Mr Brunello Cucinelli
As the sumptuous Italian brand makes its first appearance on MR PORTER, we meet the founder and designer in his Umbrian home village.
The caramel hue of the stone. That’s the first thing you notice as you climb the cobbled hill to the 14th-century castle that is now the heart and home of luxury Italian casual brand Brunello Cucinelli. In Italian masonry it’s referred to as filaretto, a local rock that when drenched in sunlight exudes the town of Solomeo and its inhabitants with a distinctive warmth and glow.
Greeting us is one of Solomeo’s most infamous villagers, the brand’s founding father and namesake, 61-year-old Mr Brunello Cucinelli (below). Tall, slim and positively spritely, he is dressed in earthy tones very much in keeping with his surroundings; pale suede desert boots, a chocolate brown linen blazer, white button-down shirt and cuffed grey wool trousers. It’s a very particular and stylish combination.
Mr Cucinelli has a particular stance to match: feet together, hands stuffed in pockets minus the thumbs, with his one-and-a-half buttoned blazer pulled back either side of them to give the whole look a unique sense of elegant dishevelment, or as the Italians prefer to call it sprezzatura. The tie knot is small, tight and dimpled, the colours muted and complementary, the fabrics tactile, perfectly crumpled and soft. See the whole thing in action and you want to abandon everything in your wardrobe and dress this way forever. No wonder then that this “sporty chic” aesthetic has been instrumental in catapulting what began in 1978 as a small cashmere sweater business into what it is now a global luxury brand, with an annual net revenue of almost €356m and a global headcount of 1,300.
The fabrics may be luxurious but the clothes are comfortable to wear and cool in their design. “We combine many things, colours, shapes, but the most important thing is to have this image of easy chic, this image of craftsmanship, quality, cut, both when you are wearing sporty or strictly formal garments,” he explains animatedly as we roam the narrow streets of the hamlet he now largely owns through his gradual investments; the theatre he designed and built more than seven years ago alongside his wife, Federica (who was born here), the streets he re-surfaced and restored, the charming gardens he commissioned or re-built. “I wanted not to alter its nature,” he explains, suddenly serious. “I just wanted to make this hamlet productive again. Once upon a time wheat, olive oil and corn were produced here, today we produce cashmere, so I don’t think I have dramatically changed its nature. I wanted to preserve it, safeguard it, embellish it.”
Human beings are much more creative in the morning after a good rest and after devoting time to themselves and their families
It’s this careful approach and sensitivity that has earned Mr Cucinelli the reputation as the “king of cashmere”. His rise, from Umbrian farm boy and university drop-out to beneficent preserver, societal guardian and purveyor of luxury has been built rather than bought, a key factor in his national popularity. Over a period of 40 years he has slowly transformed the tiny hamlet from weary and dilapidated to industrious, polished and picturesque. The people living here during that period have witnessed its transformation with awe and pride, and rather than resent the man who came and bought up their village, they applaud him. “Before, this place was a shithole,” explains 90-year-old resident Mr Bruno Rotoni, deadpan, as he ambles past us during filming, “Mr Cucinelli has given the place some dignity.”
Left: Brunello Cucinelli tailor Mr Fulvio Bastianini
If a single word were to be hung up as the brand’s manifesto, that word would surely be dignity. Dignity of design, of branding, of ethos. It’s something Mr Cucinelli speaks of often in interviews and extensively in his book, Solomeo. It’s also something he has tried to infuse into the lives of all those that work for him. As such, employees are encouraged to refrain from emailing one another after 5.30pm to allow for rest, contemplation and family time. “I have always claimed that the human being should work a fair amount of hours, that is eight hours a day, and after that it is necessary to devote time to your spirit, your soul and your body,” he explains.
Similarly, every lunchtime the teams clock-off and stroll over to the Cucinelli canteen (much more glamorous than it sounds we can assure you – it commands perfect views back to the castle and Solomeo) for home-cooked pasta and even a glass of red wine. “Human beings are much more creative in the morning after a good rest and after devoting time to themselves and their families,” he says. “I come from a family of farmers, therefore a poor family, I have witnessed hardship in my parents, my brothers. I saw how hard work can be and how humiliating, I do not want to do the same, this is why we work, of course we do, but we respect human dignity. To make special garments we need special human beings. In order to be special, human beings need to be treated with moral and economic dignity. These are the foundations of my work.”
In an era of disposable fashion, the notion of a conscious and philosophical multi-millionaire may seem an unlikely one. Perhaps then, we should discuss his next move, A Project for Beauty, which involves the construction of three parks in the foothills of the village – to include a small stadium, 70ha of fruit and vegetable crops to be used in the company’s canteen and 35,000sqm of natural vegetation to replace six abandoned industrial buildings. It’s clear Mr Cucinelli isn’t just building a business here, he is designing a way of life and perhaps more importantly, a return to true craftmanship. Such things have become his life’s work and cashmere, while instrumental, is all just part of the process. “The Italian philosopher Adriano, a lover of beauty, best explains my approach,” says Mr Cucinelli as we part ways in his office. “I feel responsible for the beauty in the world. If you build something that does not look good then you have made mankind uglier.”
Without further ado then, let us introduce you to the beautiful world of Mr Brunello Cucinelli. Made with love, in Italy.
MR CUCINELLI’S FIVE RULES OF STYLE
01 Don’t be afraid to mix and match
“I like to mix and match, this is my spirit, to make my look sporty, chic or elegant according to the occasion. Today, I am fairly elegantly dressed, but I can also wear this with sneakers and cargo trousers. If I want to go to speak at a university tomorrow, I could match sneakers with cargo trousers, whereas if I have an appointment with Mr David Cameron I might wear this. The most important thing is to wear a sartorial blazer which gives you a special touch.”
02 Learn from the young
“I have not drawn my inspiration from anybody in particular, but I have always liked the way young people dress; young people know what to wear, so I always look at what they do and then reshape it for a 30 to 40 year old man, but the underlying idea is to mix tailored pieces with very sporty ones.”
03 Fit is everything
“If you wear tapered one-and-a-half breasted blazers [effectively a double-breasted jacket with much less overlap and buttons spaced close together] instead of double-breasted ones, this shows off your body, it is flattering. Another important thing is the fit, because if you wear a slightly enveloping blazer that shows off your chest and your buttocks, you look more handsome but also slimmer.”
04 Learn what colours work
“I have always tried to match a well-manufactured, tapered blazer to denim or cargo trousers; what is paramount is the colour palette and the ability to mix and match garments to look sporty and chic. What I like the most is that our men and our women really match in their clothing.”
05 Don’t forget your pocket square
“The pocket square is another important detail, because you see, a blazer without the pocket square is not the same thing, it’s a small detail that goes a long way.”
What To Wear...
Film by Mr Jacopo Maria Cinti