Michelle Klein, CEO and President of SFERRA, the penultimate luxury linen company, sat down with John Eric Home to discuss the brand and its history.
Can you please share with us the history of SFERRA linens?
The company was founded in 1891 Italy, when Gennaro Sferra first set foot on the cross-Atlantic steamer which would carry him to America. It was a family history of craftsmanship that enabled him to sell the exquisite handmade lace that would become his future.
Capturing the fashion of the day, he sold Italian lace, collars, and cuffs to society’s tastemakers as they vacationed at seaside resorts up and down the East Coast. This established Sferra’s reputation for offering only the finest and most exclusive fine linens.
Gennaro had the foresight, in the early 1930s, to evolve his focus to table linens and instilled in both his sons, Enrico and Albert, a mastery of textile craftsmanship, technical know-how, and a yearning for creative exploration.
The textile aptitude shared by Gennaro’s sons helped redefine standards for the entire linen industry, making the Sferra name synonymous with luxury. Enrico would eventually be granted an introduction to Princess (later, Queen) Elizabeth due to the brand’s prestige.
Albert recognized the ability of long-staple cotton to create a quantifiably softer and smoother percale bed linen, starting a revolution in bedding that would change sleep forever. These linens were the precursors to what is now the Celeste Collection, the most celebrated (and popular) of all SFERRA linens for more than 20 years.
With continued growth and a change in ownership, the company originated ever-more-luxurious advancements, those prized enough to become the in-flight bedding for Pope John Paul II, the elegant table linens of Reagan-era state dinners, and the de rigeur bedding found in celebrity linen closets.
How did the brand evolve?
In 2001, after two years of development and refinement, SFERRA introduced the first-ever 1,020-thread-count linens, which were heralded as “turning the linen industry on its head.”
In 2004, the company evolved the brand name to the singular and more easily recognizable, SFERRA. And so, from a humble Italian immigrant pursuing the American Dream to the preeminent dreamers of innovation, SFERRA will always live at the forefront of craftsmanship and luxury.
In 2008, the company debuted a world-exclusive Egyptian cotton bedding with its suite of SFERRA Giza 45® Collections. These were woven from a special genus of extra-long-staple cotton, revered as the rarest of all fine cottons known extravagantly as the ‘Queen of Egyptian Cotton’. The percales, sateens, and jacquards woven from this cotton have taken up residence in the company’s pantheon of best sellers, developing a devoted and loyal fan base of fine linen connoisseurs throughout the world.
What is the Sferra principle?
Providing timeless luxury and unparalleled quality.
Through long-term relationships with our Italian mills and workrooms and an uncompromising commitment to quality using only the finest materials, SFERRA products stand up to, and transcend time.
What differentiates SFERRA from other bed and bath brands?
For us, the divine is in the details: the forethought that goes into all the fine little particulars in our line means we’ve carefully considered all the functionality inherent and desired in the products we design.
These refinements are in the finishing touches of a well-crafted hemstitch. It’s the generous sizing of our bed linens, allowing extra fabric not only for shrinkage, but also, a luxuriant turn-back on flat sheets. It’s in the all-around elastic of our fitted sheets (and, its prodigious depth), so you’ll never find yourself short sheeted. It’s in the corner ties on the inside of duvet covers, designed to thread through the corner loop of our down stuffers to keep duvets firmly in place.
Only the very finest raw materials make the finest linens, and we are renowned for sourcing the world’s choicest natural fibers and spinning the most gossamer of yarns to weave luxury linens of impeccable quality and comfort.
What are the first three words that come to mind when thinking of SFERRA?
Heritage. Craftsmanship. Innovation.
Are all products in SFERRA collections still made in Italy?
For linen connoisseurs, there is no parallel for Italian-woven fabrics. Italians are recognized throughout the world as the absolute masters of the craft. Theirs is a rich history, grounded in more than three centuries of small, family-owned textile mills dotting the Alpine foothills in the North of Italy, where SFERRA bed linens are still crafted today, continuing a heritage of unsurpassed workmanship and artistry. When it comes to our bath collections, we work with the masters of this craft which are found in both Turkey and Portugal. Both countries have centuries of expertise in crafting the softest most luxurious and absorbent bath linens.
Can you share with us how SFERRA chooses items to create a collection?
