear it’s very important to be innovative and adaptive to changes. Our goal is to become a leading brand in the footwear industry so that requires that we keep evolving. It’s hard to name one specific point, but when I started I was still a student, and didn’t have all the knowledge I have today. Our team now consists out of around 40 people, and it’s always growing. To be honest, we never stop learning. Innovation and gaining experience for us is of the utmost importance. From design, production to marketing, we are really trying to work with an experienced team that is holding down the structure behind the brand and company. We always keep challenging ourselves.
What can you tell us about the Fall/Winter 16 “Srefidensi” collection? How did your Surinamese culture inspire you?
Srefidensi is Surinamese for independence. We as Filling Pieces went through a lot of ups and downs which has only made us stronger. We came to a point that the collection is very wide and that we make our own rules when it comes to what we think is cool. Our team, the partners and consumers are very important to us and without their support the brand wouldn’t be close to where it is now. We have this philosophy where we drop product online and through selected accounts whenever we want, no matter the timing or season and with such a big collection we feel independent. Now with all the changes and growth in our company we feel we become more independent everyday. Due to its colonial past Suriname is a melting pot of cultures, I think it’s one the the most multicultural nations in South America. All these influences from all over the world come together and fuse into one, so my roots in Suriname inspire me a lot when it comes to design and building the company.
What excites you about tomorrow?
Innovation and new changes in the market. Innovation is in our DNA, so that really drives us to continue making unique product. Everyday there is a change or new opportunity for new designs so that excites me a lot.