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The key to maintaining design identity when based abroad

The UAE is the Middle East’s home of international interior design: it’s depth of furniture, furnishing and product manufacturers have found a business hub here having arrived from around the world.

For many, their stay in the region stretches to close to half a century. Yet – with what appears to be a degree of consummate ease – the cultural heritage and individual design trademarks of the products that first allowed these firms to expand internationally remain as true to their own origin and local influence as ever before.

So how, when continents away from the birth place of these design styles, do these firms manage to stay so true to their design traits?

We spoke to Samer Al Isis, CEO of Italian luxury powerhouse the Poltrona Frau Group ME.

Pictured: Samer Al Isis, CEO of the Poltrona Frau Group ME

  • Talk us through Poltrona Frau’s backstory and how the firm came to operate in Dubai

“Our story goes back to 1912 with the foundation of Poltrona Frau, followed by the creation of Cassina in 1927, and Cappellini in 1946. The year 2005 saw the creation of the Poltrona Frau Group, the leading international group in the high-end furniture sector that comprises all three brands.

“Attracted by the appreciation of luxury and exclusivity, Poltrona Frau Group set its eyes towards the United Arab Emirates to bestow interiors of distinction where lavish lifestyle, development, and vision arise. In 2006, we opened our first UAE store next to Clock Tower in Dubai, followed by a showroom on Abu Dhabi’s Corniche in 2007.

“What Dubai offers today is inspiration, no less than any other design capital in the world: London to Tokyo, Milan to Paris to Sao Paolo. Choosing Jumeirah Road for our showroom reflects our conviction that Dubai will continue to be the regional trading platform for all the finer things in life.”

  • How does the group work today and what is your design ethos?

“One of the major challenges the group faced at its inception was to club together the value propositions of each of the three brands, Poltrona Frau, Cassina and Cappellini, into one. Each brand has its own history, identity, character and clientele.

“In 2009, the group formalised seven key values: sense of responsibility, leadership, quality and design, focus on people, integrity, team work and innovation.

  • The brand is such a specialist in Italian luxury. What is the key to maintaining that? How do you keep that reputation so strong?

“Brands develop their quality and status attributes over many years – consistency is key. Our client will expect to buy the best product, for the right price point, at the right place, from the right people, always. And this is what Poltrona Frau, Cassina and Cappellini have been doing for the past ten years.

  • What are the defining attributes of your furniture and furnishings that help you stand out in Dubai?

“Common attributes to the three brands are: premium product design, quality, and optimal service to the client, whether a private residence owner or a corporation.

“Each brand also has its own distinctive personality: Poltrona Frau is a blend of expert craftsmanship and research, sustainability and co-design, passion and flair. Cassina’s Design First statement says it all, while Cappellini offers a platform for creative designers to experiment and impress.”

  • Being based so far from Italy, what challenges do you face in keeping the brand at the forefront of luxury Italian design? How do you overcome these?

“The key for us is originality of products. This comes after years of experience in selecting the right designers and producing premium quality products, without compromise.”

  • How easy or difficult is it to persuade buyers of different geographical backgrounds to go Italian with their décor?

“While Poltrona Frau, Cassina and Cappellini have Italy and Italian design rooted in their DNA, they cater to an international cultured and well-travelled audience. I guess our clients are reassured by the Made-in-Italy quality promise, and have become well accustomed to the Italian style of interiors. So there is no persuasion involved: style is a very personal matter.”

  • For any international, culturally-influenced brand looking to set-up abroad, what advice would you share?

“Keep the integrity of your original personality, regardless where you set up shop.”

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