Although synonymous with all those 1980s cliches of power-dressing, double-breasted suits and big hair, the Filofax has actually been around since 1921, and its template can be traced back a decade further.
In Philadelphia, a company called Lefax had been supplying ring-bound organisers since 1910 to power plant engineers who needed to keep their paperwork safely in order. London stationer Norman & Hill began importing and selling them by mail order to high-ranking army officers, doctors, lawyers and the clergy.
It was a temporary secretary at the company called Grace Scurr who suggested they produce their own paper organiser and even came up with the name (from “file of facts”). Scurr eventually became Norman & Hill’s chairman, a position she held until 1955.
The Filofax remained something of a niche proposition, finding a loyal if dwindling market of well-heeled professionals out in the shires.
It wasn’t until 1976 – and the arrival of publishing executive David Collischon – that the brand began to enjoy a new lease of life. Collischon had set up a business out of his garage in suburban Loughton called Pocketfax, originally intended to sell Filofaxes and the accompanying inserts as part of a wider offer.
When the chance arose to buy out Norman & Hill’s principal shareholders, he duly took it, taking over the company overnight in 1982 after he bought the remaining shares, belonging to Scurr. Collischon soon renamed the company after its most famous product: Filofax.
Designer Ian Logan was commissioned to freshen up the look and feel of the product, softening some of the edges and making it a little less austere, with a broader colour range and various add-ons, including a growing assortment of inserts.
The 1980s breed of financiers loved the idea of a sleepy heritage brand reconfigured for the post-Big Bang globally-connected Square Mile and a bulging Filofax became a conspicuous signifier of networking bona fides – and you could always stick a New York subway map, golf scorecards or wine tasting notes in amongst your diary pages for added worldly kudos.
Collischon’s decision to chase the top end of the market and try to position Filofax as a luxury item soon backfired and, coupled with a growing image problem that suggested the product was more elitist lifestyle adjunct than functional business tool – the company was close to collapse by decade’s end.
By the mid-1990s however, things had picked up considerably, with profits in the millions.
And then disaster struck, in the form of pocket computers. The Psion Organiser had been around in one guise or another for most of the 1980s but had remained firmly out of reach for regular everyday use. In the mid-1990s, though, a more accessible device hit the market, quickly joined by the first Palm Pilot and, in 1999, the BlackBerry.
Electronic organisers – and, later in the following decade, smartphones – steadily killed off the Filofax and, while various attempts have been made to kickstart a revival, it is yet to be rediscovered by a new generation of users.
In 2001 the Letts Filofax Group was formed after Charles Letts and Company Limited acquired the Filofax Group. In 2012 the company was acquired by HSGP Investments.
In 2014, Filofax Ltd and Charles Letts & Co Ltd become one entity under a new company name, FLB Group Ltd.