MILAN — “Leathership” is the crasis furniture firm Poltrona Frau coined to describe its leadership in the leather industry. The Tolentino, Italy-based company has mastered the art of craftsmanship over the span of more than a century, making a name for itself around the globe through three departments dedicated to projects spanning from residential to automotive and custom interiors; through the plethora of collaborations with prominent designers — from Gio Ponti to Peter Marino — and brands from Ferrari to Loro Piana.
At this edition of Salone del Mobile, the company will celebrate its 110th anniversary with a special range dubbed “True Evolution 2022 Collection,” intended to equally honor its heritage and outline the drivers of its next chapter. Renditions of iconic designs will be flanked by new products as well as an innovative sustainability solution, which signals that there’s no real “leathership” in 2022 without a sustainable commitment.
In particular, the brand tapped Argentinian Spanish visual artist Felipe Pantone to reinterpret its signature Archibald armchair in a limited-edition drop of 110 pieces. Originally designed by Jean-Marie Massaud in 2009, for the occasion, the minimal frame of the furniture was jazzed up with an eccentric, pixelated graphic in vibrant colors splashed on the new Pelle Frau Impact Less leather. Tanned with sustainable components and with a chrome-free process that reduces the use of water and chemicals, the material sets the tone for a new strategy that will gradually see the introduction of the chromium-free tanning process in all Poltrona Frau leathers in the catalogue by the end of the year. As part of its sustainable mission, the company aims to halve CO2 emissions by 2030.
“We only use natural fabrics and, starting from this year, we’ve also added completely recycled ones,” said chief executive officer Nicola Coropulis. “These are not meant to replace leather, but certainly to offer alternative solutions.” He also added that through Pantone’s project the firm “has discovered the beauty of printed leather,” as the pattern was realized using the same technique usually reserved for small luxury goods rather than furniture.
Coming with a certificate of authenticity, a custom-made clutch, a leather cleaning kit and a handmade miniature scale, the limited-edition rendition of the Archibald armchair also bears a plaque reporting the celebratory logo Poltrona Frau created for the milestone, which goes by “100+10” to highlight the last decade that has been pivotal for the firm.
“The company has been able to adapt and evolve according to the big changes that the world has gone through,” said Coropulis, listing radical shifts ranging from globalization to digital transformation, in addition to the more recent pandemic and war in Ukraine.
While these aspects represented the firm’s main challenges — especially in terms of retooling strategies in an agile, flexible way to face their disruptive force — they also opened it up to a change of paradigm and business opportunities that continue to define the Poltrona Frau strategy for the future.
“We made an acceleration and became a global company: Only 10 years ago, around 70 percent of our business was done in Italy. This year, more than 70 percent is generated out of the country,” Coropulis said.
The three business units of Poltrona Frau combined generated approximately 200 million euros in sales last year. The CEO said the target is to reach the 300 million euro benchmark in a near future, which makes “for a realistic goal.”
“But I don’t know whether this will happen in three or five years as it will also depend on how the external environment will evolve….The lockdowns in China are certainly creating some turbulence and disruption in the normal flow of business,” said Coropulis of the market, though even through COVID-19 China has risen to become the top-performing region for the company, followed by Italy and the U.S.
Whereas 10 years ago Poltrona Frau counted only one dealer in China, now it is available at 30 doors around the country, in addition to a directly operated store in Shanghai that will be flanked by a 16,146-square-foot unit opening by the end of the year.
Over the last decade, the firm launched six directly operated stores in other strategic locations including Milan, London, Miami, Los Angeles and Dubai, which added to the ones in New York, Washington, D.C., and Mumbai, among others. Coropulis revealed that the lease for a space in Madison Avenue and 34th Street in New York has been signed and a new Poltrona Frau store will additionally bow in spring 2023.
“We have created a setup for the company that is growing….We are strengthening our local organizations in Asia but also in North America as we want to leverage all the opportunities that come from being part of a big industrial group in the U.S.,” said Coropulis, pointing to Michigan-based Haworth Inc., which took control of Poltrona Frau in 2014 and whose portfolio also includes Cappellini, Cassina, Kvadrat and Janus et Cie, to name a few.
To replenish the expanded retail network, Poltrona Frau has also been enhancing its catalogue, not only studying greener solutions but also revisioning color palettes and adding product categories. In the past 10 years, Poltrona Frau launched more than 200 products across 40 different lines of furniture — both for indoor and outdoor — textile collections, fashion leather accessories and contract furnishings.
The wider scope telegraphed a shift in positioning and perception Coropulis sounded particularly proud of. “More and more, clients are looking at us not only as a manufacturer of [furniture] but as a provider of luxury lifestyle solutions,” he said.
Furniture-wise, the CEO highlighted the booming demand for flexible and versatile solutions. “It was a trend that already started before the pandemic, but it has been enhanced during COVID-19 as people spent more time at home to do things that typically did outside,” he said, mentioning dining tables and sofas that can double as working stations, for example. “We are incorporating many of these needs, including the one for a more compact type of designs.”
Some of the new pieces included in the True Evolution 2022 Collection will match the trend, such as the “Happy Jack” sofa designed by Ludovica+Roberto Palomba. Other debuts in the 20-item range will include the “Nice” graphic chair and “Homey” minimal table designed by GamFratesi, as well as an unseen design by Tito Agnoli hailing from the company’s archives. The collection will also kick off a new collaboration with Bulgarian designer and glass expert Assia Karaguizova on accessories and complements.
“We are a company that has been in business for 110 years, so we tend to prefer long-lasting relationships. At the same time, we understand that sometimes you need to add fresh blood to the group,” said Coropulis. Poltrona Frau has partnered with more than 200 international architects and designers over the years, encompassing Achille Castiglioni, Michele De Lucchi, Frank O. Gehry and Renzo Piano, among others.
Other tie-ups included collaborations with international architecture firms such as Zaha Hadid Studio, Foster & Partners, David Chipperfield Architects and Studio Odile Decq, and key projects were developed with Herzog & de Meuron for the Elbphilharmonie complex in Hamburg; with Doriana and Massimiliano Fuksas for La Nuvola convention center in Rome and with Jean Nouvel for the Louvre in Abu Dhabi.
“But we have experienced with Felipe Pantone how fruitful a collaboration with an artist can be in opening new routes for the future, also considering that the world of art and design are so close and with a similar type of clients,” concluded Coropulis.