Brunello Cucinelli’s cashmere company is founded on humanist principles. The Italian designer tells us about his revolutionary approach to the business of fashion
A medieval castle, surrounded by a picturesque hamlet, on a hill in the Italian province of Perugia: this charming scene, worthy of a postcard, is Solomeo, where luxury cashmere brand Brunello Cucinelli has its headquarters. For those that don’t know the brand, Brunello Cucinelli might be defined by its cosy knits, carefully constructed tailoring, stylish leisurewear and beautiful lifestyle pieces. However, closer inspection reveals that behind the luxury products lies a company built on a deep-rooted humanistic ethos.
The eponymous designer was born in 1953 in Castel Rigone, and the origins of his philosophy can be traced to his childhood. ‘For me, everything began when I saw my father humiliated and offended at work,’ he explains. ‘I still remember his expression: he would come home exhausted but would not talk about his frustrations. I promised myself that, even if I did not know what I would do with my life, I would certainly make sure that no one would ever be humiliated at work.’
This mindset was one of the founding principles of the small cashmere business Cucinelli launched in 1978. And along with the philosophies of great thinkers such as Socrates, Kant, Rousseau and Marcus Aurelius, it is a mindset that has shaped the company for four decades. ‘Since the very beginning, I have had this dream of living and working for the dignity of mankind,’ says Cucinelli. ‘I have always thought that no profit should be made without valuing human dignity, and that we could undertake something meaningful in order to bring mankind to the forefront of our work and our company.’
Solomeo – the town where Cucinelli’s wife was born – has also played a crucial role in defining the company. Won over by its charm, Cucinelli moved to Solomeo in 1982 before going on to purchase the castle three years later, thanks to the growing success of his brand. Cucinelli has brought his humanistic enterprise to fruition in Solomeo: over time he has invested in and developed the town, aiming to boost knowledge as well as preserve its land and monuments. It now boasts an arts forum, built by master craftsmen from the local region, complete with a theatre where a wide range of international and national artists have taken to the stage. The Solomeo school of arts and crafts, inspired by John Ruskin and William Morris, trains future artisans across tailoring, knitwear, textiles, agriculture and masonry while instilling them with a strong sense of pride in what they do.
Spurred on by their erudite employer, Brunello Cucinelli’s employees are actively encouraged to balance manual work and knowledge, which is one of the reasons why Cucinelli prefers to use the term contemporary artisans to define his craftsmen. ‘I always say that contemporary artisans are those who, for instance, know how to use both scissors and laser cutting. I also like to imagine a new generation that not only masters technology and uses it in a conscious, careful and balanced manner, but is also willing to open a good book and address the greatest souls of the past.’ Besides ensuring the transmission of manual skills to future craftsmen, Cucinelli has made it his mission to impart knowledge in order to ‘pass on something meaningful to future generations, which exceeds the limits of their physical existence.’
While humanistic principles have helped define the company’s ethos, Cucinelli’s intuitive business approach can be credited for the brand’s unbounded success. From the beginning, he tapped into a gap in the market with his colourful cashmere products, an accomplishment that has enabled him to establish strong financial foundations on which to build his company.
In addition, being based in Solomeo provides Brunello Cucinelli products with the coveted Made in Italy cachet – Cucinelli holds this benchmark of quality in high regard. ‘It can mean genius, elegance, style, a positive attitude towards life, respect for work, esteem for craftsmanship, attachment to our territory and to our own land. And yet, this has nothing to do with nationalism or other similar ideologies. In fact, it is just the opposite: contemporary and cosmopolitan people are those who become ambassadors of certain values and know that being good people and caring for others always come first.’ Cucinelli has artfully fused Umbria’s knitting traditions with cashmere, a material from Central Asia. This combination of heritage, high-quality materials and profound respect for the people that make the products is what makes Brunello Cucinelli’s products unique. ‘We have significantly contributed to shifting the customer perception of cashmere, such a precious and unique fabric, in terms of value, as well as raising awareness about the difference between expensive and valuable garments,’ he observes.
There can be few, if any, luxury clothing brands run with such a philosophical and philanthropic approach. ‘As the great Russian writer Pavel Florenskij states: “You should always be willing to raise your gaze to the heavens and look at the stars.” This is particularly true during our time, when the hustle and bustle of everyday life seems to make people lose sight of the profound beauty that surrounds them,’ says its founder. Not content with building a cashmere empire, Brunello Cucinelli has also succeeded in opening people’s eyes to the beauties of the world.