Frette Boosting Retail Presence

James Mammarella, March 10, 2008

With its space nearly doubled to 1,200 square feet, the Frette shop-in-shop on the third floor of ABC Carpet and Home here permits the full flowering of the luxury brand's lifestyle statement in a lush retail environment.

"We really can now showcase the entire world of Frette, beyond just bed linens," Frette ceo Paul Raffin told HTT, pointing to such expanded elements as "our cashmere category, a really significant part" of the program, along with a completely filled-out bath assortment.

Raffin noted that, when Frette customers are invited by a full merchandising boutique to buy across the bed and bath categories, there is a marked multiplier effect — the average purchase size can increase by as much as five times. "That's coming from something as simple as being in-stock on basic towels," he said. It is also coming from Frette's much-admired collection of cashmere blankets and throws, and its line of "Frette to Wear" robes, sleepwear and nightgowns in choices of cotton, silk or cashmere.

Raffin joined the company as ceo of Frette North America in January 2007, following a string of executive posts at Limited Brands, J. Crew, and Colours by Alexander Julian. He was recently promoted to Frette Global Group ceo, and is making his mark by carefully but energetically directing the supply chain modernization that will open up the potential for a much broader retail presence for the brand, first in the United States and ultimately to Asian retail markets as well. Frette's only Asia locations currently are four Lane Crawford stores in Hong Kong, he said, and there is a Takashimaya boutique in Singapore.

Raffin emphasizes that Frette is not going to change its stripes.

"We are an artisan-based, luxury linens producer," he said of the Milan-based supplier. "We deal with family-run operations in Italy, some of them going back to 19th century."

There are no plans to alter the beauty or quality of the product — but moving the company steadily toward a more consistent in-stock position, and offering retailers some core products that are not obsolesced with each new season, are two ways to satisfy potential U.S. retail partners. European boutique operators and even department stores such as Harrods, Raffin pointed out, are less tied to such modern efficiency standards when dealing with a brand like Frette.

In the United States, Frette is now offered to shoppers in 10 boutique stores, he said; an 11th will open this summer in the under-construction Mandarin Oriental hotel in Boston. Besides ABC, there are no other retailers currently offering the brand here — however, the footprint is broadened through its presence in a range of high end hotels, including dozens of locations of the Ritz-Carlton, Hotel Intercontinental, and Peninsula, among others.

Raffin pointed to a future for other types of partners besides retailers, noting, "We are now investigating spa and the world of personal fragrance." These are "horizon opportunities" for now, he said, adding that to date, Frette sources every product it offers. That is subject to change as such lifestyle categories are considered.

In the meantime, design direction has been receiving the fresh attention of creative director Scott Formby, who joined Frette last year from executive design roles at Lucky Brand and J. Crew.

Raffin said Formby is an excellent choice "to protect the carriage trade and attract the new urban loft dweller," in other words, to help the Frette product line "speak in a relevant way" to new types of consumers while keeping the brand's loyalists happy as well.

The most recent key appointment is the hiring of former Donna Karan vp of finance and operations Sal Rianna this month as coo of Frette U.S. "His vast knowledge of operations and finance combined with his experience at one of the world's leading luxury conglomerates will make Sal a great asset to Frette," Raffin said.

As the company tests new retail concepts and gathers information on the reception of such lifestyle category additions as candles and slippers, it is clear that change, though welcome and desired, will not ruffle the smooth progress of Frette's 148th year of operations.

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