Leather is everywhereThere is much nubuk and vegetable tanning among the new furnishing proposals, a sector that holds despite the criticalities thanks to the appeal of design
Milan’s Design Week has just ended with the usual triumphal tones. The Salone del Mobile and the Fuorisalone events were literally assaulted by hordes of operators and enthusiasts again this year. The furniture fair alone registered more than 380 thousand visitors and a double-digit increase. Data tells us that the high number of visitors is due to presences from Asia, with China in the lead, but also to the return of Russia, a sign of interest in the steadily growing Italian furniture sector. Also the presence of Germany and France was good, plus the surprise Brazil, which returns to the top ten and which, together with the USA, bodes well for the whole sector.
As for the use of leather in the furniture sector, we can say without fear of contradiction that at the Design Week 2019 you could really see a lot of leather, certainly more than in the past. Thanks both to the low raw hides costs that decrease the price gap with quality fabrics, and to the comfortable luxury appeal that the material brings with it, this year the leather has been seen everywhere inside the stands and the showrooms of the major brands. And not just for seating systems or headboards but also, more and more often, as coverings for tables, bedside tables, cabinet interiors. As for the aspects, the nabuk is back at the top while the designer’s predilection is confirmed for the natural and imperfect effects of vegetable tanning proposed throughout the brownish colour range with mustard, orange and blue hues. A very topical subject is also braided leather, which has been seen on any surface.
As for general trends, the experts point out that the 2019 design productions place us in front of two opposing assumptions: on the one hand persists an idea of comfort and luxury, often mediated by the 1950s. On the other hand, is clearly outlined a new value attributed to imperfection and to all craft processes (craftsmanship is undoubtedly one of the most cited words of all). And in this context leather can play a role of absolute protagonist, something that bodes well for the future of the sector. A single dimension seems to unite the two trends, that is the use of gold. All nuances of the precious metal are allowed: from the aged brass to the more decisive sparkle, from the leaf spread by hand to paintings for car bodies, the important thing is that you talk about gold.
As for some years now, the excavation process within the archives of the great furnishing houses in search of historical pieces continues its course as an absolutely dominant trend. The most important brands have proposed re-editions of historical pieces, from the leather armchair par excellence of Poltrona Frau, which has been revised in size and ergonomics, to the famous shapeless “Sacco” by Zanotta which is turning 50 this year.
It should be noted that, if the size of the interior furnishings does not appear to be in strong growth, the outdoor sector is undoubtedly on a roll. Leading companies in the production of upholstery, such as Flexform, now offer entire outdoor collections. Another issue that is increasingly being discussed in this sector is that of sustainability which seems destined to be the driver of the coming years.
Positive trend for Italian furniture
In 2018 the total production of the Italian furniture wood supply chain amounted to 42.6 billion euro, equal to an encouraging +1.8% on the previous year. The slowdown of the Italian economy that is bringing estimations on the GDP towards zero has therefore not stopped the recovery of the sector started in 2015 and continued in the following two years, although uncertainties about the future, above all beyond the Italian borders, worry Italian companies of the wooden furniture sector.
The furnishing system shows a +2% in terms of production turnover, reaching around 16.4 billion euro. The 51% of production is destined for export: France and the USA are top destinations, having exceeded Germany and scored +9.6% compared to 2017. Positive signs come also from the national market (+1.8% for the domestic market) where the large-scale retail trade is growing which, in addition to a significant portion of Italian production, also carries a large part of imported goods (import +5%).
China, which in 2017 was the most dynamic market for Italian exports with a steady double-digit growth, “calmed down” in 2018 while maintaining the seventh place among the markets of the wood supply chain and second place (behind the USA) considering non-EU countries. As far as the furnishing system is concerned, the Asian giant is in fifth position with a growth of 4.6%.
It’s still the “mature” markets that are absorbing the prevailing share of the products of the wood supply chain: about a fifth of the exported goods are destined for France (first market with about 2.5 billion euro) and Germany (second with over 1.8 billion euro); followed by the United Kingdom (fourth position in downturn), Spain (up to sixth position). The USA, the first non-EU market, is in third place with almost 1.5 billion euro, an increase of 6.2%, Switzerland (fifth) and China (seventh) are further behind.
Russia is still penalised by the sanctions that make it difficult to maintain stable relationships: in the course of 2018 the performance of our exports underwent continuous fluctuations up to a total of -3.1%.
The USA is the main furniture importer in the world and Italy is in first place among the European furnishing suppliers. The policies of the Trump administration towards international trade and the threat of a systematic adoption of protectionist measures will surely influence the trend of sales in the US market (but also towards those countries which today base their economy mainly on trades with the USA); however, a positive factor could be represented by the expansive fiscal policy that would lead to an increase in US consumption.