During the 10th edition of Downtown Design earlier this month, Italian luxury furniture maker Poltrona Frau unveiled its capsule interiors collection in collaboration with celebrated menswear designer Ozwald Boateng. The Middle East debut of the ‘Culture and Craft’ showcase combines the joyousness of African aesthetics, the spirit of British tailoring, and the artistry of Italian craftsmanship, resulting in a truly unique collection for sophisticated living. “The merging of the worlds of fashion and furniture design represents a bold and dynamic convergence of creative realms. By bringing together the sartorial elegance of Boateng's menswear design with Poltrona Frau's heritage of impeccable craftsmanship in furniture, a fresh creative language unfolds. This unique collection is not just a testament to Poltrona Frau's historical commitment to innovation and rejuvenation, but it also signifies their unwavering dedication to staying at the forefront of design,” Fahed Ghanim, CEO of Majid Al Futtaim Lifestyle, told The Kurator. “As the anchor event of Dubai Design Week, Downtown Design celebrates contemporary and high-quality design, and Majid Al Futtaim Lifestyle is proud to raise the bar for innovative design solutions with Poltrona Frau and continue to bring this unparalleled artisanal experience to Dubai,” he added. On this occasion, we caught up with designer Ozwald Boateng for an exclusive interview.
How did your collaboration with Poltrona Frau come about, and what inspired the 'Culture and Craft' collection's blend of African aesthetics, British tailoring, and Italian craftsmanship?
If you're familiar with my work and have seen any of my original images featured in the media, you might notice that I often find myself seated on a chair quite similar to the Poltrona Frau Chester. For me, furniture plays a significant role in expressing my aesthetic language. I've always had the desire to take a piece of furniture and reinvent its communication, but I could never quite find the right supplier or partner, so time passes, you forget about it you move onto other things. Then, a friend introduced me to Poltrona Frau, and it felt like a promising match, I immediately recognised their meticulous attention to detail and commitment to quality. It was clear to me that I was in good hands. We discussed where to begin, but truth be told, I had a vision since the moment I laid eyes on the Chester. it was a seamless entry point and so very much like my tailoring, It’s always about cut, quality and attention to detail and then the fabrication so that was very easy thing to deliver.
When you start a collaboration the first step is finding something which is iconic to the brand and then finding a way to translate a new language into that and then also create an interior furniture language, which does not exist within the brand, that's very unique.
The 'Culture and Craft' collection combines diverse styles. Could you explain how you brought these influences together into a cohesive collection?
I like to take traditional themes and find ways to modernize them so in terms of language, that was an easy step. Then it's this question of figuring out the right execution in terms of the levers, the right colouration, and then taking one of my designs, which I call the tribal print to emboss into leather and then it’s a question of how defined can we get it, and how defined we could get the colour palate, and so this is what we really worked hard towards. If you are going to take on a piece that is so iconic, you can’t take it so far away from the original position. The skill is to keep it completely intact but put a different perspective on it. It is the same language that I use in my design; little things that you don’t know are there, and you’ll discover them. They add a layer of detail.
As a renowned designer of colourful patterns in menswear, how did your fashion background shape your approach to designing interiors for this project?
Once you understand how something is made, then you can understand what you can do from a creative perspective, and how you can introduce your ideas. You’ve got to respect the process, it comes from my Savile Row teachings. Starting on a traditional base is always the key for me, It's about taking something traditional and finding a modern language in which to express it.
I have a cultural aesthetic, in terms of my African roots, from being born in the UK and from my experience on Savile Row. There is definitely an opportunity to express this aesthetic in furniture.
Tell us about the unique patterns you created for Poltrona Frau's pieces, such as the 'Chester' sofa and the 'Vanity Fair' chair. What inspired these patterns and how do they enhance the classic designs?
It's always been about how can I take something traditional and find creative ways to evolve it. That's why I am drawn to The Chester and The Vanity Fair; this is what I do. As a designer, it is important to have a language. When I say language, you can see it; you can tell it came from your hands, that you’re the creator. You can look immediately and know I placed my hands on them, and I think this is key; I call that a ‘creative language’. We have found ourselves a creative language, which we have expanded on the rugs. It is taking my Tribal print on the Chester, a reasonably small print and expanding it. The Vanity Fair features an embossed print as a further expanded piece. When you look, they have a relationship, but it's very different. When you have a creative language, you can play with it like this.
This marks your first venture into interior design. What challenges and opportunities did you face when transitioning from fashion to creating furniture and lifestyle accessories?
The challenging part was wanting to execute a raft of ideas that could meet Poltrona Frau's level of craftsmanship. The way they test the leather is quite incredible. The chair will last not just your lifetime but many generations to come. The material has to withstand this test, so if anything impacts that, it's an instant no. I like the idea of lasting forever, but I am like, wow! It challenges the creative process because you can’t push it through if they are unsure but at the same time that’s why I chose to partner with them, - their commitment to quality.
The 'Culture and Craft' collection is making its debut in the Middle East. Which aspects do you think will strongly appeal to the Middle Eastern audience?
I think all of it, it’s really a question of how you see your space. The homes here have big open spaces and there's a real opportunity there, especially with the Chester line, to kind of bespoke the furniture to the space that you have. It's a very bespoke experience that you're going to get, it's whatever you want it to be.
In addition to furniture, the collection includes lifestyle accessories, textiles, and scented candles. How important was it to offer a comprehensive collection that goes beyond traditional furniture?
I think if you've got a strong concept, it's important to have a complete lifestyle experience because you've already built the foundations. What sits around it is key. For me it's almost part of the language to build the other pieces. We started rugs and chairs, but of course we're going to do the cabinets, shelves, writing desks and more. In fact, we've started to prototype some of those pieces already and they're strong so I’m quite excited about them.
This collaboration combines craftsmanship, sartorial precision, and product innovation. Could you highlight the significance of merging these elements and how they contribute to the collection's appeal?
It creates a different dimension to the collection. The collection existed before, but this is giving it a new language, a new lease of life in a way. I think it will attract an interesting and diverse audience, as well as Poltrona Frau’s existing clientele.