Last week, I attended a fantastic cocktail party at the home and office of San Francisco-based designer Ken Fulk (right), hosted by Ronda Carman of All the Best, to celebrate SFERRA's 120th anniversary. The luxury linen brand was founded in 1891 by Gennaro Sferra when he first opened his linens factory in Venice, Italy. In 1977, it was purchased by CEO Paul Hooker (left), then a young 20-something, and has grown to include an extensive collection of fine linens for the bedroom, bathroom, and tabletop and become one of the most respected names in the arena of luxury textiles.
When Gennaro launched the company, his focus was intricate handmade laces and embroideries. As you can imagine, a lot has changed since then, so I was eager to learn more about the progression of the brand and where it's headed next. Luckily, Hooker gladly obliged to do a little interview with me. Read our conversation below!
CasaSugar: You bought SFERRA in the '70s, and it's since become one of the finest linen brands. How has the market for luxury bedding changed since then?
Paul Hooker: When I bought the business in 1977, there was no such thing really as "luxury bedding." SFERRA offered no bedding at all in our collection. We made tablecloths and napkins, mostly handmade lace from Italy. The changes in both have been dramatic. Today, it’s all about luxury bedding, and fewer and fewer people over the years have been having traditional dinners with lace tablecloths, so the change has been dynamic indeed.
CS: What growing trends do you see in the world of luxury linens?
PH: The buying trend today among the affluent consumer is one word: VALUE. She is not overly impressed with labels, to the contrary, she wants to know why she is being asked to pay a premium price for what is being touted to her as "luxury." What makes it so special? What is it made of? Will it last? She will pay for quality, no doubt, and she still aspires to owning luxury products, but today, she needs to be shown the reason for "paying up" for luxury. The importer and the retailer who doesn’t have those answers may not be around long enough to find them.
CS: What are your most successful products?
PH: Our customer loves the color and design, but she generally selects the "basics." She knows that she is spending one third of her entire life in bed, and combining the wonderful experience of a great mattress and luxurious sheets makes it all so wonderful. She wants to be pampered in bed, feeling the very finest cotton in the world next to her, to give her the ultimate sleeping experience. So, when it comes right down to it . . . "Would you like Percale or Sateen, white or ivory?” It’s quite simple what she wants, so we strive to give her several choices of the finest "basics" in the world.
Click to read the rest of our interview!
CS: You recently introduced gorgeous capsule collections with designers like Kelly Wearstler and Peter Som [Note: Nick and Nora-style models lounged in Peter Som linens at the event]. Do you expect to continue these partnerships? Any other designer collections in the works?
We love Kelly and Peter, for they are so uniquely talented in their own personal styles. They bring a design element to SFERRA that we do not have in our collection. Kelly with her dramatic jacquard and embroidered designs in rich colors, and Peter with his flair for colorful, fun prints. We plan to focus more on the SFERRA brand rather than license programs going forward, for we feel we have so much to offer our customer in our own brand and collections.
CS: In November, you announced a licensing agreement with Ralph Lauren Home to produce bed and bath linens for hotels, resorts, and spas. Is this your first foray into the hospitality market? How is that progressing?
PH: Actually, we started our five-star hospitality collection three years ago, so it seemed only natural to extend to that arena the understated sophistication of Ralph Lauren. The collection was well received at the Hospitality show in New York in November, but the hospitality industry is just now getting up from the doldrums of the recession. We see good things ahead in this program, not just in hospitality, but for Ralph Lauren Home linen . . . for the home, which was recently introduced at the NY Gift show in February.
CS: What can we expect from SFERRA in the next 120 years?
PH: Our customers will know that they will always be able to expect the very best linens that are available from anywhere in the world. We are working on developing even better, finer cotton yarns with our partners in Italy, never satisfied with what we have created. Our collection is so fine today that moving forward, there may be subtle degrees of improvements to our quality, but our discerning customer knows it, and appreciates it. We’ll continue the worldwide relentless pursuit of luxury linens for the home.
Photograpy by Drew Altizer