Text by Marc Graser
Images courtesy of Brunello Cucinelli
Brunello Cucinelli isn’t avoiding the obvious. The Italian fashion designer, who gained a decades-long following for his brightly dyed cashmere, knows how people dress has changed. With fewer public events, more people working from home, and battered economies impacting purchases, he is focused on demonstrating how luxury brands can adapt to a new way of life.
The 66-year-old CEO is no stranger to reinvention. After founding his eponymous company in 1978, he adopted the small idyllic hamlet of Solomeo in the rolling hills of Umbria, a part of Italy known as “Cashmere Valley,” and invested a small fortune in reviving it. It is here, among a medieval castle, church, textile mills, and repurposed olive mill all restored from crumbling structures, that the company’s headquarters are based and its knitwear and home furnishings are designed and made.
For me, dressing well crosses the line of time and history; it can be applied to different social contexts depending on the combinations and outfits.Brunello Cucinelli
“Solomeo is the very essence of our work,” Cucinelli says. “I have always believed that living and working in pleasant places could somehow contribute to people’s wellbeing and creativity at work.”
Cucinelli essentially reimagined the company town where only a few hundred people still lived, making Solomeo into a cultural center for longtime and new residents dedicated to preserving Italian art and craftsmanship, with a school, library, and theater. It’s also a haven for his embrace of “humanistic capitalism,” which allows him to reinvest profits back into the community.
“This is a new kind of capitalism,” says Cucinelli, who frequently references philosophers like Boethius, Kant, Rousseau, Saint Francis, and Socrates, whose texts fill his libraries. “There is harmony between profit and giving back.”
For Cucinelli, whose style icons include Ralph Lauren, “fashion is a representation of how we feel and what we represent.” That’s especially true in Italy, where, according to Cucinelli, it is a part of the culture. “We are lucky enough to live in a wonderful country where the climate, the history of the arts, the food have accustomed us to the beautiful. Fashion is an integral part of our DNA.”
Cucinelli describes his personal style as classic but casual. “I admire a look which has both tailoring and relaxed details so that it never feels too uptight,” he says. “I could never give up my light navy blue cashmere blazer and my panama trousers that I wear across all seasons. It’s a sort of uniform, something that sets me apart. For me, dressing well crosses the line of time and history; it can be applied to different social contexts depending on the combinations and outfits.”
I believe we all have a responsibility to each other, our future generations, and to our land.Brunello Cucinelli
Like every industry, fashion was impacted by the coronavirus. But during months of quarantines in Italy, Cucinelli made sure his staff was taken care of. None of his 2,000 employees were laid off, and no stores were shuttered. Cucinelli is also donating 30 million euros in merchandise to those in need. The brand continues to invest in its future, and look forward to whatever may come next.
Cucinelli knows it won’t be easy returning to the way it was before the pandemic. While working from home may become the norm for many moving forward, “I think it is important that we still get dressed and look respectable,” Cucinelli says. “I think we should restart with beauty, in every possible field.”
It brings to mind his favorite Dostoevsky quote, “Beauty will save the world,” which Cucinelli feels could not be more relevant today. “I believe we all have a responsibility to each other, our future generations, and to our land,” he says. “The [Brunello Cucinelli] brand today continues to be responsible first and foremost for its people, their families, and continues to do great work so that we may move into a new chapter with a renewed spirit, a creative mind, and a fed soul.”