Fitness is always in fashion on the pro circuit. In its 2013 fashion line, Fila combines fitness fabrics and technical innovation with its traditional tennis fit.
Our sneak peek of the apparel saw two pieces that should play prominently at next year's Australian Open: the blue Fila Center Court Dress (at right; MSRP: $70), a choice available to the brand’s women players, including Svetlana Kuznetsova and Vera Zvonareva, and the Fila Heritage Colorblocked Crew Neck Top (below; MSRP: $50), which world No. 9 Janko Tipsarevic will likely wear. With its varied collections, the new line is Fila’s effort to both recall its tradition and reshape itself as a brand for the modern player.
While retaining its familiar red, white, and blue colors in some collections, the new line also features asymmetrical lines, performance tees, some ruching, an all-white dress collection designed for country club players, and even a “car wash” dress collection—it plays on the cloth dryer bands that flap across in a car wash, delivering pops of bright color beneath flaps on the bottom of a skirt.
“Their 2013 line sticks with that traditional Fila fit—I think their fit has always been good and true to size—but it also revamps some style elements,” says Arlet Allahverdian, apparel buyer for Tennis Express in Houston. “They’re using some ideas from compression and they’ve done some cool and different tops. I think it’s a good direction because it shows Fila can do different things: They can be a little more hip in some collections, and still offer their older customers the traditional red, navy, and white collection they grew up with.”
January, February, and March has served as a Fila showcase in recent years. Kim Clijsters won the 2011 Australian Open wearing Fila; Kuznetsova and Zvonareva both sported the familiar “F” logo in partnering to win the doubles championship last January; and Tipsarevic reached the quarterfinals or better in three of his first four tournaments this year. Fila is also the official apparel sponsor of both Indian Wells and Key Biscayne, outfitting linespersons and ball kids and occupying a massive retail presence at the two Masters events.
“Fila is a real tennis company, we’re not a faux tennis company,” says Danny Lieberman, Fila’s vice president of apparel. “Real tennis players wear our clothes, so 99 percent of what we make must be able to be worn playing in competition. That means constructing our sleeves to give your arms freer movement and completely revamping our skorts using lycra sport fabrication to make it a lot more compressive. For 2013, we’re retaining that tennis DNA Fila has always had while incorporating lighter performance fabrication, innovation and ideas from our fitness line, in styles that accent women’s figures.”
Some retailers say the spring collection is a step forward for Fila.
“I think Fila’s ladies line for spring 2013 is 100 percent better than their entire 2012 spring line,” says Sol Schwartz, retail manager and buyer for Holabird Sports in Baltimore, MD. “The silhouettes are sharper, the colors are better and the line is so clean; they hit it much better for spring 2013.”
While pushing the brand forward, Fila can still call on a dashing past. Bjorn Borg, Evonne Goolagong-Cawley, Guillermo Vilas, Adriano Panatta (the only man to beat Borg at Roland Garros), Boris Becker, Monica Seles, and Jennifer Capriati have all worn Fila. A decade ago, Fila clothed three of the world’s Top 10 women: Capriati, Clijsters, and Jelena Dokic. Fila designer Pierluigi Rolando looked to Babe Ruth’s New York Yankees uniform when he created Borg's pinstriped polo shirt, which would become an iconic piece of tennis fashion and remains one of the top-selling shirts.
“I can honestly tell you when Fila has brought back its Borg polo shirt, it outsells any other polo shirt we have at Holabird,” Schwartz says. “That classic Fila Borg polo will outsell the Nike Federer polo 10 to one. It’s crazy how well that shirt sells. People remember it so well.”
But creating clothes that resonate with junior players remains a goal. Fila points to its growth in the t-shirt market—tees are as much part of the standard junior uniform in the U.S. as the backwards baseball cap—as a sign it’s starting to connect with a younger set. A “WTF” graphic tee that incorporates the Fila “F” in its design has drawn interest, and the fact both of Fila’s top-ranked men—Tipsarevic and Andreas Seppi—often wear performance tees on court boosts interest in the collarless category.
“We’re in a bit of a resurgence with our t-shirt business, which was almost non-existent at one point,” Lieberman says. “That’s a telling sign of who is buying the product.”
Can Fila successfully straddle the line between tradition and trend to reach tennis youth while retaining the brand’s older core of customers? And how will the retirement of Clijsters, the brand’s most popular ambassador, impact Fila’s efforts to broaden its base?
“Kim’s retirement means they lose the face of the brand,” Schwartz says. “Every company is hoping to find the one person who has mass appeal of Kim. She was wearing relatively conservative clothes, it was always the right style for her, the clothes fit well, she played deep into tournaments, which gave Fila a lot of exposure and people like Kim. Obviously, she’s been a great representative for Fila.”
At the height of its halcyon days, Fila was tennis’ aspirational brand; now it aspires to reach a greater range of players.
“All good brands evolve and I think with all brands its also important to know who you are and remember what you do well,” Schwartz says. “Fila has an older customer base, which isn’t a bad thing, because they’re the ones who grew up with the brand and know the brand. Young kids will learn the brand if you give them the styles they want as well.”