Brunello Cucinelli: ‘I needed to be a monk. Possibly a part-time monk…’
“On this firm, if you happen to offend somebody you’re fired on the spot,” Brunello Cucinelli tells me in his expressive but sotto voce Italian. The king of cashmere’s register is, if not fairly as gentle as his most interesting product, then at the least as ethereal as a number of the higher-quality wools with which he works and he’s talking to me by means of his perpetually hard-working translator, Chiara. “No matter your place, you’re forbidden to offend one other human being. I noticed my father being offended in his work and I don’t need that for anybody.”
We’re sitting in Cucinelli’s expansive workplace, which is located within the northwest nook of the primary constructing of his headquarters within the Umbrian hamlet of Solomeo, and the designer is positioned reverse me on a small chair upholstered in chalky wool. His legs and arms are crossed neatly in entrance of him and his lithe body belies his 68 years. He’s sporting a pristine white button-down poplin shirt (the collar buttons left undone) with a gray cashmere tie (the again portion left dangling deliberately longer than the entrance) and on his legs he’s sporting a pair of pale stonewashed denims, ankles out. His sparingly lined face is tanned and his hair, which is brief and the color of one of many darker chocolate linen fits in his assortment, is swept away from his face in a wispy centre parting. Cucinelli’s options – that are deep-set and positioned symmetrically round his nostril, a softened model of the muzzle on the mythological winged creature that adorns his firm insignia – have a sort but decided facet.
In 1985, Cucinelli bought Solomeo’s 14th-century tumbledown fort, which was the place his authentic studios had been based mostly, earlier than he moved, in 2000, to the present facility on the foot of the hamlet that constitutes his present manufacturing compound. Organized in a U-shape, like a sequence of big Jenga blocks dotted round a flat, grassy sq., bisected by water fountains, the headquarters are sheltered from the new Italian solar by the shadow of the fort and so they’re a formidable testomony to Cucinelli’s success. Certainly, in a yr when tailoring gross sales took a major hit and the worldwide style business tried to claw again progress following the decimation wreaked by Covid-19, Cucinelli has come out on high. The designer made not certainly one of his 2,000 international workforce members redundant through the pandemic and his firm boasted an virtually 60 per cent improve in revenues within the first half of 2021.
Inside, the pristine white partitions of GQ’s newly anointed Designer Of The Yr’s non-public lair are peppered with photos of him hobnobbing with all method of luminaries. There’s the well-known shot of Cucinelli hanging out with all of the world’s wealthiest tech billionaires, together with Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn cofounder Reid Hoffman and Twitter CFO Ned Segal, whom he invited to Solomeo to eat pasta and speak philosophy in the summertime previous to the pandemic (extra on that later); there are manifold press cuttings of Cucinelli wanting the very embodiment of sprezzatura (the uniquely Italian time period that, relatively excellently, interprets into “studied carelessness”); and there are a sequence of framed photos of him wanting each bit the blissful papa together with his daughters, each of whom maintain senior positions within the firm. Carolina is co-president and co-creative director of the model, whereas Camilla is the co-head of the ladies’s model workplace.
Born in 1953, Cucinelli, who ultimately rely boasted a web value of £1.7 billion, was raised in a poor household within the Umbrian village of Castel Rigone. It was the way during which his father was handled by his bosses, within the manufacturing unit the place he labored when Cucinelli was an adolescent, which he cites as the rationale for his significantly robust stance on the tradition amongst his 1,200-strong Solomeo workforce.
“When my household had been farmers no one belittled us. We had nothing however we had been by no means hungry. It was nice,” he tells me. “After I turned 15 or 16 it was everybody’s dream to work in a manufacturing unit with a correct job. We moved nearer to town and my father would come dwelling together with his arms ruined as a result of he was working with cement. However he by no means complained concerning the work or the wages; he complained concerning the fixed humiliation and belittling.” He pauses. “I didn’t perceive as an adolescent why I noticed my father with tears in his eyes due to his remedy. And it was then that I made a decision: ‘I don’t know what I wish to do, however I positively know that I wish to work to foster human dignity.’”
