Fila's Grand Slam
Giorgio Borruso puts some major topspin on a New York flagship, the prototype for an international rollout
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 4/1/2006 12:00:00 AM
On center court at Wimbledon, Björn Borg's tennis whites served as spectacular advertising for Fila. In fact, the Borg era proved a high point for the Italian sports-apparel manufacturer, which was founded in 1911. It had been distinctly underperforming when it was acquired by a conglomerate three years ago. (Borg has fared even worse. He was even planning to auction off his five Wimbledon trophies.) Fortunately, both Borg nostalgia and Fila's reputation for performance-driven design continued to supply enormous brand recognition for the company, even in the absence of dedicated retail stores.
Fila still maintains staff in Italy, but headquarters and an apparel studio are now in a glass tower in New York. So the company rented 4,000 square feet on the building's ground floor, intending to open a flagship that would serve both as a lab for merchandising experiments and as a prototype for future locations worldwide. To build out the store, Fila's managing director for retail, Sheryl Bloom, cast a wide net. She ultimately went with Giorgio Borruso Design, she says, for its "charming and personable" principal and his independent thinking and adventurous tastes. "The fact that he was Italian was a bonus."
It turns out that Giorgio Borruso had absorbed the brand's core values practically from birth. "Growing up in Palermo," he explains, "Fila became part of me." He understood how the company's heritage was wrapped up in the values of individual achievement—rather than team play—and the aesthetic "art" of sport. Whether in the arc of a perfect serve or the sweep of a wall, the metaphor for the brand is flow. The stores would reflect that in their lack of straight aisles and sharp angles.
At the entry, a rounded column clad in mirror-finished aluminum strips conceals machinery for the air curtain that stops wintery blasts at the threshold—thereby eliminating the need for a revolving door. Beyond the column is a long shoe-display wall. Milled from MDF in Italy and lacquered in eight layers of high-gloss white to provide the illusion of depth, this installation is pierced to accept movable peg-mounted shelves. "You can compose groups of shoes like flocks of birds," Borruso says. To keep the presentation understated, tags go on the shoes rather than on the wall.
Overhead, a landscape of stretched white polyester swells beneath a black-painted ceiling studded with theatrical spotlights. "Working with a sports company, you use fabric to represent performance," Borruso explains. And that means no wrinkles—to avoid them, the whole canopy was preassembled in Toronto. Similar polyester, this time digitally imprinted with a soft blue that fades to white, is stretched vertically to shield the fitting rooms, four for the general public and a larger one for VIPs. The latter has a closet for stowing top-secret sneaker introductions.
With biomorphic display fixtures of clear acrylic scattered around the sales floor, Bloom says, "You meander to see the collection." Perhaps pausing for a moment on one of the curved white-lacquered MDF benches topped in the same gel-filled pads used in Fila sneakers. Since all these shapely pieces stand on their own, anchoring them required dark, monolithic flooring. Carpet or a grid of grout around square tile would have interrupted the theme of flow, so Borruso suggested solid-wengé strips dark enough to minimize the grain.
As Borruso's scheme travels to other international cities, the wengé floor will go along, although his shiny signature columns won't. (Note the variations when the Fine Living network airs a documentary series on his work for Fila this spring.) "We can present the concept like a big orchestra, with all the musicians, or like a chamber ensemble," Borruso says. Now there's a team player.