From fashion to architecture and design, Italy has nurtured some of the world’s most esteemed masters of their craft. This comes as no surprise, given the number of distinguished artists, fashion designers, architects, and industrial designers who call Italy home. Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, painted in the early 1500s, is still perhaps the most visited artwork in the world. Miuccia Prada, Gianni Versace, and Giorgio Armani built fashion empires in the 1970s—Salvatore Ferragamo in 1928—that continue to be prized across the globe.
While Italian furniture design may often be overshadowed by the grandeur of Italian high fashion and architecture, it is also guided by similar traditions and philosophies that have made Italian design so distinct.
“An important aspect of Italian design is its attention to detail,” says Meagan Ong of MOs Design, the distributor of Natuzzi Italia in the Philippines. “A lot of the dynamic interplay and sensuality is found, explored, or balanced in the small, often-overlooked elements that make the whole piece riveting.” She adds, “This is perhaps why craftsmanship is elevated to such a high degree in Italy, and why it sits as an integral part of the design process—and the design itself.”
Here, T&C speaks to Ong on why Italian leather reigns supreme.
1. History is on its side.
Italy’s highly regarded reputation for purveying leather is backed by years of history and heritage. Its relationship with leather possibly dates all the way back to 8th century BC—to the Mycenaean Greeks, who were among the earliest colonists of the Apulia, a region in Southern Italy. They meticulously took note of the materials they used for their leather goods, from the number of hides prepared and the type of animal the skin was from, to the purpose of each hide. Since then, Italy has become the premier source of authentic high-quality leather, which is used in everything from belts and watch straps to automotive interiors and furniture.
“Italian design has this keen awareness of its rich history, and combines it with a continuous drive towards the future,” Ong says. “That strong sense of tradition is reinvented through a fearless and creative lens, and, through a rigid sense of functionality, is usually something I find ever-present in Italian design, be it in fashion, automobiles, architecture, and product and interior design.”
2. Italians treat their materials as important as their designs.
For any piece—whether it’s a purse or a chaise longue—the quality of the leather is given as much attention as its blueprint. The art of producing leather is always a focal point in the design process for many Italian labels, including Natuzzi Italia, which thoroughly selects and determines which parts of the leather are best for specific areas of each furniture piece—a tradition from its hometown of Apulia.
“This care also extends to helping clients choose the leather that will work best for their lifestyle and needs,” Ong says. “This keen attention to detail guarantees a very high—if not the highest—level of quality. The strength of the vision and design direction, and the full range of leather grain, textures, and colors, come together to make a unique experience.”
3. Even in a traditional practice, Italians have embraced technology.
Natuzzi Italia, in particular, is a company that is involved in every step of the leather manufacturing process. Ong explains, “From tanning the leather to creating the frame, and packaging, 92 percent of all the raw materials are directly by Natuzzi Italia, and at every step, there are artisans that control these. This combination of human knowledge and expertise with cutting-edge technology is remarkable.”
Ong notes that Natuzzi Italia shares in the futurist attitude towards technology and innovation by incorporating motion into its furniture design, embracing—instead of eschewing—the undeniable strengths of utilizing technology. “An example is the Natuzzi Re-vive, designed in cooperation with Formway. The only thing that powers the recliner is the sitter’s own will to lie back or turn to the side, and it will follow. No other armchair ‘moves as you move.’”
4. It’s low-maintenance but made to last.
“Another thing that makes Italian leather special is the rigor of its tanning process,” Ong says. “Natuzzi Italia, for example, has 135 manufacturing phases, with 210 quality tests on materials done both in-house and with certified external laboratories. That kind of commitment is incredible—but unsurprising when you experience sitting on a Natuzzi Italia leather sofa.”
In addition to pursuing internal diligence, the company carries out the manufacturing process in strict accordance with European environmental regulations, which are, Ong notes, among the most meticulous in the world. As such, Italian leather that has earned the requisite certifications is toxic-free, water-repellent, and resistant to wear.
5. The process of producing handcrafted Italian leather is unlike any other.
“You can make something by hand and not be concerned about the time it takes to make it, if the piece you make is of a high standard. Or you can make something quickly and cheaply, but forego the quality,” Ong says. While she acknowledges Natuzzi Italia’s support of cutting-edge production and efficient machinery, there is also great respect towards the artistry and workmanship lent by a craftsman to each piece.
“When you relax on a Natuzzi Italia sofa, chair, or bed, you can appreciate the hand of the artisan, the wisdom of the designer, the mind of the engineer, and the consistency of the technology employed to create the furniture you are enjoying.”