Legends of Leather: Poltrona Frau History & New Studio Launch

What do Ferraris, the Italian parliament and LA’s Getty Museum all have in common? Is it A) longevity? B) eternal style? or C) Top-to-toe upholstery courtesy of Poltrona Frau? The answer is, of course, all three. But to understand how one luxury furniture brand became the face and feel of some of the world’s most iconic institutions, we have to go back a few decades to 1912. It was in this year that Renzo Frau first opened his doors, and in doing so began to write a tale of love, luxury and leather. To celebrate the launch of our very own Poltrona Frau studio at Chaplins, we’ll be taking a look at the history of a brand that has personified the Made in Italy design movement, while becoming a global talisman of luxury living.

1910s-1930s: From Pipe Dream to High Society

The turn of the 20th century brought with it the shedding of stiff Victorian sensibilities. Sensing a shift in direction, Renzo Frau, an ambitious upholster, was ready and waiting with a new language of luxury. The home of the future would be supple and strong, smooth yet luxurious — qualities that only a true leather artisan could bring into fruition.

From the beginning, it was all about detail. Taking inspiration from Edwardian England he began to produce voluptuous armchairs, featuring plush capitonné details and pleated armrests. Every aspect was lovingly crafted by hand, from the delicate stitching to the positioning of the deep biconical springs. These new armchairs revealed leather as an ornate and decorative material, updating the boxy club chair with a new sense of style. They were an instant hit with Italy’s fashionable classes, and marked the start of Poltrona Frau‘s love affair with leather.


“There is something that no automatic sewing machine, no computer, no precision laser can ever perform: the intelligence of our hands.” 


Vanity Fair Armchair


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Chester One Pouf


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It was during this period that some of the most iconic items of the Poltrona Frau catalogue began to emerge. The most notable was the 1919 Armchair, believed to have been custom-designed for the Duke of Pistoia. Commanding yet quirky, it updated the classic Bergère model with Frau’s characteristic capitonné and a stylish tray, designed to catch runaway ash from the Duke’s cigars.

1919 Armchair


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1919 Armchair


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1960s-1980s: La Rivoluzione

With production having ground to a halt during the Second World War, Poltrona Frau re-surfaced under new ownership and with a renewed sense of vigour. They championed the sense of revolution that was creeping into homes across Europe as families discovered informal ways of relaxing and connecting. Aesthetically, there was a visual shedding of weight as oversized loungers gave way to more slender, sculptural forms and a host of new interior styles.

Among the designers flocking to work with Poltrona Frau during this period were Gio Ponto and Achille Castiglioni, architects whose furniture became miniature experiments for their beliefs about buildings.


“Poltrona Frau is the intelligence of hands, man’s ability, tradition and sartorial savoir-faire.”


Dezza Armchair


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Albero Bookcase


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1980s – 2000s: A Global Brand

With their residential arm an undisputed success, Poltrona Frau began to turn their attention to the world of luxury travel and contract interiors. Globalisation had created the excitement of a world in motion, and lovers of luxury were keen to experience the magic of fine Italian design. For sports car fanatics, their first contact with Frau came when the company began upholstering Ferraris, catapulting the iconic car to a new level of style. From there, it was international airports and auditoriums, each of which received a striking new look thanks to the leathers of Poltrona Frau.

Colour System Leather

For the colour

Heritage Leather

For the culture

Nest Leather

For the texture

Saddle Extra Leather

For the structure

Soul Leather

For the future

It was also an exciting time for Poltrona Frau‘s world-renowned Research & Development department. In 1984, architect-cum-chromatologist Paola Minoli created the Pelle Frau® Colour System, encompassing 96 shades that would enable a whole new colour vocabulary. Revered for its rich feel, the special dying process found a way to increase the softness of the leather while preserving its natural charm and idiosyncrasies. It was a major breakthrough and in the years that followed, they focused on creating new collections of leather that would seduce every sense.


“Poltrona Frau is a story of emotion and luxury as perceptible qualities.”


The Noughties: Striking A Balance

The 2000s arrived and with it the promise of new technologies. At Poltrona Frau, it was clear that nothing could top the intelligence of the hands, but it did allow for more experimentation. Designs like the Archibald Armchair, Kennedee Sofa and GranTorini were showered with awards as the brand found a way to connect their rich heritage with striking contemporary forms. The Poltrona Frau Museum, launched in 2012, was another example of this innovative thinking. It was the first museum in the world where touching the displays was encouraged, creating a sensory pathway for visitors as they sought to discover Italy’s history as a global hub for design.

The noughties also saw Poltrona Frau beginning to map out a future in which work and play were ever-increasingly connected, with a selection of luxury designs that could be used in the dining room or home office.

Kennedee Sofa


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Archibald Armchair


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2019: Connecting Experiences

All of which brings us up to the present day.  The 2019 Poltrona Frau collection is more concerned than ever with helping design lovers find ways of connecting different experiences — be that the shifting work/play boundaries, or the new forms of cohabitation. Through comfort, quality and style, the new collection creates a seamless living experience, in which you always feel at home.


“Poltrona Frau is a unique case, completely different from all the other Made in Italy brands, in terms of both history and heritage.” – Roberto Palomba


At Chaplins, we’re delighted to be unveiling a new Poltrona Frau studio, where you’ll find a selection of dedicated sleeping, living and dining areas. A striking blend of novelties and icons, it’s your chance to get up close and personal with the very finest in luxury Italian living. Featuring a wide range of leathers from across the Frau collection, the studio invites you to discover the style that’s right for you. This summer, why not pay us and our friendly design team a visit? Or, for a virtual tour, be sure to check out the slider below.

DISCOVER THE NEW POLTRONA FRAU STUDIO AT CHAPLINS

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