Life will move on, but memories are forever. One event that I will always remember is the lovely dinner I had with Italian-born knitwear specialist Brunello Cucinelli (68) and his family at his home in Solomeo this weekend, co-hosted by MR PORTER Managing Director Fiona Firth. Launched in 1978, his brand is renowned for its ethical and philosophical approach to business, as much as its sumptuous fabrics and timeless color palette. With a focus on dyed and embellished cashmere and chic separates, his seasonless pieces are true wardrobe investments.
Being described as «the king of cashmere», he is based in the tranquil surroundings of Solomeo – a 14th century Umbrian village near Assisi. A place that lies deep in Brunello’s heart as it represents the core of his family, business and spiritual life. It is actually his wife’s home village. More recently the company business, which was initially established at the castle in Solomeo, was relocated to the valley below; the ancient medieval buildings now host the classrooms of the School of Contemporary Arts and Crafts, set up in 2013.
The Hamlet is now even more closely linked to the Forum of the Arts, and one might even say that the whole of Solomeo is an area devoted to culture, to art, to traditions, to history, to a happy life. Thanks to Cucinelli’s dedication, this beautiful little village has been completely restored. He has also built a theatre considered to be a secular temple of art, a library, the new Universal Library of Solomeo, reminiscent of his own where people can read books in a beautiful eighteenth-century villa, then a monument to the Dignity of Man and an immense park called «Project for Beauty». Before dinner, Brunello Cucinelli showed us around and explained us passionately the projects.
Brunello Cucinelli is a very captivating man. He speaks French fluently, for English he has a translator. We had our dinner conversation in French and it was very impressive to learn more about him, his strong family ties, the way he likes to give back and how he preserves cultural goods. He donates 20% of his profits through the Brunello Cucinelli Foundation. He believes in a very modern concept: Being good to people and to the environment will always pay off in the long run.
Brunello loves philosophy, everywhere in Solomeo you can find famous quotes by famous philosophers that are important to him. He also uses them in speeches. Cucinelli is the closest thing the luxury world has to a philosopher – he dropped out of college to pursue his own agenda of philosophical reading. «I live and work as an Italian, but I think like a Greek.»
«Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end» (I. Kant)
Growing up in rather poor conditions, he saw how his father was subject to humiliation. Therefore the way you treat others has become an essential part of his life. Giving back to the community is extremely important to him. As his clothing empire has expanded, Cucinelli has spent untold sums revitalizing Solomeo. Not only has he refurbished its infrastructure, he’s also opened a tuition-free arts school to teach traditional skills like gardening and, of course, tailoring and invisible mending.
He told us about the speech he gave in Rome past October to the World’s Great Leaders on the occasion of the G20.
«Humanistic capitalism has been the guideline for my conduct as an entrepreneur from the very beginning, and I have imagined and come up with this definition for my enterprise. What I mean by humanistic capitalism is precisely this idea, this concept of a fair and sustainable profit, a profit harmonised with giving back: striking a balance between profit and giving back; donating to the world as guardians of creation, leaving to those coming after us not the very same world we found, but a more amiable one. I envisage humanistic capitalism as a great harmony within which profit, giving back, guardianship, human dignity and the ethics of truth coexist and enrich each other.» – Brunello Cucinelli
Brunello is a big family man – the Cucinelli clan lives in neighbouring homes in Solomeo. The founder’s two daughters, Camilla and Carolina, work in the family business and Cucinelli’s son-in-law, Riccardo Stefanelli, was recently appointed joint CEO in 2020 after 14 years in the company. Carolina is co-president and co-creative director of the company. Her husband Alessio Piastrelli works on the menswear team. Camilla sits on the board and is part of the womenswear design team.
Cucinelli’s father lived with him until he died last year at age 100. His wife Federica and himself have been together since their teenage years. The couple has now three grandchildren. The eldest, Victoria, seems to have inherited a lot from her grandpa. The two get a long so well. It was a true pleasure speaking to the 12-year old young lady. When we asked her, where she would love to live when she is older, she immediately replied: «Nowhere else than Solomeo.»
In 2012, Cucinelli took the $810 million (2021 revenues) company public, listing its shares on the Italian stock exchange. In 2014, Brunello Cucinelli has transferred his entire stake in the firm to a trust – a relative uncommon structure in Italy – to benefit his daughters and ensure the continuation of his philantrophic work.
When I asked him why he has never done a fashion show, he told me: «My clothes have to be felt, touched and seen in real life. In our showroom we offer this experience. Therefore I was never interested in doing a runway presentation.»
As it started raining upon arrival, the tables were moved from the Hamlet to a covered area overlooking the valley and the theatre. The food was traditional Italian, served family style. The appetizers included one of my favorite local recipes, panzanella, an Umbrian dish of bread and tomatoes, that gives you immediately the flavor of a warm Italian summer night. As a main course, we were treated to different sorts of freshly baked crispy pizzas. I loved the one with no cheese and only fresh tomatoes.
Being part of the Brunello Cucinelli clan for one weekend made me think that the Maison is different, it’s absolutely worth the price, it’s not just the cashmere and outstanding craftsmanship, I will tell you more about in one of my next posts, but the philosophy of giving back we are buying into.
Photos: © Sandra Bauknecht
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