The first revolution in the 1980s, with the entry of the third generation and of Piero Lissoni as art director, has been followed by the achievements of the new millennium (expansion of the production facility, new collaborations with external designers like Christophe Pillet, Jean-Marie Massaud, Front, Alessandro Mendini, Werner Aisslinger, GamFratesi, among many others). And the perspective is already advancing into the future, with the approach to new markets and an increasing accent on sustainability. This is Porro, a company that has managed to combine versatile experiences with solid, constantly growing know-how, in an architectural approach to furniture.
Is there one indispensable value behind the entire Porro philosophy?
We hear lots of talk about quality, and for use it is a dictate that guides every choice. The quality of materials, of the production process, the design, the assembly, the relationship with clients and architects. Undoubtedly quality is one of our main obsessions, across the entire Porro system, and we think this is the value of our brand that gains the most respect. Then comes the work on aesthetics: we try to make products that can enter very different homes, so beauty and design have to be combined with great flexibility. Finally, an architectural approach to furniture: not just a design piece inserted in a space, but the idea of a system, a decor that contributes to design that space.
What is your involvement with the world of contract and projects?
We are seeing an overall change in this sector: the sale of individual pieces is gradually diminishing in favor of total concepts, also for dealers. The approach is now to supply the complete design of a home. Personalization has become essential, especially on the Chinese market which has evolved greatly in recent years: the final counterpart (which means a very high client target, in our case), wants a product that is well designed, of high quality, but also unique and representative of their identity. Even in big projects and big quantities.
For us contract accounts for 10% of total turnover, both with projects on a very large scale (the latest is for two residential towers in Shenzhen, with the supply of over 500 Porro wardrobes) and with smaller ones, where personalization becomes even more important: we have produced 200 wardrobes for a project in Nanjing, where by the client’s request we had to create a wood grain effect on melamine.
You have been operating in China for over 15 years: how has your relationship to that market evolved?
When we began our adventure in China and for many years afterwards it was very hard to transmit the concept of quality and of Italian design. Only in the last 3 or 4 years have we seen a true breakthrough of awareness on the part of Chinese clients, who now look for brands with precise characteristics: design, quality, flexibility, environmental sustainability. We are now dealing with informed counterparts, with the new generations who have studied abroad, who understand the ‘culture of beauty’ in all situations, starting with the home. This is why they want to know about the company, to establish direct relations with its management. And we like this serious approach, because it means we are speaking the same language.
How are you positioned on the retail side?
We have two fully launched monobrand stores in the main Chinese cities: the first is in Shanghai, opened three years ago, and it will soon be completely refurbished; the second was opened last year in Beijing. In other cities like Changzhou, Hangzhou or Xi’an, we are operating with shop-in-shop facilities (about 400 square meters) entirely for our brand, in line with the Porro concept. Our approach is to work with local dealers, in a process of cooperation that leads to a very strong, consistent presence.
Apart from China, what are your markets of reference and where do you see new opportunities?
Porro has a very high export quota, about 75%, while the remaining product is for Italy. The most interesting markets in terms of volume and growth prospects are the United States, Canada and the Orient in general. American is a consolidated, growing market, but not at the same pace as China: we consider it a potential market where much can and should still be done.
There are other oriental countries that are bringing good results: from Hong Kong, where we have been operating for over 20 years, to Japan and Singapore, all the way to newer markets like Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam. In the latter, we were among the first to enter the scene, opening a monobrand showroom two years ago in Hanoi, and we are now opening another in Ho Chi Minh City. Also when we are making a debut on new markets, our goal is to identify a partner and to establish a long-term relationship.
The company is gearing up for…?
A program of sustainability. The new production investment focuses on flexibility and greater sustainability, so all the investments planned for the future and the research move in this direction, which has always been part of our corporate DNA (Porro was using E1 standard panels already 30 years ago, when they were not yet obligatory, and even the choice of working in natural light, in 2000, was based on this approach).
These efforts happen alongside the creative work: research on new materials – meaning new types of coatings, new types of panels and new finishes – is still our primary focus: one example is the white melamine cherry presented this year, the first such material that is able to reproduced a closed-pore wood effect. The productive flexibility we have achieved has opened up new creative paths, so with Piero Lissoni we are already working on the next Salone del Mobile in Milan, moving in an increasingly architectural and free direction.