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Experiences

BRUNELLO CUCINELLI

EXCLUSIVE CASHMERE BY BRUNELLO CUCINELLI IS MUST-HAVE FASHION WEAR IN NEW YORK AND SAINT TROPEZ ALIKE. HIS WORKSHOP IS A MEDIEVAL VILLAGE IN UMBRIA.

Text — Michaela Namuth Photos — Maurice Haas Date — 3 February, 2012

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—Brunello Cucinelli is one of Italy’s most successful businessmen

Brunello Cucinelli first came to Solomeo, not far from the provincial capital, Perugia, in 1985. Then it was a semi-abandoned medieval village on a green hilltop. Now Solomeo is synonymous with chic the world over. From this ancient “borgo”, Cucinelli despatches his cashmere collections to New York, Moscow, Hong Kong and Gstaad. The ancient stone walls have been restored in the finest detail. “Beauty will redeem the world,” is the motto engraved on a metal plate near one of the medieval gatehouses. Cucinelli has made Dostoevsky’s words his guiding principle. For him, Solomeo is not only a site for knitting machinery, but a venue for the fine arts. The village boasts a library and a newly built theatre, to which musicians and actors are invited from around the world”.

The staff restaurant lies in the building behind the central piazza. The premises are rustic, with heavy timber tables and a choice of regional dishes (a different menu every day). The canteen has a reputation for good wine and truffle specialties. In fact, Solomeo as a whole looks more like a spa resort than a corporate headquarters. Indeed this is no coincidence, but reflects the philosophy of the business. “Pleasant surroundings inspire creativity and people simply work better,” explains Cucinelli. Personally he occupies the tower room from which, like the princes before him, he enjoys a commanding view of the entire valley. “It liberates the spirit,” acknowledges the 57-year-old entrepreneur.

When Cucinelli began manufacturing coloured cashmere sweaters in the late 1970s, he had two employees and 500,000 lire cash in hand. Today he employs nearly 600 people, while a further 1500 work in cottage industries, producing knit fashions for his luxury label. There is a long tradition of knitwear manufacture in Umbria, kept alive in the small craft studios and workshops which work to supply Cucinelli. “This form of cooperation is a typical Italian production method, enabling us to export traditional craftsmanship all over the world,” he points out. The more complicated and labour-intensive garments are manufactured in Cucinelli’s own production shop, just outside the gates of Solomeo. Beyond them, behind the thick village walls, the prototypes of the collections are knitted and sewn together. The twelve-strong team of designers, including Cucinelli’s daughters Camilla and Carolina, work here.

However, the boss in person holds ultimate responsibility for house style. Cucinelli turns cashmere into desirable fashions. Of course the classic, V-necked grey cashmere pullover is still in production, but many new models have been added. There are leather jackets with knitted sleeves attached, straight-leg trousers for men, short and long dresses and leggings. The very latest addition is evening dresses in the finest knitted materials. Glowing yellow and red hues dominate the summer collections, including the menswear. “My designs draw inspiration from the fashion I see on the streets of New York or Perugia,” explains Cucinelli. The designers produce drawings, from which patterns are developed. These, in turn, are the models for the prototypes.

—Brunello Cucinelli sells his creations not only through selected retailers but also through 47 company-owned boutiques.

I WORRY MUCH LESS ABOUT FINDING NEW BUYERS FOR MY COLLECTIONS IN THE FUTURE THAN I DO
ABOUT RECRUITING THE WOMEN WITH THE SKILL FOR THESE COMPLEX TASKS

—Brunello Cucinelli

Yarn is selected according to the type of knitwork and pattern. Cucinelli uses cashmere from China and Mongolia, and his sole suppliers of the fine wool, already spun into thread, are the Italian firms Loro Piana® and Cariaggi®. Cashmere is particularly expensive because it can be obtained exclusively from the soft, downy undercoat of the goat. It is pleasant to wear in summer, and keeps the wearer warm in winter. The smart fashions from Solomeo typically combine cashmere with other exclusive materials such as silk, leather or hand embroidery. Patterns and yarn first come together in the skilled hands of Stella Salvatelli and the other women who produce the prototypes in one of the ancient stone houses.

Signora Salvatelli has worked on hand-operated knitting machinery for over 30 years. At present she is working on the new evening dress model, engrossed in the intricate task of knitting on a collar that must also seamlessly join together the separate finished parts. She has to hook these onto the needles of her machine, stitch by stitch. Then she moves the feed dog with the thread slowly to and fro by hand. Each movement results in one row. She is taking special care over this pattern, as paillettes are knitted into the yarn. After all these years, Stella still loves her work and never finds it boring. “Every new model presents a challenge,” she notes.

—A garment is tested for one hundred percent quality at least six times before it makes the grade as a genuine Cucinelli.

