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Iconic Fabric House Turns 130 Years Old With a Young President Bringing New Energy and Innovation

Benni Frowein on the Future of Schumacher and Stealing From the Past

BY // 08.14.19

Charming. Smart. Humble. Kind. Ask anyone who’s met Schumacher’s new president Benni Frowein, and you’ll get a flurry of heartfelt responses. He is also known for his personal dash. The evening we met — during a dinner honoring Veere Grenney, the London interior designer whose fabric collection is at Schumacher — Frowein wore a pair of vibrant Turkish kilim loafers from Ocelot Market, a nod to his passion for fabrics and artisan design.

This is a man who is keenly focused, with a mission to keep the historic Schumacher textile brand, which turns 130 years old today, relevant and fresh. The 38-year-old, whose background is in international business and sales, joined Schumacher in 2016, moving from Boston to New York City.

He and creative director Dara Caponigro, a veteran of the design-publishing world, are imbuing the century-old company with energy.

“We think of ourselves as a 129-year-old startup,” Frowein says. “We’re continually pushing to challenge the status quo and drive innovation.”

Founded in Manhattan in 1889 by French immigrant Frederic Schumacher,the company remains in family hands, with five generations of involvement. Its storied history is a touchstone of American cultural zeitgeist. The wallpapers in Gone with the Wind were all Schumacher, and Jackie Kennedy papered the White House’s Blue Room walls in a Schumacher lampas weave.

The Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center debuted in 1966 with a dazzling Schumacher-designed, gold-and-bronze stage curtain inspired by Matisse’s cut-paper works; and set designer Tiffany Zappulla uses Schumacher wallpapers and fabrics on the set of House of Cards. Schumacher has long teamed with the brightest design talents to produce collections, including Elsa Schiaparelli and Dorothy Draper.

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Benni Frowein, Tiffany Zappulla on the set of House of Cards.
Benni Frowein, Tiffany Zappulla on the set of House of Cards.

A collection of Frank Lloyd Wright’s original 1955 designs for Schumacher was released last year to celebrate the architect’s 150th birthday. In January, the company launches the latest edition of Schumacher Classics, a collection based on patterns from its archives. Frowein is building on Schumacher’s legacy of collaborations with current collections by Miles Redd, Mary McDonald, Celerie Kemble, Trina Turk, Timothy Corrigan, Mark D. Sikes, and Veere Grenney.

Schumacher also remains the only company in the industry to release new wallpaper, fabric, and trim collections every month. For Frowein, the first two years have been a whirlwind.

“One thing I can say is that it’s been a wild and exciting ride so far with Schumacher — probably the best in my life,” he tells PaperCity. 

While he was in Dallas to celebrate Schumacher’s collaboration with Grenney, we caught up with Frowein for a little design chat. 

The real deal.

Frowein: We’re super-excited about our new Indie series: collaborations with the most talented, visionary, and fresh independent artists around the world. We give them a stage for their gorgeous creations and expose them to a new market. Our mandate is to protect and fight for real art, craftsmanship and authenticity.

Past perfect.

I actually steal a lot of ideas from things that Schumacher did decades ago. But part of being innovative and forward thinking is recognizing things from the past that actually worked, and making room for them as you bound forward.

Life on the inside.

I moved to New York City to work at Schumacher, and I love it. My apartment is in a pre-war townhouse and has beautiful wood features and high ceilings. I just reupholstered a modern Zanotta sofa with Schumacher’s Montisi linen damask — it’s so chic. On my windows, I used our Parker Faux Bois fabric and built pelmets to give the living room more elegance. My bedroom is beige and yellow and very crisp. I love waking up to something so clean and bright.

Coveted finds.

I can’t stop thinking about a beautiful little 1940s Murano bowl I recently bought. It has gold leaves worked into it, and is so special. Not that I need any more dust collectors in my life, but it makes me happy when I look at it.

Off the clock.

Traveling is my favorite hobby, and I spend all my spare time doing it. This year, I went to Rajasthan in India, one of the most inspiring places I’ve been. The history, the craftsmanship, and the overall experience were breathtaking. I also recently went to the Amangiri in Utah — spectacular! I’ll be spending the holidays this year in the quaint village of Kitzbühel, Austria.

I have backpacked through Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan, and traveled solo along the coast of Brazil. Staying with locals in the countryside of Myanmar was one of the most thought-provoking, reflective trips I’ve taken. You don’t really feel, smell, and experience a culture out of an air-conditioned minivan.

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