Interview: Frette CEO Hervé Martin on Chinese Millennials and an Untapped Desire for Designer Bedding

    At the launch of their flagship Shanghai store, the Frette CEO discusses social media and brand identity in a comparatively younger market for home goods.
    Frette finds that its Chinese market tends to be younger than its American counterparts. (Courtesy Photo)
    Tamsin SmithAuthor
      Published   in Fashion

    The growth of the luxury interior design industry has been gaining speed in China over the past few years, with more and more brands choosing to turn their attention eastward in an attempt to tap into a previously underdeveloped market. Luxury Italian linen company Frette is one such brand, and on March 9, opened its flagship China store in Shanghai’s high-end Plaza 66.

    As a company that was founded in Monza, Italy in 1860, it’s been a long period of consideration before choosing to take the leap into the Chinese market. The brand specializes in luxury home furnishings, including bedding and towels, and already provides linen to many of the world’s top hotels, including the Four Seasons, The Ritz London, The Peninsula Hong Kong, and Raffles Hotel Singapore. With nine retail locations in the USA and already 25 across Asia, it seems fitting that the forward-thinking brand would choose to redefine once more, and embrace the previously untapped Chinese market.

    CEO Hervé Martin spoke to Jing Daily at the launch of the company’s flagship store in China. He shared with us his thoughts on promoting a historical, yet contemporary brand to an entirely new and markedly younger market within China.

    Italian luxury linen company Frette opened its Shanghai flagship store in Plaza 66. (Courtesy Photo).
    Italian luxury linen company Frette opened its Shanghai flagship store in Plaza 66. (Courtesy Photo).

    Given the long history of the company, why are you now turning your attention to the Chinese market?#

    We are looking to expand our footprint in the international market. We want to develop this market, but do it in a way that remains true to our own brand and beliefs. Frette is a developed brand in many countries, with our biggest market being firstly North America, followed by Europe. Despite the other locations we have in Asia, our Asian market remains significantly underdeveloped by comparison. We’ve opened flagships in Taiwan and Hong Kong, but have really only just started with in Southeast Asia. Until now, we haven’t been present at all in China and Japan.

    In my eyes, China is the place of the moment and will play a major role in the coming decades—not just in the luxury business industries, but in all industries. China is at the forefront of world evolution. Now is the right time to build up here. There is also starting to be a real interest for interior design in China. I remember the first time I visited apartments here maybe six or seven years ago, and there seemed to be the beginnings of a true appetite for interior design. As a global company, we can’t miss the boat in China—we have to jump on board. We have to consider everything we can to follow the interest of the customers here.

    Why has Shanghai been chosen as the location for the flagship store?#

    To me, it seemed to be an obvious choice to start in Shanghai. Our objective is not to immediately open many stores in many cities, but to slowly and carefully introduce our products to a new market in a way in which we feel is true to the heart of the brand. It seemed clear we needed to start in Shanghai for many reasons: There are historical reasons in that the city has a great sense of architecture and it’s the city of luxury and fashion. The city has this deep sense of history, but also of beauty, style, leading trends and modernity. In all of our projects across the globe, we aim to establish ourselves in locations that are relevant for defining style and modernity, from the beginning of the 20th century to today. It was therefore natural for us to choose Shanghai for our Chinese flagship store. Like Shanghai, we aim to be as strong and visible as possible.

    After Shanghai, do you have any plans for expansion elsewhere in China?#

    After Shanghai we expect there will be a surge of interest to open in Beijing. We want our development to remain focused, and with the huge potential market in China, we have to remain aware that the clients will not be the same everywhere, and the maturity of luxury interior design in different cities can vary greatly.

    Our mid-term goals would hopefully see Frette opening in perhaps three other cities across China—Chengdu, Guangzhou, and Shenzhen. To be able to open in these places, communicating with people properly would be of the upmost importance. We’d have to educate the potential clients and only when we have achieved this can we go to the next step with opening stores. Luxury brands in China can have a tendency to go too fast and rapidly backfire, overexposing the brand very quickly and attempting to reach people and cities that would take far more time to achieve. We have long term plans to open up across China, but we are aware of where the development of the luxury interior design industry stands now, and that it is just starting to open up in the biggest cities across the country.

    How important is it to consider the specific profile of the potential Chinese consumer?#

    In China, more than anywhere else, you find a proportionally high percentage of young consumers with real purchasing power. With this emerging and growing market, there comes a growing number of potential clients. It is a really exciting, untapped market.

    Elsewhere in America and Europe, we generally find that consumers in their twenties are more interested in pleasing themselves in the present, and they’re more likely to purchase luxury accessories or technology. Consumers in their late twenties and thirties we find start to spend money on luxury fashion—a slightly more demanding spend. But to think about your home, you need to firstly be at home, and be in a place in your life in which you’re willing and able to invest in something that defines you. In America and Europe, we find this willingness and financial ability to invest in the home comes later, with the majority of clients in their mid-forties and above. In China, it seems that, as with everything, things move faster and the wealth and interest to purchase are acquired far younger.

    With many international luxury designers choosing to promote China-inspired products to the Chinese consumer, have your designs been selected to reflect the identity of the market?#

    China is very much influenced by the Anglo-Saxon world, with the impact of American TV and culture. However, mixed in with that is Chinese culture and the desire of the Chinese people to express and develop designs from their own origins. The development of any luxury brand has always been an encounter between the birthplace of the brand, the brand as a global company, and the culture of the client.

    Luxury brands have the obligation to cross their own values with those of the consumers. We have to consider the world in which we’re selling the products and what is right for this specific market. In this case, it’s very important we find the intersection between the root of our brand and Chinese culture. We don’t want to create products to please Chinese taste because we want to maintain Frette’s own identity, but we have to understand the experience we are selling to the client and ensure that this is right for the Chinese consumer. With our designs here, the younger, opulent crowd is not interested in heavy materials and dark designs. They want fresh, light colors and designs that can carry them away to peaceful and playful places.

    Have you found it necessary to educate the consumer on the importance of luxury products like linen? Have you found the Chinese market open to this concept?#

    Education of any market is of crucial importance when introducing a new brand. There is a vital need to communicate with and educate the consumer, but this doesn’t happen overnight—it definitely takes time. We want to educate the Chinese consumer on the importance of quality beds and linen in the home, with educational programs for both our teams and the clients. In my opinion, beds are like a good wine—it takes a combination of lots of amazing ingredients to create a good bed. We want to develop videos showing how these beds are designed and manufactured, how we make the beds and also how the beds can be made in the home.

    Looking forward, we have an exciting new plan in which we hope to involve social media as a good way to connect with our new, young Chinese market in a segmented way. This would be a simple way to send messages and explain the beauty and quality behind what we are doing. In China, everything is so specific. With social media, for example, we need to figure out how we can truly reach the people here. This multi-dimensional program would certainly take a few years, but when it works it will be very powerful.

    To a market that has little knowledge of the brand, how would you like the Chinese consumer to perceive Frette?#

    In order to be a luxury brand, a brand must first define itself and its values and identity. To me, it is very important that this happens independent of the clients or the current market—independent of what the consumers may like or not like. At Frette, we have redefined our brand identity around the color blue, which can be seen on our bags, logos, and designs. It’s a fresh blue, reminiscent of the sky and sea in our home in Italy. We wanted the color to be sharp, not comfortable and forgettable.

    Frette at its core is about this mix of history, escapism, and contemporariness. The history of the quality and tactility of the linen and the experience of sleeping with particular sheets needs to be central in our identity as a luxury brand. With the escapism, we want our clients to feel as though they are using Frette to open themselves up to a new world, something that will bring you somewhere better.

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