He doesn't speak a word of English, yet even through an interpreter, Athos Pratesi's passion for what he calls "our last refuge"--the bedroom--comes through loud and clear.
"If you don't sleep in good sheets that let your body breathe," he says, leaning forward in his chair, "you end up feeling like a fish cooked in a paper bag."
Sleeping in a beautiful bed is a necessity of life for the president of Pratesi, the renowned Italian linen company located in the small city of Pistoia and founded at the turn of the century. Pratesis have produced bed and table linens for the royal families of Belgium, Italy and Monaco, as well as for Johnny Carson, Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Audrey Hepburn.
Last year, however, Pratesi's wife, Dede, decided that the next logical progression for the company would be a collection of women's nightgowns, robes and lingerie. (Baby Pratesi already exists.)
"This is really my wife's department," Pratesi allows. "She loves lingerie. Lingerie is \o7 indispensable \f7 to an Italian woman."
Dede also designed the collection, but while Athos visited their U.S. stores (including one on Rodeo Drive) to promote the new line, she remained back in Pistoia for a Town & Country photo session.
In explaining why white is the predominant color in the collection, her husband offers: "White is clean and virginal. The world is in need of purity."
Meanwhile, sturdier clothes, as only the British make them, were the center of attention at Bullocks Wilshire recently.
Alexon, whose flagship store is on London's Conduit Street, was marking its six-month anniversary in the United States with boutiques at Bullocks Wilshire, Los Angeles and Newport Beach.
"It's not here-today, gone-tomorrow clothing," Alexon vice president Peter Emmerson says. "Some people may find that boring, but that's our \o7 raison d'etre.\f7 "
The label emerged in 1904, when Alexander Steinberg, a Russian immigrant who had come to London six years earlier, established the company specializing in traditional coats. In 1930, his three sons joined in the business, and the company name was derived from the combination of the words \o7 Alexander \f7 and \o7 sons.\f7
No longer managed by the Steinberg family, Alexon today has grown to 11 stores throughout Europe, including boutiques in Harrods and Selfridge's in London. Two years ago, when Alexon executives were first deciding how to penetrate the American market, Emmerson says they agreed on Southern California because it was the \o7 least \f7 likely spot to sell classic British clothing.
"We spent a year looking at different parts of the country, and we decided that this would be the most difficult place to start," Emmerson says. Just as in the lyrics to the song, "New York, New York," he adds: "We decided if we could make it here, we could make it anywhere."
Besides coats, the Alexon label appears on everything from cotton T-shirts and pleated slacks for the country, Liberty print skirts and matching blouses for "a day at Wimbledon" and tailored suits for the "executive type or the wife of the executive," Emmerson says.
Alexon's star customer, perhaps, is Britain's most prominent executive woman, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. But Emmerson points out with pride that "the opposition," Glenys Kinnock, wife of British Labor Party leader Neil Kinnock, also shops at Alexon.
Flashier dressers also happen to like the clothes; these include actress Susan Hampshire and Princess Diana, who owns an Alexon cashmere coat, one of the company trademarks.