talking sneakers with filling pieces’ guillaume philibert

The cult designer talks about what inspired him to conquer the super saturated sneaker market and the Surinamese culture that influenced his new autumn/winter 16 collection.

by i-D Staff
28 April 2016, 11:51pm

Guillaume Philibert is the man behind Filling Pieces, the Amsterdam based label that serves as a riposte to the big brand dominated sneaker market. Whilst studying architecture, Philibert realised you couldn't find sneakers that were both high concept and low price, and thus was inspired to create his own. The result was Filling Pieces, the missing link between high fashion and streetwear footwear, which he founded in 2009 and that has already garnered a cult following. 26-year-old Guillaume serves as both founder and creative director of the shoes that are a hyper modern hybrid between Nike's best sellers, and the minimal offerings seen on the runway - thick white soles married to expertly finished Italian leathers. We talked to Philibert about the Air Jordans that started his obsession, why Dior isn't that exclusive, and how Suriname inspired his latest collection.

What are your earliest trainer memories?

When I was younger, my mother used to buy me a lot of Nike and Puma.That's when I first got in touch with footwear, and as I got older I was getting more into it and buying a lot of different trainers. That turned into me having quite a big collection of athletic footwear, such as special releases and that sort of thing.

Which releases were you obsessed by?

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 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.

Could you introduce the new silhouettes and styles?

Starting with autumn/winter 16 we are introducing a new more exclusive selection and top tier that we have named Innercircle. This line will be very limited and will only be sold at our absolute top accounts. Mr Porter, Barneys, KITH, Totokaello and Boon The Shop to name a few. We've designed a few new silhouettes solely for the Innercircle. One of those styles is the brand new Runner 3.0 Fuse, which comes in a low and high version. I'm super excited about this and it gives us the chance to create even more exclusivity for the brand.

What can you tell us about autumn/winter 16, Srefidensi? 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.

From exclusive colour ways to full design makeovers, considered collaborations are a firm fixture in the evolution of the brand. How important is collaboration to Filling Pieces?

I think that we wouldn't have come to the stage we are at now without collaborations. For instance, our partnership with Kith's Ronnie Fieg really helped us in the early days to gain more awareness in the US to sneaker minded consumers. It's something that we highly value. Basically you are teaming up with a partner that has their own clientele, following and identity, so you merge that with your own which creates a lot of buzz. We will keep doing collaborations in 2016, just less than we did last year.

What do you look for in a potential collaborator?

In terms of collaborative partners, it's important that I as the founder of the brand, complete with our marketing and design team, have a personal bond with our partner. We would never do a collaboration based on following, money or exposure. A lot of times a partnership is based on something that we miss in our brand and that the partner can offer. For example, we did a clothing collaboration with Ones Stroke from Japan. A very unique brand that has amazing quality and strong designs, so it was a chance for us to try something other than shoes.

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.

filling pieces
guillaume philibert