“You’ve got to dare”, says Pierre Frey, the marketing director and namesake of his grandfather’s iconic Parisian fabric house. While we may be talking about his style advice (“mix styles, trust your eye, be bold with colors and don’t choose beige – beige is not a color”), it’s an ethos that appears to run deep in the closely-knit family business, first started by his grandfather in 1935. ‘My grandfather left northern France aged 20, just after the war, and went to work in Paris – he ended up as a sales manager of the fabric atelier Louer. At one stage, the creative director turned to him and said, ‘ We are good enough, we could do this ourselves’, and so they started a small business. It was the height of surrealism, and my grandfather began selecting works from famous artist friends to be reprinted in fabrics in exchange for royalties, he was a pioneer at the time’.
A dynamic and close collaboration with artists still remains at the heart of the business, an approach passionately developed by Pierre’s father Patrick, the company’s current Creative Director, who has headed up the business since his father passed it on to him aged just 25. From rare Australian aboriginal art to dynamic contemporary prints sourced from global galleries, every design is rooted in a personal story or passion. It also affords the brand an unlimited source of creativity and an endless freedom. Rather than limited to a specific style, its their eclecticism that they are best known for, a quality celebrated in their latest collection launch, “Les Dessins 2”. Pierre highlights it as the one of the works he is most proud of, with designs sourced from emblematic textile prints, conserved archives, current artistic favorites and orders executed by the Pierre Frey design team under Patrick’s eye. The collection, Pierre explains, has been conceived for ‘the happy few… to inspire connoisseurs and design enthusiasts.’
It’s the ‘happy few’ that the fabric house have set their sights on with their bespoke service, an area of the business that has grown from 10% to 30% in recent years. ‘From American billionaires to hotels like Ritz, everyone wants to be able to define their unique style. Be it trainers or luggage, its part of a wider trend for individualization and a back-lash to mass-market production.” With the increasing dominance (and sophistication) of the mass-market, where even brands like Zara Home and Ikea pose as competition, customization is a key differential. “We are the only fabric house in France to still run our own weaving mill in the north of the country – here we produce 60% of our own collections. This enables us to have a fast turn-around and be sure we are crafting the very best for our clients, its why they come to us. We are able to create and produce our designs as artisan creations.”
These days, it’s not just the super rich who opt for customization; the trend has taken off amongst new home-owners already thinking ahead to the potential re-sale during the design process, their aim to add value to the property while enjoying the experience of living with a piece of customized art. Pierre cites that the company’s orders tend to jump in the year or two after a property boom, and that 2016 is the first year that they have seen growth across all markets. The secret to their success? Hard work and a company restructure that has included an aggressive global expansion, taking over 5 of France’s heritage fabric houses in a move to save them going out of business, while opening 8 global offices, including London, Dubai, Moscow and Singapore.
At the core of it all is the close personal relationship they develop with clients; rave reviews on their website cite the care taken during a process of restoring and reupholstering an inherited antique chair. In a world increasingly dominated by outsourcing, automation and standardized process, their customer service is rooted in the fact that Pierre Frey remains very much an entrepreneurial family business.
“Many family businesses don’t go right, and everyone ends up fighting. My father is a genius, I’m not sure how he did it, but he managed to have all 3 of his sons working in the business, and we are all very happy; we each have our own sphere and we don’t step on each other’s toes. Every family reunion is a board meeting and every board meeting a family reunion, so now we find ourselves, 4 boys, running a fabric house, travelling the world and sharing our passion’.