This spring, Poltrona Frau is pleased to partner with Parsons The New School for Design on a Product Design Studio with a focus on responsible design. With the guidance of instructor Andrea Ruggiero, students will design and develop new objects using leather scraps at Poltrona Frau's factory in Tolentino, Italy. For the first time, the brief is to design everyday leather goods for the home and office, elevating waste material into a premium product.
Reporting by Jenny Hsu
Two weeks ago, a group of 15 Product Design Juniors from Parsons The New School for Design could be found examining two boxes of beautiful scrap leather in the Soho showroom of Poltrona Frau, the leading Italian leather home furnishing company, seeking inspiration for their next project. With instructor Andrea Ruggiero, designer and Parsons alumnus, the group had officially begun the school's third collaboration with Poltrona Frau, but it was nothing like years past.
We were all anticipating being asked to design a new furniture concept for Poltrona Frau, but instead we were surprised with a fresh challenge—to design and develop new product concepts for the home and office that complement the Atelier Poltrona Frau collection. And there is another catch: we must create these products out of scrap leather from Frau's upholstery production—the material that traditionally ends up in the factory's waste stream.
The competition kicked off on Friday, March 22, with a quick brainstorming exercise. There were some cliché, mainstream ideas, such as an iPad case, wallet, or keychain, but also some that were new and unusual. As these concepts developed, a new terrain of potential ideas emerged, such as a neck cushion, elbow rest, or even a one-hundred-dollar leather bandage. Perhaps these ideas are too absurd and unrealistic, but the best ideas always originate from the unlikeliest of sources.
Upon arriving at the showroom in Soho, we were greeted by Federico Materazzi (Executive Vice President, Frau USA), Sara Gobbo (Senior Marketing Manager, Frau USA), Rossella Livraga (Senior Sales Associate), and William Ruiz (Sales Associate). Federico took us back in time to 1912 with a lesson in the history, culture and tradition of Poltrona Frau. Eco-sustainability, including the aim for "zero waste," is a commitment that has been integrated into various initiatives, including the existing Atelier collection of small leather items. These pieces are intelligently and lovingly designed, cut and assembled, often using leather pieces leftover from the upholstery workshop. For our project, workers in the Poltrona Frau factory in Tolentino, Italy, had collected scraps of leather over a two-month period, which we are to use for our final prototypes.
While transforming the leather into a quality product will prove to be a challenge for many of us given our minimal experience with leatherwork, it will also be a fun and extremely rewarding experience. What will become of these scraps with only seven weeks to accomplish this challenge, and the additional incentive of a trip to Italy for the three winning designers to tour the factory? Experience this journey with us as the competition unfolds on Core77, and join us at the Poltrona Frau showroom to view the resulting designs on May 18, during the ICFF.