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.
"How many students does it take to work a sewing machine?"
Although a classmate humored us with this joke (while observing four others attempt to operate an industrial sewing machine without much success), the reality is that all of us are somewhat new to working with some of the tools of the trade in our collaboration with Poltrona Frau, in which 15 Product Design juniors at Parsons are creating concepts for premium leather goods out of materials leftover from the manufacturing process. The industrial sewing machines are also temperamental—they stop functioning properly with the slightest abuse, complicating the process. Those who have worked previously with these machines understand how they should perform and behave, but with others adjusting every knob in sight, something bad is bound to happen...
We are now four weeks into the project: Deadlines are rapidly approaching and we are trying to maintain our sanity before the chaos hits the fan. We try to keep our minds clear and focus on two objectives for our first deadline: working hands-on with the leather, and creating concepts for our design review with Federico Materazzi and Sara Gobbo, the executive vice president and senior marketing manager of Poltrona Frau USA.
Aaron Chan presenting his concepts
During the design review, my classmates and I had proposed concepts that range from home, office and travel accessories to toys and electronics. Federico and Sara, helped us narrow these ideas down to ones that truly define Poltrona Frau and complement their brand. A magazine rack, piggy bank, picnic basket and a wineglass tag are just some of the prototypes that we will present at the final juried review on May 10. Throughout the decision-making process, it became clear that Poltrona Frau is looking beyond just aesthetics but is really invested in tactility, and how that will be integrated into the final product. In short, do our small leather goods capture the essence of Frau?
Alex Li presenting his concepts
Overall, the review was easygoing, as Federico and Sara provided valuable criticism while at the same time demonstrating enthusiasm and support for each student. Federico passionately engaged each student as he confronted their pin-up sketches and absorbed every detail, including those that were not meant to be seen—during a late-night sketch session, one student found himself frustrated by the markers he was using and scribbled a foul word to express his mood. He had forgotten his frustration by the time he pinned up the sketch for review: a comical moment (though maybe not for the student who wrote it) that also served as an important lesson about checking your work multiple times before presenting it.
Further motivating us, our instructor Andrea Ruggiero invited Timo Rissanen, professor of Sustainability and Fashion Design at Parsons, to give a talk on Zero-Waste design, which is one of Frau's aims for our competition. So what is zero-waste? It strives to eliminate fabric waste in the manufacturing process produced from pattern making. In the fashion industry, this can average up to 15% of the material. How can we apply this knowledge in our designs and further eliminate the waste that will be produced by our patterns for Poltrona Frau? Can we ultimately make use of every part of the leather waste from the first production cycle that is the raw material of our project? Maybe this is taking Wasteless to a whole other level, but it is something to keep in mind... maybe for next year's challenge!
Sara Gobbo of Poltrona Frau evaluating Jenny Hsu's sketch models
Next up is the final juried review on May 10th with Federico and Sara, as well as other notable guests, as we continue to prepare for our final presentation at the Poltrona Frau showroom on May 18, during ICFF.