“What is the best way to conserve tradition? Innovation.”

New products, novel collaborations, and an increasingly young, modern language. Nicola Coropulis, CEO of Poltrona Frau, talks about his idea of change

Nicola Coropulis, CEO di Poltrona Frau
Nicola Coropulis, CEO of Poltrona Frau

Born in Bari, with Greek roots (hence the surname), residing in the Marches, in his youth Nicola Coropulis – CEO of Poltrona Frau since 2019 – dreamt of a career in journalism or diplomacy. “I came into contact with design by chance,” he says, “ as happens with all the most important things in life. After studying Political Science I got to know the company Natuzzi, and although design and furniture had never been part of my mindset, since then they have become my world, and I have never wanted to get away from this context.”

Squash collection, design Faye Toogood

What fascinated – and still fascinates – you most about this field?
The international reach, the possibility of new, cutting-edge experiences. With Natuzzi I opened the first single-brand store in China back in 1999. 

In 2007 you entered Poltrona Frau: first as sales director, then as general manager, and finally as CEO.
I could have become the ambassador of a country, but today I play that role for Poltrona Frau (laughter). This company was my dream, because it has always been a reference point and a case of excellence in its sector. When I arrived I found a remarkable situation, very innovative in spite of its long history, but also with great potential that had not yet been explored.

Games Collection

Last year, this potential led to an increase of +5% in profits over 2022, which was also a record year. What’s the secret?
In the post-Covid years, especially 2021 and 2022, our entire industry benefitted from a new focus on the home on the part of consumers. All around the world, people have critically reassessed their homes and their furnishings, with the desire to create a pleasant, comfortable environment that would also be functional and hybrid, ready to meet any needs, including the need for remote work. Thanks to our experience, we have capitalized on this euphoria.

What about 2023? The bubble of residential business was already settling down in 2022, after the outbreak of war in the Ukraine, rising costs and inflation. At that point, we were able to compensate with income from the contract market, a sector that had been blocked during the pandemic but then generated major opportunities, both for airports – together with Foster + Partners, for example, we have launched a new line of seating for waiting areas, the Bay System – and for the field of hospitality, in auditoriums and/or conference rooms, etc. We think this positive wave will continue through 2024 and beyond, though we are concerned about the crisis in the Middle East and the repercussions it may have in the area of the Persian Gulf and Saudi Arabia.

Bay Gate seating system, design Foster + Partners
Bay Gate seating system, design Foster + Partners

For some time now Poltrona Frau has not been making only armchairs (poltrone) and other seating: have you ever considered a name change?
For 112 years, Poltrona Frau has been a strong, solid brand, and it is now going through a moment of exceptional success. It is true that we are expanding a lot, and today we produce more and more objects and accessories, which also represent range extensions with which to reach new clients, especially young ones. The fil rouge of these objects is passion: the love of animals (pet furniture), of play (games collection) and fitness, but also dining and personal devices. Objects that perhaps do not cost much, but allow us to spread the word about Poltrona Frau.

And to make the brand a bit less “severe” perhaps?
Already when I entered Poltrona Frau, the company had a fantastic, recognizable identity, in terms of stature and uniqueness, but maybe it was also seen as a bit stodgy. I have tried to renew the image, conserving the bond with the tradition and the company’s roots, while applying a more contemporary language, which has always been a distinctive signature of Poltrona Frau. The response from clients has been excellent, indicating that the best way to conserve tradition is to innovate.

Games Collection
Games Collection

Do your most recent collaborations also fit into this approach? I’m thinking about designers like Draga&Aurel, Faye Toogood…
Of course, although all the interactions we organize have to be consistent with our history and therefore able to stimulate a different interpretation of an object from our tradition. 

Like the Vanity Fair armchair reinterpreted with graphics by Fornasetti?
Most of our collaborations involve iconic objects that people would recognize in any case, like the Vanity Fair model which is now 94 years old. With this chair, an Italian master like Fornasetti has attempted to establish an ideal bond, connecting different historical moments and styles that had previously never been associated. In his lifetime, Piero Fornasetti never worked with Poltrona Frau: I am pleased that we have managed to make this happen today, working with his son Barnaba.

Parka modular sofa, design Draga&Aurel

Poltrona Frau is above all a synonym for the quality of materials, with a focus on leather. How can this be reconciled with the greater focus on eco-sustainability demanded by the market today?
I like to say that Poltrona Frau has been sustainable since 1912, when the company was born, because it has always set out to create products that last across a time span longer than the lives of their owners themselves. Today we pay closer attention, working only with tanning firms that are the epitome of sustainability. Two years ago, for example, we launched Pelle Frau® Impact Less, which has the lowest possible level of environmental impact, because it requires no chromium or other heavy materials, in a process that reutilizes all the water in the production cycle.

But the leather is always real, isn’t it?
Yes, although the material used in furniture and footwear is simply the scrap left behind by the food industry. Which in this way is not discarded in waste to energy plants. Moreover, we finance a project of compensation for reforestation, and above all we are a company that manufactures 95% of its products within a radius of 35km at most from the headquarters in Tolentino (MC). So we are talking about an operation that has very limited logistical impact, almost zero-kilometer.

Fitness Collection