MY DESIGNS DRAW INSPIRATION FROM THE FASHION I SEE ON THE STREETS OF NEW YORK OR PERUGIA.

—Brunello Cucinelli

Entrepreneur and Philosopher

Born in 1953, Brunello Cucinelli is one of Italy’s most successful businessmen. But this self-made man is also a man of culture. That is why he has located his cashmere factory in the Umbrian mountain village of Solomeo, which he has restored according to original drawings. In his opinion, there is more to life than bread alone, and the medieval village also boasts a library and a Renaissance-style theatre, both of which are open for use by Cucinelli personnel. The theatre is part of the Arts Forum – a complex of buildings, squares, terraces and an amphitheatre meant for meditation as well as performances. Artists and visitors come to Solomeo from all over the world, to talk philosophy with the proprietors and savour the fine genius loci. Cucinelli himself is keen to point out that he comes from Umbrian farming stock. His business career began in the 1970s with the manufacture of neon-bright coloured cashmere sweaters. As the standard cashmere colours of the day were the classic greys and browns, this bold strategy proved successful from the outset. Brunello Cucinelli now sells his luxury fashions from more than a thousand multibrand outlets around the globe. His two daughters work for the company. So does his wife Federica, who brought him to Solomeo more than 30 years ago. In 2010 he won the World Entrepreneur of the Year award in Monte Carlo, and was presented with an honorary doctorate by the University of Perugia.

The prototypes are destined for the various manufacturers, who prepare the garments in the same way as Stella and her colleagues do in Solomeo. However, the single parts are returned to headquarters for inspection after each stage of the work. A garment is tested for one hundred percent quality at least six times before it makes the grade as a genuine Cucinelli. Testing takes place in the Hall of Mirrors, as the villagers call the room where the light tables stand. Here the fabrics are meticulously scrutinized. If a stitch has dropped or been pulled too tight, Rita Tiradossi swings into action. With the aid of crochet needles and other miniature tooling, she repairs everything that has not turned out absolutely perfect. Behind her, in a neat row of yarn spools, stands the whole range of colours used in the collections. Patience is of the essence in the work of Rita Tiradossi and her colleagues. Deft fingers and experience are other necessary attributes. “I worry much less about finding new buyers for my collections in the future than I do about recruiting the women with the skill for these complex tasks,” muses her boss.

If his business continues to boom as it has done in recent years, Brunello Cucinelli will certainly be on the lookout for new staff. In 2010 his company’s profit leapt by 83 percent, to EUR 15 million, while turnover topped the EUR 200 million mark. This year he expects the figure to be EUR 245 million. The USA, Germany and Switzerland are among his main foreign markets. So far sales have been evenly spread, with Italy, the rest of Europe and North America each accounting for one third. Only two percent of his output goes to the Chinese market. Cucinelli needs a lot of money to grow there, and would like to raise it on the stock market in future. This spring the company’s shares will be floated at Milan’s Piazza Affari.

Until then, the self-made Umbrian continues to open new shops. The number of brand-owned boutiques has risen from 7 to 47 in the past two years – all in premier locations in the world’s ritziest shopping districts. Cucinelli boutiques sell not only cashmere knitwear, but trousers, jeans and a grand assortment of accessories such as shoes, bags, suitcases and belts. All products belong to the Cucinelli Collection and, as a matter of principle, Cucinelli does not license them. “Genuine luxury has to be exclusive and of the highest quality”: this is his motto.

He believes the value of a product also lies in the way in which it is manufactured. “Anyone can find out from the Internet nowadays where and how a cashmere scarf is made, and it is quite right that they should,” comments Cucinelli. Ultimately, everything he has to show in Solomeo will bear inspection, but Cucinelli wishes to go one step further. Very much in the spirit of Dostoevsky, his favourite literature alongside Socrates and St. Francis, Cucinelli wants to help to make the world a more beautiful place. So part of the company’s profits are invested in restoring the medieval village. His next project is a guest house, as Cucinelli expects even more visitors to make their way to Solomeo in future. A group of Chinese managers, whom he recently took on a guided tour, wanted to buy the whole village, there and then. He laughs heartily at the recollection.

Explore More Articles
IWC Volvo Ocean Race
Meet the Volvo Ocean 65

Each Volvo Ocean 65 took seven months to build, involved 120 boat builders working a total of 36,000 man-hours in four boatyards, and combined the input of over 70 different suppliers.

The best helmets for the best drivers

Looking back on a long tradition, the helmet manufacturer Schuberth in Magdeburg has been one of the official FORMULA 1 suppliers since 2000. “The best helmets for the best drivers,” is the company’s motto. Indeed: Schuberth’s helmets have been the headgear of choice for drivers who have taken a total of five world championships.

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C. G. Jung (1875 – 1961) famous as the founder of analytic psychology, was married to the daughter of the owner of IWC and was himself thus a co-owner of the Schaffhausen watch manufactures

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