Sardinian-born designer-entrepreneur Lorenzo “Renzo” Frau (1881-1926) founded the enduring Italian furniture brand Poltrona Frau in Turin in 1912. In these early years of the 20th century, Turin was home to an energetic community of vanguard artists, architects, and designers aligned with the Art Nouveau and Arts & Crafts movements popular in London and Paris. Within this milieu, Frau set out to create an artisanal atelier specialized in high-end, leather-upholstered furnishings inspired by the classic, British Chesterfield Sofa. This influence later manifested in a number of top-selling designs in the Art Deco style.
Frau’s wife, Savina Pisati, played an increasingly important role in directing the company during World War I and after. Under her leadership, Poltrona Frau earned an international reputation for excellent quality and sophisticated silhouettes, and, by the midcentury, could be found in aristocratic homes, luxury ocean liners, and parliamentary meeting rooms around the world. Early successful designs for Poltrona Frau included the 1919 Armchair (also called the 128) from the titular year and the Vanity Fair Armchair (also called the 904) from 1930, both still in production today. In 1941, Pisati passed the baton to her son-in-law, Roberto Canziani, who in 1962, under pressure of bankruptcy, sold the company to luxury leather goods magnate and design lover, Franco Moschini of Nazareno Gabrielli Group.
Through the second half of the 20th century and beyond, Poltrona Frau continued to grow and thrive, finding great success especially with armchairs by Tito Agnoli, Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni, Gio Ponti, Michele de Lucchi, Sergio Mazza, Enzo Mari, Massimo & Lella Vignelli, and Marco Zanuso. The company also developed a new business division dedicated to the automotive sector, outfitting luxury cars for brands like Ferrari, Maserati, and Lancia.
The Poltrona Frau Group remains one of the most prestigious design companies in the world, providing an umbrella for a number of other design brands, including Gebrüder Thonet Vienna, Cappellini, Cassina, Alias, Nemo Lighting, Ceramica Flaminia, and Fish Design. In 2014, US-based Haworth Group purchased a controlling interest in Poltrona Frau.
* All images courtesy of Poltrona Frau