September 2, 2014
Text by Robert Kiener
Based in the Vermont countryside, Anichini combs the world to bring its customers elegant, luxurious textiles.
Susan Dollenmaier, the charismatic founder and owner of Anichini, rakes back her mane of thick brown hair and pauses as she thinks of how best to describe the range of her company’s heirloom-quality products. With a wry grin that eventually breaks into a broad smile, she answers, “We’re the Lamborghini of linens.” Then, without missing a beat, she adds, “And we’re the Hermès of home furnishings.”
She’s smiling, but she’s dead serious. In the twenty-eight years since starting the Vermont-based manufacturer and importer of luxury linens and textiles, she and her collaborators have built the company into one of the best-known high-end textile brands in the country.
The company’s sheets, pillows, fabrics, towels, and more—all fashioned with Old World craftsmanship—have become immensely popular with designers, five-star hotels, spas, and homeowners.
Anichini’s “A-List” customers include celebrities such as Cher, Barbara Streisand, Oprah Winfrey, Madonna, and Steven Spielberg. Anichini products have been prominently featured in movies like Sex and the City, Forrest Gump, and Wall Street, and adorn the beds of such hotels and resorts as Caesars Palace, the Waldorf Astoria Towers, and Canyon Ranch.
Dollenmaier has traveled the world looking for artisans who use traditional techniques that have been perfected and handed down over generations. “Our search for these incredible craftspeople never stops,” she says.
The company’s textiles come from regions as varied as Tibet, Lithuania, and Morocco to a medieval Italian walled village, where weavers use centuries-old looms to produce linen that boasts authentic fifteenth-century designs. “I’ve always been crazy about quality fabrics, and when I discovered that there were still artisans working abroad to produce such exquisite fabrics, I decided to try to market them in this country,” explains Dollenmaier. “I hoped I could play a small role in helping these skilled artisans survive.”
Working from a modest 1920s Arts and Crafts farmhouse in Tunbridge, Vermont, Dollenmaier started Anichini (named after her former business partner) in 1986 as a textile wholesaler, importing fabrics from abroad and using locally based Vermont stitchers to cut fabric and sew, creating custom pillows, duvets, and more. “There were many skilled stitchers right around here who had worked in the Vermont textile industry before it left for Mexico, China, and elsewhere,” she explains. “I was thrilled, and immensely lucky, to find such talented, experienced women in this small Vermont valley.” The local craftswomen work out of a nineteenth-century farmhouse just down the road from the yellow farmhouse that serves as Anichini’s corporate headquarters.
The company flourished, and today has twenty-two employees. The hospitality division accounts for about half of Anichini’s sales, followed by its retail division, which includes a to-the-trade designer sector as well as a retail store in Quechee, Vermont, and a booming e-commerce division.
As she sits at the conference table of the company’s headquarters, Dollenmaier opens her laptop and examines the day’s Internet sales. “Someone from Connecticut just bought a blanket online for $1,460,” she says as she scans recent transactions. “A Florida customer just bought sheets and pillowcases for $2,880. If you’d have told me four years ago that people would be spending up to $10,000 buying luxury linens on the Internet, I’d have said you were crazy. But our e-commerce sales keep increasing.”
As the sales illustrate, Anichini’s products can be pricey. For example, an Egyptian-cotton sateen extreme ultra king sheet set costs $4,000, and an ornately embroidered Omar Khayam twenty-six-inches-square pillow runs $1,865.
“A lot of what we sell is what I like to call ‘heirlooms of tomorrow,’” says Dollenmaier. “The quality and craftsmanship—which is vanishing in many places—of these pieces are so high that they can be handed down from generation to generation. They are built to last. But there’s no telling how long these remarkable artisans will be producing this work.”
Like the best of salespeople, she reminds a visitor, “Once you sleep on high-quality sheets there’s no going back to polyester. We have an intimate relationship with textiles; we sleep between them, they cover our nakedness, we wipe our mouths with them. Don’t you think you deserve the best quality you can get?” •