As you walk through the old streets of Monza, the Frette name and brand remain an integral and recognisable part of this storied city. The company's HQ might have moved into the industrial zone, on the outskirts, but the original building, where this Italian story began in 1860 for this world renowned linen and home accessories manufacturer, is still there. Monza has always been the company's launchpad, initially for Milan, then for royal residences across Europe and ultimately across the Atlantic, becoming a standard bearer of elegance, luxury and Made in Italy.
The firm's history is truly iconic. It was actually all begun in France, in Grenoble, by the textile entrepreneur Edmond Frette. But, he immediately moved to Lombardy, setting up production, finding new partners to bolster the financial structure and creating cutting-edge factories for the age. New concept looms were installed to create new types of fabric. Such was the success of this approach it only took a few years for the company to build up a client list that included some of the most prestigious hotels across the Old Continent, leading shipping firms and railway companies. Travellers on the Orient Express enjoyed the company's linen, as did passengers on Flotta Lauro and Lloyd ships. Frette was even the exclusive supplier to the Savoy royal house, and to numerous other noble houses.
Opening the first stores in Monza and then Milan marked another revolution in the fashion world of that age. Frette became one of the first brands globally to produce loungewear, which was designed specifically to be worn only at home, never outside the house. Such was the success of this line that it remains an important part of the firm's boutique catalogue to this day. Throughout its 160 year history, a passion for research and innovation has always driven the firm forward, seeking new materials and production innovations that, even today, make the company's products distinguishable both to the eye and the hand. This also explains why the most exclusive hotels, the most luxurious yachts and famed temples of taste - Harrods, Primtemps, Bloomingdale's and Rinascente - favour Frette garments.
For a brand such as Frette, the current challenge is to broaden its client base, taking its products to ever more people. The company's current clients are perfectly aware of the quality this brand guarantees, but it has become necessary to diversify the distribution and sales channels to reach new parts of the planet and people who might not be familiar with the brand's history. Developing the e-commerce side of the business is central to such targets, but at the same time this has to be balanced against the need to ensure the buying experience remains something more than simply purchasing linen. Going into one of the 100 Frette boutiques literally means touching the type of fabric that will embrace our skin when we slip into bed, get out of the bath or lie in the sun on board a boat.
The 2019 multi-year business plan focused on this digital shift and included the creation of a virtual showroom that was conceived specifically to recreate as faithfully as possible the in-store shopping experience. This is a decisive step that has to be premised on maintaining Frette's widely recognised status as an ambassador of luxury. This was the rationale behind the decision to find two new partners to help the firm on this new pathway - a decision that echoes the choice made by Edmond Frette to partner with Giuseppe Maggi and Carlo Antonietti, who became pillars of the company and central to the major quality leap forward the company took. The two partners are Solution Bank and illimity Bank, who have combined to provide €12 million in funding that will underwrite the changes over the next six years.
Yet, this is not merely banks disbursing money, but banks helping a symbol of Made in Italy move into the digital future by providing technical and strategic advisory services to help with the roll out of the business plan for renewed growth. The ultimate goal is to make the company remain competitive in a market that increasingly favours quantity over quality. There are 160 years of history and success to build on, perhaps to create another 160 years of innovation and firsts, thus matching the story of this Italian company so far.