Cucinelli began his eponymous enterprise in 1978, when, after dropping out of engineering college, he realised there was an urge for food for the dip-dyed rainbow-coloured cashmere jumpers he’d began producing on the again of a small mortgage (the equal of about €500 at the moment). Over the course of the subsequent 4 many years, Cucinelli remodeled his as soon as cottage enterprise right into a thriving multinational firm. Along with fondle-friendly sweaters, which nonetheless play a key function in his seasonal collections (alongside books by Marcus Aurelius and Pliny The Youthful, the blanched cabinets of his workplace are lined by vases crammed with uncooked cashmere fibres dyed in a riot of daring colors in homage to his beginnings), Cucinelli branched out into the soft-handled tailoring, squishy coats and down-padded gilets, that are at the moment beloved by the world’s most tasteful plutocrats, in 2002.
And that’s simply the menswear. Head into certainly one of Cucinelli’s shops (he’s lately opened an ethereal London flagship on New Bond Avenue) and also you’ll be met by rails of feather, fur and sequin-clad womenswear. There are additionally image frames and cushions and squared-off scraps of ribbon-wrapped cashmere, that are as mild as air however haven’t any discernible use, earthenware platters and bespoke fits, huge candles that look as if they’ve been hewn from nice chunks of flint and, naturally, sweaters so far as the attention can see.
However past the waves of luxurious merchandise, none of which come low-cost (you’ll be able to count on to pay upwards of £2,500 for a go well with and at the least £4,000 for one of many designer’s cashmere coats), there’s extra to Cucinelli’s providing than first meets the fingers. And it begins right here, in his manufacturing unit, the place all of his employees, from “the woman who tidies issues” (Cucinelli objects to the time period “cleansing girl” as a result of it doesn’t imbue its provider with “dignity”) as much as the important thing gamers within the males’s model division (together with his son-in-law, by means of Carolina, Alessio Piastrelli) are paid round 20 per cent greater than their friends elsewhere on the Italian peninsula; the place big photos of Renaissance artworks, akin to Michelangelo’s “Pietà”, cling above the brilliant and ethereal manufacturing unit flooring (as visible reminders of the significance of “respecting magnificence”); and the place employees will not be allowed to work or be on-line previous 5.30pm as a result of their boss, the beneficent Brunello Cucinelli, believes that to ask them to take action can be to “wreck their souls”.
“With any Brunello Cucinelli garment, 52 per cent is made with handbook work, true handbook work,” he tells me intently. “I needed every little thing to be made in Italy, utilizing the best uncooked supplies on the planet. I’m not speaking about style – you may not like my style – however the primary factor was that I needed my merchandise to be top-notch high quality,” he continues, gesturing at his flippantly ripped denims. “These are created from the best Japanese denim… Excessive craftsmanship, fine quality, private style, sure, however I needed one thing extra. I needed for everybody within the firm to have their justifiable share of the revenue. We’re not a preposterously worthwhile firm, however I needed each step within the provide chain to earn more money. I needed the employees to work in higher locations and as an alternative of constructing €1,400 a month, they make €2,000. In flip, their life adjustments.”
It’s in Cucinelli’s Solomeo base the place every of the clothes that seem in each certainly one of his seasonal collections are designed and the preliminary samples are created, earlier than the patterns and finalised design plans are despatched out to Cucinelli’s accomplice factories throughout Italy, nearly all of which he has labored with for round 20 years. I’m being given a tour of the HQ by a pair of improbably elegant members of Cucinelli’s press workforce previous to my interview with the boss. It truly is a unprecedented atmosphere, a lot in order that once I joke to the greige-clad women that it’s someplace I’d truly like to come back and work myself, they each give me the form of variety but pitiful look that implies I’m not the primary visiting journalist to have expressed the sentiment.
