Enrico Marinelli’s personal card describes his family business. He is “President, Frilli Gallery: Sculpture and Art Studio in Florence since 1860”. His other card—the one most people don’t need to read to know who he is—reads “President, Edmond Frette Sarl”. The Frette Group deals neither in bronzes nor iron, but their world-famous bed and bath linens achieve an almost Florentine splendour. Among the very few things that Italy’s brilliant and dissipated 19th century royal family had in common with the sacred altar of St Peter’s Basilica? Both used Frette linen. Today, in an area where brands are generally seen and not heard, Frette’s name is still practically music to the ears of decor aficionados.
In Mumbai recently for the Mint Luxury Conference, Marinelli spoke to us about global luxury, a philosophy of comfort, and why you should be wary of judging sheets by thread count. Edited excerpts from an interview:
Enrico Marinelli—member of the board—Frette Group. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
What makes Frette so singular? How do you judge luxury linen versus the more basic stuff?
One difference is, obviously, the quality of the yarn and the famous—or infamous—thread count. Other than that, to some extent, it’s the finishing. You sleep on the finishing of the sheet, not on the thread count. The chemicals, the technology—there’s a lot of that and it’s highly complex.
So when non-experts choose linen, should we look at thread count, or feel?
Honestly, how you feel about it is the best metric. You touch and compare. Thread count is like sun lotion. Scientists tell me that anything above 15 SPF is nothing—above that, is just marketing. And that applies to thread count. You can buy Asian-made (not Indian!), 1,000-thread count from a store in America—one sheet for $20 (around Rs 900). I think nothing below 250 is really good. Once you reach 400-500 thread count, you’re okay. Anything beyond that—it’s more of a marketing gimmick, you know.
How does such a very European idea of luxury become a global brand?
We spend a lot of time investigating how the sleeping habits, or rather the use of the bed, is changing over time. If you think about, for example, Manhattan, where square footage is very expensive, if you have a small party in a one-bedroom studio your bedroom will be used for the party. If you have an eight-bedroom mansion in suburban America, the bedrooms are going to be locked. Now, you eat on the bed, you work on your PC, you invite friends for tea. It’s not just for sleeping and reproduction any more. Before, you put something on the bed to keep it warm; today, you have to make it stain-resistant also. But we are much too focused today on Western culture. The future is going to be a more global culture. As India becomes a major economic force, I think that the world, you know, will be a little bit more Indian. Other countries will be less Western. Our vision for India is really long term. I don’t mean we’ll come back in 10 years and see what happens. But you have to build a brand in India thinking that India will be in the world’s top three or four economies. You have to find a good partner for that—like in a good marriage.
What does that India vision entail?
India will take slightly longer than most people think. Being a democracy means it has a lot of bureaucracies. Our cultures have that in common. You also need to segment within the culture. There are Indians who have been used to luxury for generations. They’re not dissimilar from wealthy Europeans in their habits, their discernment, knowing when a brand is authentic or just a marketing gimmick. There’s a younger generation today which acquired luxury only during their own lifetimes. But this is also different from the rest of Asia. Such people still have parents who went to university; they come with a high degree of knowledge, not straight from the subsistence economy. This is very much like Europe after World War II. It takes about one generation to develop taste and understanding and appreciation.
Luxury brands now talk a lot about environmentalism. How do you balance those concerns?
Frette is obviously very careful about this. But I’m also going to say something which is politically incorrect. Less damage is done if you builda Colosseum that has lasted for 3,000 years—so far—than if you build an eco-friendly building that will last only 10 years. Personally, I am more concerned about being people-friendly, which is being sure that what you make can support poor communities and their children. But “eco-friendly”? Sometimes I think it’s an alibi for other stuff.