Italian Lifestyle and Fashion: Brunello Cucinelli. When Beauty meets Cashmere
- WTI Magazine #93 Jul 14, 2017
The Umbria region is well-known for its artistic and cultural heritage as well as its truffle-loaded and eye-pleasing plains. Nowadays, it is also known as the stall on which sits the so—called King of Cashmere: Brunello Cucinelli.
Italy has a vast symbolic, historic, and cultural legacy that spans across thousands of years; from the Etruscans and Romans to the Normans, on through the Renaissance to the Bourbons. This inheritance sets Italy apart; it is an invaluable source of inspiration that helps today’s ‘Made in Italy’ to face up to a demanding challenge: pouring this ineffable matter onto fine works of artisanship. An Umbrian businessman, Brunello Cucinelli, seems to have accomplished this difficult task.
Born in Castel Rigone in 1953, Brunello’s story speaks for itself. Since childhood, he had been fascinated by ideas of the Humanistic culture of the Renaissance. But the he was struck by the harsh and dehumanizing working conditions his father faced, which left a huge impact on him and sparked his vision for a fair, equal, and safe working environment that later shaped his own business model. In 1974, Brunello dropped out of college to turn his dream into reality. In 1978, he founded the company that bears his name in Ellera di Corciano and set his foot in the fashion market. Before, cashmere was used mostly for male apparel, but Cucinelli had the intuition to add some color to it and use it for women’s clothing as well. At the beginning of the 1980s, the first buyers interested in this product were from Trentino Alto Adige. Some years later, the brand also became very popular in the Federal Republic of Germany. Luckily – between 1984 and 1985 – the Italian Government supported companies by financing up to 80% of their export expenses. This policy helped Brunello’s company challenge the American market. To simplify the customs clearance process, Cucinelli implemented a workaround through direct shipment; his products were directly sent to American stores where they were picked-up locations by his clients.
The trick worked wonders as the demand increased month after month. By 1985, the brand was already selling clothes in the United States from New York to Los Angeles, and also was present in almost all the major American cities. As well as the notoriety his managerial and business skills brought him, giving him the name of ‘the King of cashmere’, the Cucinelli company also stood out as the actualization of Brunello’s conviction that working conditions need not to be harsh and that workers could be treated fairly. Brunello soon became one of the foremost standard-bearers of a different approach to doing business called ‘Humanistic Capitalism’. It is a business model cares not only for profits and dividends; it also advocates for a fair, safe and healthy workplace with a special regard for the environment. The human side plays a central role in his working environment. For example, working hours at his company are scheduled to allow his employees to spend time with their families or for other leisure activities.
Later in 1985, he acquired a 14th century tumbledown castle in Solomeo, a town that seems never to have left the Renaissance, and made it both the company headquarters and the pulse of his life and business philosophy; Solomeo is Brunello’s most ambitious project. Since its acquisition, it has undergone countless transformations that have turned it into a contemporary recreation of the Renaissance ideal city with its ‘Forum of the Arts’, ‘Theatre’, ‘Philosophers’ Garden’, ‘Library’ and ‘School of Arts and Crafts’. Brunello thought of the School as the stronghold to train aspiring artisans and to pursue his quest for wise hands that would make crafts immortal. There, all Cucinelli’s products are invented, designed, and made by hand.
Besides these views, which have earned him the nickname ‘The Philosopher’, Brunello is still a businessman. Other key dates mark growth of his company. In 1994, Brunello signed the first men’s collection and – above all – opened up his first single brand store. Later in 2002, Cucinelli showed the world his first total look men’s and women’s collection. At the same time, the fashion company broadened its distribution channels and continued to open single brand stores in major world cities. In addition, the brand began to diversify its production and now offers wider choices in terms of menswear and women’s wear that are not strictly cashmere-based. Since 2009, it includes purses and shoes made from leather as well as accessories of different kinds.
Over the years, the company has also grown in size; since the first employee hired in 1985, Brunello Cucinelli S.p.A today has over 1,300 employees. The company has entered international markets and Brunello Cucinelli designer clothes can be found in France, Germany, Japan, China, Canada, and the United States. In 2014, the U.S sales alone made up 34.5% of the company’s total revenues. 2012 is another landmark in Cucinelli’s history. In fact, the company opted to go public offering 35% of its stock. Instantly, the Italian fashion brand captivated the attention of international investors to the point that – these days – only 57% of the stocks are still owned by the Cucinelli family trust. Since its foundation in 1978, Brunello Cucinelli S.p.A has established itself as a leading brand in the luxury fashion market, reaching a market value of €1.6 billion in 2017.
The secret of his success lies in his ability to mix Italy’s unique cultural heritage with undeniable business skills. Cucinelli’s cashmere creations are imbued with Italy’s unique mix of history, tradition, taste, skills and artisanship. In less than 30 years, Brunello Cucinelli has become the King of Cashmere as well as a textbook case among Made in Italy brands.
Special thanks to David Ward, PhD, for his tremendous support.