If I had to single out one moment that sent me down the curious route of amassing sportswear with a certain intensity, it was a moment in the late 1980s where I stared in amazement at a kid walking out of a parked Rolls Royce with a man in full baller Saudi Sheik attire and two presumed bodyguards into onetime stronghold of premium sportswear, Lillywhites and stacking up at least fourteen Fila tracksuits with a £170 youth size RRP for each set. At the time, it may well have been the single most powerful display of wealth I’d ever witnessed. Fila was powerful. I don’t recall seeing anyone wear Fila in my hometown (though terrace culture revisionism seems to have several people claiming to have owned pieces) during the early 1980s, but it was a brand spoken of in reverence. It even had a car, in the shape of the Ford Fila Thunderbird from 1984 (not as premium as the MCM Jeep, but pretty impressive nonetheless, with the ‘F’ displayed as a badge at the rear and those classic colours.
Those bootleg tees with the rainbow fade that incorporated a cluster of illegally boosted logos always had the Fila logo next to BOSS and Valentino – this was something that seemed to be a tier above the Nikes and PUMAs; something completely unattainable. Fila, Sergio Tacchini, Cerruiti, and Valentino made sweatshirts and tracksuits for rich James Spader-esque jerks to play tennis in or wear to the alps because they were too damned rich to bother with cheaper workout wear – Fila was as close to a high-end brand as I ever saw sportswear get, just as the likes of Gucci were dumbing out in 1984 with athletic offerings for the wealthy. Bjorn and Boris were the right guys to be repping it, but less legal co-signs elevated it.
Appropriately, Fila became some top-tier hustler gear, but while ne’er-do-wells have endorsed some crap over the years just because it was expensive, Fila’s designs were strong (the T1 is untouchable). The DOC got his break in the Fila Fresh Crew before the NWA affiliations, Bed Stuy based Jaz O and Prince Markie Dee affiliate Fresh Gordon of the Choice MCs was a Fila fan who dropped ‘My Filas’ as a Run-DMC diss that popped shots at the shelltoe and stole their branding for his album cover, while Lo Lifers Fi-Lo and Ant-Lo wore Fila rarities religiously. The ads at the time brag about the price, with some Stella Artois ‘Reassuringly Expensive’ elements to the campaign, but press reports of kids being maimed and killed for T1s meant that some stores pledged not to restock. I doubt it was detrimental to the brand. The Fitness was another superior shoe too.
By 1990, colourful suede and nubuck F-13s and leather Trailblazers soared at pricetags we could nearly afford, and after a few months of wear in my Johnny-come-lately town, around May 1991, they were done and we were Jumpman preoccupied once again, hunting for the apparel to match the shoes. During that pinrolled denim and corduroy period, there were some Fila oddities on the market, like convertible aerobic looking silhouettes, and the Mindbender, Larry Johnson endorsed FX-100 and 1993 Cage basketball shoe were all interesting. Grant Hill gave the brand a spot of extra longevity, but they just seemed to fade away. Terrible ads for a White Line vintage range with Danny Dyer and Tamer Hassan — patron saints of mockney mediocrity with a voiceover — in the adverts, oddly timed Wu hookups, more Borg retro work with blokes trying to pretend they were “casuals” once upon a time and the South Korean takeover in 2007 seemed to dead the brand’s premium aspirations entirely.
Looking at the JD Sports and Sports Direct positioning of the brand, licensing has rendered it as a budget offering. That’s not without success —the F13 and £14 Foggia Hi in lurid colours are a popular shoe round my way among the younger generation, which is more than a lot of more well-known shoes have managed in market penetration, but it’s a long, long way from the brand’s late 1970s and 1980s industry clout. Brands like Ellesse (though that Wood Wood project did a good job of channeling the brand’s older essence) have been killed by mistreatment and careless licensing, but I still think Fila have a legacy that can be salvaged at some point. On my visit to NYC this week I was a little disappointed at the lack of shoe variety on display — nothing but retro Jordans and the rare, refreshing glimpse of LeBron Lows and Nomos. I reckon if I’d clocked a pair of T1 Mids on some feet during the heatwave days, I would have lost my mind. I’m sure from a profit angle, Fila’s doing fine, but I’m sad to see the aspirational ambience stripped away to end up on the bargain bucket list — fallen luxury at its finest. Fila was not meant to be the people’s brand — that was for the Golas and Hi-Tecs. Fila needs to get snobby again.
‘Brooklyn Bound’ magazine looks like a pretty interesting project. Focusing on the borough that dwellers swear is the centre of the universe, itself part of a city that residents adore, it seems to be a celebration of everything Brooklyn with former ‘Vibe’ and ‘XXL’ man Benjamin Meadows-Ingram as editor (who I believe, hails from Memphis) and Jeff Staple as creative director, plus Sophia Chang on art direction, the subject matter could yield strong results. Everyone seems to be hopping onto print at the moment, but a central regional concept might give this a point-of-difference from every other attempt to make the paper thing work.
Harold Hunter in Filas in Zoo York’s ‘Mixtape’