The desks which might be inhabited by the much less virtually centered groups – the finance bods, as an example – are the dimensions of decommissioned limousines and the color of icebergs, the manufacturing unit areas are quiet and light-filled, by means of the expansive floor-to-ceiling home windows that line either side of the constructing, and your complete place is so clear that even once I rub my finger alongside one of many increased surfaces in one of many huge firm (unisex) loos, I battle to seek out any mud. The woman who tidies up issues should really feel very motivated to do her job, I joke to Cucinelli, once we sit down a couple of hours later.
“A number of years in the past we had been about to go to Pitti Uomo, the menswear honest,” Cucinelli intones severely in response. “We at all times have some sort of enjoyable merchandise to indicate within the sales space. I used to be in my workplace and the woman who tidies up issues checked out all of the footballs in my workplace and requested, ‘Why don’t you make a cashmere soccer?’ And in a single day we made it. It was a hit. I didn’t give you the thought; she did. Each human being has their very own nature and energy. I wish to be a coordinator of all this human genius. The truth that she dared to say that to me was as a result of she has dignity and respect in her office.”
Arguably essentially the most marvellous factor about Cucinelli’s Umbrian utopia is the large employees canteen, which runs perpendicular to his workplace, behind the corporate automobile park and in entrance of the soccer stadium Cucinelli constructed for the native townspeople. Every day, Brunello’s workforce of cooks end up four-course lunches for each member of employees. I’m invited to strive the menu for measurement after my two hours with the maestro and, from the buttery Parma ham that opens the present to the primary occasion of tagliata di manzo (served with the most effective roasties I’ve ever eaten), I can safely report that the place is to a UK workplace canteen what Murano is to Bella Italia.
‘The form of my tuxedo needed to be English. I would like the colors to be completely different, extra Italian’
Though Cucinelli’s munificent method (which he refers to as a observe of “humanistic capitalism”) could also be a part of the rationale his model is so successful, it’s certainly not the one one – in any case, there are many style manufacturers who count on their workers to work all hours for pitiful wages and whose revenue margins stay in impolite well being. The reality is that Cucinelli’s collections boast an aesthetic consistency unmatched by lots of the labels that occupy the identical class as his. Every assortment follows an identical palette of muted burgundies, greiges, taupes and caramels, his minimize is shut (trousers are near-universally completed with pleats and double turn-ups) and his jackets are mostly minimize to his trademark one-and-a-half-breasted model: a much less restrictive, arguably younger tackle the double-breasted fits discovered within the conventional English tailoring homes that impressed Cucinelli’s look within the first place.
“I prefer to be unwavering, but in addition in line with modern silhouettes,” he tells me, wanting up on the vivid white ceiling of his workplace, as if searching for divine inspiration. “After I designed my authentic tuxedo, the form needed to be the English, traditional form, however what I did to make it completely different was to alter the color of the tuxedo. I solely modified the color, not the form.” He factors at me, enfaticamente. “It’s a standard English tuxedo however I added the double turn-up on the trousers. And I wore it with a pair of suede Church’s chukka boots. I’m at all times very grateful to the English. With my work I wish to mix colors which might be barely completely different to the standard color palette, one thing extra Italian. It’s a painstaking job. Every part should be appropriate.”
‘My employees have to breathe and take in the Brunello Cucinelli look every day’
It’s a didactic method adopted by a lot of Cucinelli’s extra profitable contemporaries within the “haute style meets tailoring” house. Giorgio Armani has his shades of navy, syrupy fits and Far Jap influences; Ralph Lauren has nailed each aspect of the American Dream, from arch prep to rodeo stylish; and Cucinelli, I recommend, has taken possession of ultra-expensive sports activities luxe (albeit with a powerful Italian accent). “I believe you must have a set of very fundamental canons and guidelines,” he concedes. “As an illustration, I’m keen about Ralph Lauren. In 2019 I went to fulfill him personally in New York. I mentioned to him, ‘Thanks, maestro, for every little thing you’ve gotten taught us in visible merchandising.’” He smiles, exhibiting me an image of Ralph – not Ralph and Brunello, simply Ralph – which is framed in his workplace. “After I arrange this manufacturing unit, regardless that we had been into sweaters again then, I’ve at all times aimed for one thing that might make the model recognisable. Ralph Lauren was recognisable in each state of affairs. I do know it’s tough, however to my employees I present pictures of the look, the Brunello Cucinelli look. They should breathe and take in it every day.”
