Italy’s reputation for producing the world’s finest textiles is richly deserved. Ruairidh Pritchard picks out some of the leading names
For those in the know, one country excels when it comes to making fabric. Italian textile production, mainly focused in the north of the country and along the Amalfi coast, stretches back hundreds of years. Age-old skills and commitment to perfection have been maintained, which is why Italian textiles have become synonymous with unrivalled quality.
For example, the linen bed sheets, towels and table coverings that grace some of the world’s finest hotels and smartest private residences are crafted by a handful of highly regarded, and sometimes secretive, Italian companies.
Textiles fit for a King Frette is one of the best examples of traditional Italian linen production. Founded in 1860, the company was originally based in Grenoble, at the foot of the French Alps. After moving to Monza, an industrial town near Milan, the company was exposed to the exacting standards of Italian linen production and by the start of the 20th century it was producing some of the finest linens available.
Still based in Monza, Frette has maintained its reputation, which is largely attributed to its patented and rather secretive method of textile bleaching which, according to the company, results in the white, soft and shiny finish of its linens. Guests at the Ritz in Paris, Claridge’s in London and the Plaza in New York sleep between Frette sheets, while diners on the Venice Simplon-Orient-Express will be seated in front of the company’s table linen. Frette also supplies royal families across the globe.
Frette’s exquisite linens, as well as its range of sleepwear and interiors fabrics, can also be bought in its boutiques. This season the collection is inspired by countries and islands such as South Africa, Argentina and Bali, resulting in the use of elaborate motifs, crochet and lace in a vibrant mix of watercolour shades.
Presidential standard A similar trajectory has taken place at Sferra. The company was founded in 1891 by Gennaro Sferra, one of Venice’s most talented lace craftsmen, and its linens became popular in the early 20th century among American industrialists with discerning tastes. This success in the US led to Sferra setting up a shop on New York’s Fifth Avenue, but Gennaro Sferra always ensured he returned to Venice twice a year by steamer to create new collections of handmade lace and luxury linens.
Sferra has updated its production methods, investing in state-of-the-art technology to spin, dye and finish each yarn to precise specifications and stringent standards. Even so, the four key elements prioritised by Gennaro Sferra 120 years ago remain central: the fibres used, the weight of the fabric, the finish and, perhaps most importantly, the luxurious feel of the final piece of cloth. Sferra continues to be held in high esteem and its linens have been chosen for numerous important residences and buildings, including the White House and the Vatican.
The personal touch
Linen isn’t the only highly coveted material being produced in Italy, as acclaimed label Loro Piana can attest. For decades the brand has been manufacturing some of the world’s most sought-after fabrics and creating collections of knitwear, shirts and jackets with sumptuous linings that have become wardrobe essentials for well-dressed people around the globe.
Loro Piana also produces a range of sumptuous interiors fabrics: its cashmere is available in more than 30 shades and can be combined with coloured suede to create blankets, cushions and throws. This can be further personalised with monograms and embroidery, which some clients incorporate into décor for their jets and helicopters, while others opt to include the nautical alphabet or the name of their boat into yacht interiors.
The enduring demand for luxury Italian fabrics is almost certainly related to their unsurpassable quality and to the fact that discerning clients choose Italian textiles, with their rich history, modern execution and fine finish, above any others.