Expert in the leather business, Franco di Fonzo shares more about Frag’s legacy and the future of the furniture industry.

Franco di Fonzo, CEO of Frag.

In town to witness the fun and unique interpretations of one of Frag’s leather seats — Ele — redesigned by eight Singapore design and architectural practices, we caught up with Franco di Fonzo, CEO and third-generation of Italian family business Frag, to find out more about leather-making and his views on furniture design.

My Reading Room

The design of Frag’s Ele chair is inspired by the sinuous shape of a woman.

HOW DID FRAG BEGIN WORKING WITH LEATHER?

My great grandfather was in the business of buying and reselling of leather. During the 1920s in Italy, there were many shoemakers, but there weren’t agents who sold or distribute leather. He saw the opportunity and after distributing leather to shoemakers, he started making belts and wallets, before moving on to fashion items like jackets and dresses.

Then, 40 years ago, we started producing leather chairs. As the business grew, we began producing our own collection and introduced them into the market. Now, we have a complete catalogue. The craftsmanship of leather is so difficult, precise and specialised that only few companies can master the art. In fact, there is no other company in the world aside from Frag, which makes their entire furniture collection out of just leather.

My Reading Room

Michele di Fonzo, designer of Frag’s Ele chair.

WITH FRAG AS A FAMILY BUSINESS, HOW HAS THE TRANSITION OF HANDING DOWN THE BUSINESS TO THE NEXT GENERATION BEEN?

The dimensions are changing. When my father was handing the business over to me, there were only about four to five employees, so things were easier to manage. Now we have 42 employees, and as such there needs to be more attention dedicated to various parts of the business. 

Both my son and daughter are involved in the company now. My daughter Federica manages the marketing department, while my son Michele designs — he is the designer of the Ele chair. I hope that in the next couple of years, I can pass on all my knowledge and they will be able to fully take over.

My Reading Room

Local design and architecture practices’ unique takes on the Ele Chair, including (from clockwise) The Impossible Chair by Super Fat Designs; Barbaro by Atelier Ikebuchi; Chop Chop Chair by Parenthesis Studio; and #17 by Studio Wills + Architect.

THE CRAFTSMANSHIP OF LEATHER IS SO DIFFICULT, PRECISE AND SPECIALISED THAT ONLY FEW COMPANIES CAN MASTER THE ART.

HAVING COLLABORATED WITH LOCAL DESIGN AND ARCHITECTURE FIRMS, WHAT SENTIMENTS DO YOU HAVE ABOUT DESIGN IN THIS REGION?

It’s the first time we are collaborating with Singapore designers and architects.

I found that in Singapore, industry players are very well informed and knowledgeable; people understand the value of good quality and design. This should not be taken for granted, and I think Singapore will grow very quickly in the design industry within the region.

My Reading Room

Franco’s favourite piece in Frag’s collection is the Lyo chair.

WHICH IS YOUR FAVOURITE PIECE IN FRAG’S COLLECTION?

It has to be the Lyo chair, which I have in my office. We spent approximately six months to a year to arrive from the prototype to the final product. The cut in the middle of the backrest seems very easy to execute, but it was a challenge to perfect because you have to be extremely precise during the manufacturing process. The result is such an elegant chair — I love it.

Frag’s collection is available at P5 Studio, 213 Henderson Road.