At exactly the second I start to wonder if Cucinelli’s singular method makes it tough for the opposite creatives who work with him to seek out their voice – not least son-in-law Alessio Piastrelli – Cucinelli cuts in with a solution. “The employees generally submit very artistic proposals to me and [when] it’s not likely in line with what we’re, I’ll say, ‘It’s lovely, but it surely’s not us.’” He smiles. “What Alessio does is nice. He’s bought all these references: James Dean, Mom Teresa, Ferrari. He’s a 39-year-old man and he doesn’t know many issues, however his references are his dream of the world. Within the photos there’s a common humanism and respect for everybody. He’s bought an actor on his wall, a thinker, the younger Steve Jobs – for whom I made 400 black turtlenecks to order in 1989 or 1990 – the younger Michelangelo.”
Cucinelli’s obsession with the humanities is palpable not solely in his workplace, the place portraits of Confucius and Leonardo da Vinci lock eyes with busts of Socrates and Marcus Aurelius, but in addition, maybe extra notably, within the fairly medieval hamlet that appears down on the manufacturing unit. In 2012, Cucinelli floated his firm on the inventory trade, which afforded him the monetary freedom to broaden on the creation of a Discussion board Of The Arts within the space, which had fallen right into a state of disarray. Cucinelli not solely established a profitable boutique, however he additionally opened a tailoring college, an Aurelian library, a gymnasium and a formidable theatre, which he established in 2008.
Cucinelli lives within the settlement, reverse his 100-year-old babbo and subsequent door to each his daughters (although Carolina is getting ready to transferring to a bigger property throughout the valley). Along with his Discussion board Of The Arts, at which the Solomeo Faculty Of Arts And Crafts was established in 2013, Cucinelli, in 2018, unveiled a Palladian-style “Tribute To Human Dignity” (carved from gigantic blocks of travertine) and a park that includes a plant nursery, an olive oil mill and a vineyard, the latter of which is located, conveniently, within the basement of Carolina’s new digs.
“Solomeo is the hamlet of cashmere and concord,” says Cucinelli, smiling. “There are all these faculties for tailoring, gardening, music, arts and crafts. I needed to create a spot for excellence – the non secular, ethical, civil.” He provides: “That is an open-air monastery, open to the world, in your thoughts, for learning, in your soul, for praying and for work, [with] the best, utmost respect for the human being, no matter their faith or gender.”
When Cucinelli invited Bezos et al to Solomeo in 2018, he defined to me in a subsequent interview that he “needed them to open up and present me their hearts. ‘Nobody ever asks us what our sorrows are, what our emotions are,’ Bezos mentioned. ‘They simply preserve repeating that I’m this billionaire. I do know I’m a billionaire, however moreover that I even have my soul and relationships.’ It was a terrific expertise to have them right here. We had been all moved and emotional; that they had tears of their eyes.” Contemplating Bezos’ continued purported tax dodging and his much-criticised current mission into house, does Cucinelli really feel that his message was understood?
“Once we toured the corporate, Jeff mentioned, ‘I would love all my workers to work precisely like yours, in these situations. I do know it isn’t simple.’ However in his public statements of the previous yr he mentioned he needed to change into the most effective locations on the planet to work. So there’s an underlying feeling there.” He pauses. “However it’s true: there’s a large hole when it comes to wealth.”
