How Italian Brand Frag Designs With Leather In Of All Its Furniture Collections
Like many furniture manufacturers in Italy, Frag is a storied house, opening its doors in 1921 as an artisan workshop specialising in leather shoes. The humble shop gradually widened its scope, producing other leather products including belts and wallets, before venturing into furniture making.
Helmed by Italian CEO Franco di Fonzo, Frag celebrates its rich heritage by specialising in leather furniture. Every collection contains an element of the material—be it tables made with leather marquetry or plush sofas upholstered in the finest hides. His family continues to be heavily involved in the management of the company; his daughter Federica is the firm’s marketing director, while his son Michele works as the firm’s designer and product and research development director.
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“The brand started 40 years ago and no one knew it (then),” he shares. “It was not easy because it’s a niche product; we grew because people understood the quality of the production as well as the design.”
The CEO was recently in Singapore as part of the AR_T workshop, a creative initiative that invited eight local designers and architects to reinvent the Ele chair that was first designed by Michele. Featuring a feminine silhouette, the chair backrest narrows in the middle, appearing like a slim waistline. Here, he chats about the origins of the company and his hopes for the future of the firm.
What inspired the creation of your first furniture collections?
Franco di Fonzo (FDF) In the ‘70s, a furniture company in our region asked us, as we were well-known for working with leather, to produce for them the seats and backs for their chairs. This was the start of our furniture business. After 10 years, we decided to start our own catalogue. We treat and work with a material that is very expensive and very delicate; we understood that leather craftsmanship was so difficult that nobody (else) was able to do it. So why make a gift to other companies of our knowledge, when it was possible to use our know-how to make chairs for our own catalogue?
It was a small leaflet at the beginning; it’s now a catalogue. Day by day, year by year, we arrived to become a company well-known around the world for its leather products; everything in the catalogue is made of leather.
How do you choose the designers that you work with?
FDF About 30 years ago, the designers would come alone to present and show their product designs. After that, we made the choice to take an agency to make the first cut of designers, and then the few shortlisted are shown to the family—which is my wife, son, daughter and me—we decide everything together as a family.
My daughter and son are the fourth generation (of the family business). My daughter joined the company 10 years ago, while my son joined about five years ago.
My wife’s great grandfather started the company; she is still involved in the business but she is retired, as ‘retired’ as the wife of the owner of the company can be! She still comes to the office to give advice but is not (as involved) in a day-to-day way.
Which chairs do you currently have in your own home?
FDF Because I love every chair, I cannot make a choice; no, that’s a joke. I change the chairs around the dining table to the ones used at the photoshoots for the catalogue to try them out. I have the Elf chair in my office.
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Could you tell us more about Frag’s most iconic collections?
FDF The Lyo chair. It’s iconic because there’s something so elegant, so simple, so beautiful about it that everybody who knows our collections can identify us from this chair.
And Heta; to produce this chair, you need high capability in leather craft. Only artisans with (at least) 10 years of practice in leatherwork can make that chair. That’s why this kind of chair is so difficult to do and so delicate to produce; a lot of Russians love this chair. The Sahrai chair sells very well in Asia; it’s the best-selling chair in China. The saddle leather (upholstery) is popular for this chair.
Why did you choose the Ele chair for the AR_T workshop?
FDF I chose this chair because it’s simple; the imagination of the artists (the design and architecture firms involved in the project) can grow. It’s also a bestseller everywhere in all countries. We decided to do an event with P5 Studio and to involve interior designers and architects to do something that is out of the norm for us. We didn’t want to present just a chair; we wanted to present a way of living and reinterpreting the furniture.
So we created this artistic opportunity to make something different from what we normally produce. Every chair has a name and unique characteristics that shape the way the chair is done. Seeing these interpretations of the chair, shown in eight different ways, I’m really thankful to the designers for spending the time on them.
Tell us more about your plans for the future.
FDF I hope that in five to six years I will retire and I will leave it to my children to lead the company. We will stay a niche brand; we don’t plan on being everywhere as our product is one that few can afford. We will stay in the niche of (having) high levels of quality and design.
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Frag is available in Singapore at P5 Studio