January 24, 2012,
Thread count: That's about the only element of sheet construction that truly has ever really mattered to the consumer. And like horsepower and bandwidth, the measurement process is much less important than the absolute truth that more is better.
But those in the trade - or at least some of those in the trade - recognize that there's more to sheet construction than picks.
So we've pulled together a handful of technological advancements in making sheets that have been among the most important over the history of the industry. And as with design and the creative arts, construction is in the eye of the beholder.
Pacific Home Fashions
1950s -- Current
Joked about "as the biggest technological advancement ever" in the industry, fitted sheets are no laughing matter to the consumer, who has come to accept nothing less for a bottom sheet. Hospital corners? Never heard of them. Pacific's place in the industry was absorbed by Wamsutta and eventually by Springs, but for the bed-making population of the world, the gratitude is eternal.
1980s -- Current
Sheets like shirts - T-shirts, that is - had been tried many times over the years, knitted rather than woven to give the hand and feel of a favorite top. But Divatex was in the right spot at the right time when "Oprah picked up a Shabby Chic set" and raved about them as only Oprah can do. Suddenly "T-shirt sheets" were hot and while they continue to ebb and flow with the times and are now offered throughout the industry, they remain the only non-woven construction that has ever secured real market share.
No supplier is identified with bringing percale to the market and indeed there is no consensus on when that happened. But the widespread acceptance of the percale construction - generally defined as any woven of 180-thread count or more - in the 1980s redefined the industry and changed the dynamics of most producers forever. "They just looked and felt so great compared to muslin."
60/40 250-Thread Count
Again, you will get many arguments on who really upped the thread count wars, but some claim this Cannon product was "one of the biggest game changers." In a marketplace where the vast majority of sheets were under 200-count, Cannon's 250 "really started the march to higher thread counts."
1000 Thread Count
One more case of multiple players in the space, but luxury supplier Sferra gets the nod for being the most successful at breaking the four-figure mark in counts. The Italian sateen was a multi-ply product, getting to the 1000 level not quite through the classic definition, but no matter. "While the number is just hype, it was a huge milestone in the industry." It set off a "runaway" thread-count war, but in doing so, eventually set the stage for a modest retreat into a marketplace where other elements of sheet constructions - fiber, finish and origin - started to come into their own.
Greatest Designer Programs
Maybe it was Gucci, maybe it was Mary Martin: No consensus exists on which was the first true designer program in bedding, but there has been no shortage of them since.
And for every Ralph or Tommy, there have been many Joe Namaths, which one observer called the "worst program of all time."
Many of the true greats are recognized in the Top Ten list itself, but not all, so it seemed only fair to recognize a handful of the most important designer programs of all time.
One of the "longest running" programs ever - 25 years - Blass products went far beyond its namesake's "men's wear" origins to encompass all manner of designs and products. Blass' reputation of not exactly being the most hands-on home designer notwithstanding, the line was a perennial seller for as long as any name in the business.
Home Innovations/Crown Craft/DWI
The home industry waited - and waited - for Calvin Klein to make the jump from jeans and underwear and when he did, it was with a "truly different" look previously unavailable in the marketplace.
The "minimalist," often monochromatic designs provided a "contemporary alternative" to the rich florals that dominated the marketplace.
Burlington/J.P. Stevens/WestPoint Stevens/Revman International
1980s - Current
For many consumers "their first entry" into fashion bedding, the Ashley line - now arguably the longest running designer program in the industry - "struck a cord" with women "who went to work in buttoned-up suit styles but wanted their homes to be feminine."
J.P. Stevens/WestPoint Stevens/WestPoint Home/Ralph Lauren
He invented the word - and the concept - "lifestyle" and has run with it ever since. Now a "multi-tiered, multi-branded" giant, Ralph Lauren is quite arguably the single best-selling designer program ever. From "sweet prints" to modern contemporary to formal florals and paisleys, the line - and don't forget the substantial solid color programs - just keeps selling.
Greatest Branded Programs
The home textiles business does not have the greatest track record for developing brands from within, but aside from the imports from fashion and elsewhere, there are several standout labels that deserve the "great" moniker.
The arbitrary parameters exclude corporate brands such as Martex or Cannon, as well as brands better identified with other home textiles products, such as Royal Velvet for towels. But in the world of sheets, a few names make the cut.
Fieldcrest/Fieldcrest Cannon/Li & Fung/Iconix
1980s - Current
At its origin, Charisma was the first super high thread count - 300 - offered by a major mill when 200 was considered the norm for luxury. "It was all about the fabric and the specs of the sheeting." And "it showed that a luxury product could be manufactured in the U.S." For years the classic pin-dot tone-on-tone Charisma was "the standard all other luxury sheets were measured against."
Some may quibble which was the first player in the hotel space - and how much influence Westin Hotels had overall - but this private label store program (the only one to crack any of these lists) clearly "created a look that wasn't there before." And "every retailer and company now has a version of this and made it a staple of their collection."
Late 1980s - Current
One could argue putting this in the construction list, but Royal Sateen is not just about wefts and warps. ‘The first fiber reactive print on sateen" was originally developed by Israeli textiles company Kitan, but when marketed in the U.S. it made sateen "THE luxury offering all the way down through the mass market."