Cucinelli fared terribly properly by means of the Covid disaster. In the newest report back to his shareholders, the designer defined, “This yr, 2020, closed ‘properly’, particularly contemplating how issues regarded within the spring. The turnover of those 12 months, what we have now outlined as a ‘yr of transition’, noticed a ‘small’ lower of ten per cent.” Revenues dropped from €607.8 million (£519m) in 2019 to €544m (£465m) in 2020. But the image this yr has been considerably rosier. Based on a report within the Enterprise Of Trend, “The corporate mentioned revenues soared by virtually 60 per cent at fixed trade charges within the first half of the yr to €313.7m [£268m] in contrast with the identical interval of 2020.”
“February, March and April of 2020 had been very painful,” Cucinelli tells me. “However on 12 March we made three large selections. We mentioned: we is not going to lay anyone off, no redundancies. We’ll assure all our staff their full wages for 2 years,” he says, counting his fingers theatrically. “The second determination was that we’d not ask for reductions from anybody. This isn’t the best way we work.” He pauses. “Our final determination was to begin ‘Brunello Cucinelli For Humanity’. We despatched out packages of our unsold luxurious items all over the world to our contractors, who we then requested to go on to the needy. After which 9 November got here. The perfect day of my life – aside from the household occasions, in fact – was the day the vaccine got here.” He provides: “After which 15 days in the past we got here out with the boys’s assortment, at Pitti Uomo.”
‘In the event you mix ache, focus and dedication you get success. That’s the reality’
The gathering the designer is referring to is as a lot a soft-edged paean to all issues ivory – a recent starting, maybe – as it’s an archetypal Cucinelli providing. One-and-a-half-breasted jackets rub hems with peg-leg trousers in pearlescent shades, collegiate shawl-collar cardigans are worn over cashmere sweaters and with linen trousers in wealthy hues of clotted cream, whereas the designer’s trademark chalk-stripe fits come paired with denim shirts and natty sand suede Derbies. “Everybody mentioned it was the most effective assortment in our historical past.” He pauses. “In the event you mix ache, focus and dedication you get success. I don’t know why, however that’s the reality.”
One color you’ll by no means discover in a Brunello Cucinelli assortment is inexperienced. “When my household had been farmers my mum purchased me a pair of inexperienced corduroy trousers. I used to be eight or 9 again then and she or he purchased me them for Christmas,” he tells me, leaning ahead in his chair, his gentle, barely greying hair falling flippantly over his brow. “I took these inexperienced trousers to the sector behind my home and I buried them as a result of I hated the color.” He laughs. “After I was a toddler I used to be both sporting white bottoms or a gray jumper. My household had been farmers, however I didn’t like inexperienced. So there’s one thing that’s born in you, I suppose.”
Given the exact, businesslike manner during which Cucinelli approaches each his creativity and craft, I’m intrigued to know what he thinks he might need carried out with himself for the previous 4 many years had he not change into a designer. Cucinelli was the chairman of Italian affiliation soccer membership Castel Rigone Calcio for a brief variety of years and his ardour for the game is known, but it surely seems that “footballer” is manner off the mark. “I’m a born-and-bred rigorous man.” A pause. “I needed to be a monk. Possibly a part-time monk, which is clearly tough.”
‘There’s a Cucinelli model. It’s not simply in clothes, however a lifestyle, a manner of behaving’
Is he happy with his achievements? “I’m proud that I’ve carried out one thing critical,” he says, wanting throughout at me earnestly. His arms are resting in his lap and his fingers have shaped a steeple on the suggestions. Maybe he ought to have change into a monk in any case. “Hopefully I’ve not broken mankind, hopefully I’ve revered creation and hopefully I’ve developed a mode, as a result of there’s a Cucinelli model, if you consider it. And it’s not simply in clothes, it’s in humanistic capitalism.” He pauses. “The lifestyle, a manner of behaving. And I really feel, I hope, that this is not going to finish for a very long time.”
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