At SFERRA, we launch two collections per year – very much like a fashion house does – there are Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter collections. When deciding collections to bring to the marketplace we first and foremost listen to our customers, whether an end customer or any one of our loyal 700+ retailers around the country, what would they like to see from us next and which motifs and colors resonate. We also look at trends and discuss with our team of creative designers as to what is currently inspiring them – from fashion, art, and architecture to archival designs and museums to observing naturally occurring relationships between colors and textures in nature.
To us the key to longevity is to constantly evolve through the implementation of techniques and innovation in our designs and creations while remaining true to the DNA of the brand, which is very important to us. We look to create new collections and expand the categories of our range of products.
Can you give our readers a quick view of how SFERRA produces, for example, a luxury sheet?
For us, it all starts with the raw material and the quality level of cotton that goes into the spinning and weaving of our beautiful percale and sateen fabrics. Quality raw material, as a first step, is very important to the final outcome for hand and sleep experience on a SFERRA sheet. We do not apply any finishes to our fabrics. The soft hand comes from the chosen cotton. We then use natural processes to break-in and open up the cotton yarns which adds even more softness to the fabric. This means your sheet will feel the same before and after washing as there is nothing to wash off during the laundering cycle. The fabric can then be embellished with a simple hemstitch, embroidery and beyond.
The design usually starts as a hand drawing/sketch, which is then turned into a computer graphic which can be recreated in large scale in order to add the design onto a fabric. Once the design is applied to the fabric it is sent to the cut and sew workroom where all the fabric gets cut and sewn using hand-guided processes by skilled artisans.
What is your favorite SFERRA product and why?
I have many favorite SFERRA products. I am lucky to be able to lead a brand that I have very much admired even before I came onboard as CEO. If I were to pick one, I would say our SFERRA Giza 45 collections. Our Giza 45 Egyptian cotton is the finest cotton the world over.
As I mentioned before, Giza 45 is known as “The Queen of the Nile” and is said to be the longest-staple cotton fiber and benefits from the unique conditions of the Nile—heavy rains, humidity, and stable temperatures—in addition to the natural nutrients of the soil. It is grown in a small area to the east of the Nile Delta and is carefully hand-harvested to ensure that only the most mature cotton bolls are cultivated, avoiding the damaging effects of mechanical harvesting.
Given the precise growing conditions and laborious process required to harvest this cotton fiber, Giza 45 represents less than ½ of one percent of all of the Egyptian cotton yarn exported annually, making it a rare and precious resource. This ultra-fine yet strong and resilient fiber is then imported to Italy where our masters combine craftsmanship and technology to weave an unimaginably soft fabric fit for royalty.
Even rarer, SFERRA was the first-ever to develop it into an exclusive bedding line.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with our readers?
We recently opened our first flagship store, the SFERRA Townhouse, in New York City. This beautiful three-story building allows us to showcase the full breadth and range of our collections- from bed linens to mattresses, from rugs to loungewear, from bath towels to decor elements and gifts. Located in the Flatiron area, the SFERRA Townhouse is for both consumers and interior designers to discover the art that is Italian bed, bath and table linen, and to experience it in a home-like setting.
Meet Michelle Klein
A seasoned and dynamic leader, with more than 20 years of experience in the luxury home industry, Michelle Klein began her career at Bloomingdale’s in New York in 1994, spending 14 years as a buyer and developing exclusive products across all the brand’s furniture categories. In 2008, she joined Roche Bobois as Vice President of its North American subsidiary, responsible for a network of 30 stores in the US and Canada, the national marketing campaign of the company in North America, and the supervision of the brand image.
Continuing her journey in the luxury home world, Michelle joined Baccarat in 2012 as President and CEO of their Americas region where she managed 8 retail stores, a sizable wholesale network, e-commerce, and the corporate A&D business. The brand celebrated its 250th anniversary under her leadership with great marketing fanfare and celebration.
Michelle joined SFERRA as the Global CEO and President in 2016. As its leader, Michelle has transformed SFERRA into a luxury home lifestyle brand, introducing new product categories from gifting to mattresses. And she has guided the brand beyond the United States with a branded shop-in-shop within the London luxury department store, Harrods. Most recently, Michelle led the acquisition of Pratesi, the 115-year-old Italian luxury linens brand and its re-launch in early 2022. With much room to grow for both brands, Michelle continues to spearhead opportunities for sales and distribution growth in the US and beyond.
When she’s not working, Michelle enjoys spending time outdoors biking and kayaking with her husband and children and traveling to unique destinations.