Q&A: Laurence Franklin, Frette CEO

The executive has an agenda: He wants to make Frette the go-to brand for luxury linens, home accessories and at-homewear in the global marketplace.

Laurence Franklin has an agenda: He wants to make Frette the go-to brand for luxury linens, home accessories and at-homewear in the global marketplace. But he wants to grow the business selectively without forsaking the cachet and quality of the 152-year-old heritage brand.

This story first appeared in the May 30, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

Franklin, who was named chief executive officer of Milan-based Frette Srl in July 2011, is well versed in nurturing and growing market share for luxury brands, with more than 25 years of international management experience in the fashion, accessories and cosmetics industries. In 1986 he joined Tumi Inc., and through 1992 helped direct the brand through a tenfold growth rate. In 1993, he became president of Coach Leatherware and three years later moved on to become general manager and executive vice president of the cosmetics businesses of Unilever managed through the Elizabeth Arden division. In 1999, he rejoined Tumi as president, responsible for global strategic and creative development, served as ceo from 2002 to 2009, and was a member of the board at Tumi.

Here, a conversation with Franklin on business and the future of the House of Frette.

WWD: What is the mood of consumers in the euro zone?
Laurence Franklin:
It’s definitely a somber climate…but where local business is flat or depressed, the compensation factor is tourists, Asians and Russians in our case. And they’ve been shopping quite aggressively over the past few years. Business is fairly stable but the base has shifted in favor of tourists.…The moneyed people are still active in local markets, and we do a lot of private client business and special projects for a new villa, yacht or private plane.…We’re a nicely sized business that’s relative to the market — not a megabrand, that’s the beauty of Frette. We have our collections and have relationships with suppliers that allow us to do custom work in apparel and home furnishings.…We do a very nice business in loungewear, sleepwear and accessories for the boudoir, especially with young Middle Eastern women who have limitations with what they can wear in public, but at home can wear a trousseau in silks and satins as well as loungewear, which I call Frette-to-wear.

WWD: What changes have you implemented since joining Frette?
I’ve been working towards more discipline in terms of time tables such as sku [stockkeeping unit] management and wholesale margins, doing less things as well as possible than in a mediocre way.…It’s about focus, focus, focus and empowerment, letting the designers feel commercially responsible but working freely and working less for their own comfort zone and more for what consumers would appreciate. Everybody wants to be safe. How do you break down those barriers? You have to take measured mistakes so you don’t put the brand at risk. You have to be prepared to break the rules.

WWD: Frette has a combined 100 boutiques and shops-in-shop worldwide. Are there plans for retail expansion?
Edmond Frette [a contemporary diffusion label] is being expanded at Bloomingdale’s 59th Street and to eight or 10 additional locations. The next stage over the next two to three years will be to open Frette stores in Texas, Florida, Atlanta and Hong Kong.…We’re developing a growth plan for investors and shareholders and looking at the right format for new retail development.…Big stores are highly risky. You pay a lot of money for a building, rent and staff, and unless you do exceptional productivity it can be a drain. I’m a fan of small store formats.…They represent the brand well, you take a modest risk, provide the opportunity to consumers with a full representation of the brand, but you don’t overcommit in capital or people.

WWD: What is driving Frette’s business?
The total experience. It becomes a treasured Frette experience with things to wear in and around the house.…People experience it when they feel the sheets against their skin, towel off with a Frette towel or watch TV wearing one of our cashmere throws.

WWD: Please give an overview of Frette’s business.
Globally, the business does over $100 million annually, about 70 percent is consumer oriented and about 30 percent is B2B [hotel, hospitality and custom orders].…Geographically, we do 30 percent of business in North America, mainly the U.S. and Mexico, and 40 percent in Italy, France, et cetera, where we have our own operations. The rest is in up-and-coming markets.…We plan selective growth in 2013 to 2014.…Hong Kong is a gateway market and it [China] has a strong domestic market where we have a good presence. We will expand in China with our partners.