Pierre Frey: The Modern Master of Fine Linen
Tradition and modernity meet at the Pierre Frey linen manufacture in the north of France.
A visit to textile manufacturer Pierre Frey is a chance to unearth some quality linen. Linen is produced on a wide coastal band stretching from the south of Normandy through Belgium into the Netherlands (from Caen to Amsterdam), where natural fibres benefit from the misty weather.
“Linen is the only natural fibre originated from Europe; it owes its excellence to a damp ocean climate, the low thermal density of flax, a rich soil and the experience of flax growers in northern Europe,” explains Alain Camilleri, a director at Masters of Linen. “Flax is 100 percent co-responsible: each year, one hectare of flax retains 3.7 tons of CO2. Flax cultivation also has positive effects on eco-system diversity and offers a welcome environmental pause for soil quality, bio-diversity and landscapes. It also needs no irrigation and its culture is certified without synthetic products, which ensures a complete absence of residues of these products in the fibre and the soil after harvesting. Today, flax production represents 342,000 tones of avoided CO2 greenhouse-gas emissions.”
Pierre Frey says: “Linen is timeless, it’s essential to elegant interiors.” Boasting eight decades of creativity, innovation and excellence, the house of Pierre Frey is spearheaded today by the founder’s grandson and Masters of Linen ambassador. “It’s important to keep our country, its culture and economy vital and productive. Today, silk comes from Thailand, cotton from India, wool from Ireland or New Zealand and linen from France.” Linen embraces a wide range of styles, curtains and wall coverings, as well as daily travel accessories. It has a “lived-in” presence and quality, argues Frey.
Between Arras and Cambrai, Pierre Frey’s manufacture creates textiles using old and new techniques. In this era of corporate consolidation and luxury conglomerates, Pierre Frey is a breath of fresh air. Inside the flax factory one touches, feels and smells the lean twigs being turned into a silky material. In the air, both the animal and vegetal world meet: the thick flax tufts are an instant reminder of the sheep-shearing season. It’s harvest time in the north of France.
Later on, inside the Montigny-en-Cambrésis manufacture, an old 1930s handloom stands the test of time with its perforated cards, dozens of golden coils and thousands of interwoven threads that resemble a contemporary art installation. Stepping deeper into the manufacture, the repetitive noise of the machines impresses: it varies depending on the woven motif and makes one think of minimal electro music. The precision of the movements and the forest of threads that sculpt new fabrics, an inch at a time, fill the air like a well-choreographed ballet. With knowledge and expertise, new fabrics are invented each season, pushing the limits of patterns and material innovation.
This captivating diversity owes much to the family tradition: “It’s how our grandfather started the identity of the brand and it’s how our father has carried on its spirit. We will always keep trying new things to break new grounds,” concludes Frey.