Brunello Cucinelli’s Italian Shangri-la | A Continuous Lean.

Brunello Cucinelli’s Italian Shangri-la

Jun 7th, 2011 | Categories: Italy, Made in Italy 2011 | by Michael Williams

Lead

Anything in any way beautiful derives its beauty from itself and asks nothing beyond itself. Praise is no part of it, for nothing is made worse or better by praise. -Marcus Aurelius

Ask Brunello Cucinelli about the company he has painstakingly built over the past 30 years and he will likely explain that he is simply the caretaker not the owner and certainly not the CEO. The man is humble and spiritual in a way that rubs off easily. He openly states he would rather be reading (and re-reading) the texts of Marcus Aurelius than doing almost anything else. Me being someone who doesn’t spend much, if any, time in a church, visiting the world of Cucinelli in the small village of Solomeo is probably as close as I can get to having a religious experience.

The Cucinelli company headquarters occupies a 14th century castle on the top of a hill in the middle of the landlocked Umbria region, an area referred to as the “green heart” of Italy. Cucinelli moved to the castle (which was in need of some repair) in 1987 and has since transformed the place into what could be the most idyllic company head office in all the world.

The hub of the place is undoubtedly the company cantina, which occupies its own building very near the main offices. Everyday the entire staff eats lunch there, family style with assigned seating. Lunch consists of small plates, multiple courses, fruit, bread and of course a little wine. Then it all ends with an espresso and back to work. To see the Cucinelli staff stream in (almost all wearing gray, the color of the season) after the church bells rang, take their seats and go about enjoying their meal reminded me how far away from America I was. Google may have its crazy catering options to appeal to nearly every possible whim and Condé Nast its Frank Gehry-designed cafeteria, but I can say with confidence that neither hold a candle to the Cucinelli cantina. Simple and beautiful, quintessentially Italian.

Walking through the brick corridors of the series of connected and meticulously restored buildings, room after room is filled with knits, yarns and cashmeres in all different colors. A good portion of the production is done there in the 14th century castle and also in a Cucinelli facility at the base of the hill. Another significant part of the production is done independently in the homes of people in the surrounding area. This is something I saw at other manufacturers in Italy, piece work done in the home in spare time or on the side. In America, the Labor Department actually forbids this type of cottage industry practice of garment production, or tries to. While visiting with Billy Reid in his hometown of Florence, Alabama last year he took me to meet the people from Alabama Chanin, who have devised a unique method of production by outsourcing 100% of its sewing locally to women in their homes. This sort of old world meets new world business modeling didn’t sit well with the U.S. Labor department (mostly because of the engrained and outdated laws that “protect” American garment workers) and caused a bit of a battle to overcome on Alabama Chanin’s part. It is ironic if you look at the garment industry in America, makes you want to shake your head at the government’s attempt to protect and control.

But in Italy they are hands off enough (or aloof enough) to let things continue as they have for the past few hundred years. As you move through the Cucinelli castle, there are bags and bags of garments everywhere waiting to be finished or inspected. It is interesting to see the people there inspecting and closely following the process. Considering the sheer beauty of the place and the people, it is no wonder the clothing is so great. Mr. Cucinelli explains, “cashmere is for eternity,” and judging from what is happening in that castle in Solomeo, so is Brunello Cucinelli.

[Brunello Cucinelli Official Link]

Comments: 23

23 Comments to “Brunello Cucinelli’s Italian Shangri-la”

  1. Justin
    on Jun 7th, 2011
    @ 12:29 PM

    Great post, and gorgeous pictures. I definitely wish I was there. Nice to hear so many people are involved in the creation of something together. Great read, now off to the crowded cafeteria to buy my $10 day old tuna wrap and bag of generic potato chips, then back to my desk to eat it while working.

  2. Phil Frabble
    on Jun 7th, 2011
    @ 3:07 PM

    When did this Web site going from undying reverence for the simply styled working classes to a site of undying reverence for the wealthy and their trappings?

  3. Matt
    on Jun 7th, 2011
    @ 3:47 PM

    Bellisimo!

  4. Smith&Ratliff
    on Jun 7th, 2011
    @ 4:01 PM

    Amazing photos. Really wish we could be there.

  5. great zamboni
    on Jun 7th, 2011
    @ 5:11 PM

    Who needs Calgon, this blog always takes me away to a nicer place…. Kudos!

  6. The Trad
    on Jun 7th, 2011
    @ 6:16 PM

    “Italian Shangri-la” or Italian Reach for da stars. “Cashmere is for eternity.” Cashmere has to be one of the most short lived fabrics around. Look at it wrong it goes thread bare. I love Umbria but trust me… this guy could sell a Fiat in Detroit.

  7. cocò
    on Jun 8th, 2011
    @ 6:27 AM

    incantevole…..come il suo prodotto del resto…

  8. TMH
    on Jun 8th, 2011
    @ 8:50 AM

    Such a great way to live. Is anyone helping you transition back to working in a sweatshop on Greene?

  9. 2buttonswag
    on Jun 8th, 2011
    @ 9:50 AM

    I’m going to try and find property like this. There’s not a single car in sight, and I just imagine everyone always having smiles on their faces while walking the streets. However, I could see this town having a situation like in the short story “The Lottery”.

  10. Jeremiah Simmons
    on Jun 8th, 2011
    @ 9:56 AM

    Inspiring stuff as usual Mr. Williams. Well done!

  11. Joel
    on Jun 8th, 2011
    @ 11:14 AM

    I want to go to there.

  12. 18milesperhour
    on Jun 8th, 2011
    @ 2:42 PM

    Sure is beautiful. And the way they work and dine reminds me of Dario Pegoretti and his little bicycle company. It seems romantic, but in the end, Phil and Trad, I second your thoughts.

  13. Monika N
    on Jun 8th, 2011
    @ 4:26 PM

    Excellent story. I had no idea about those work restrictions in our country. Shaking my head indeed.

    The Trad: as far as the durability of Cashmere, I wear a lot of second hand/vintage/thrift, and I always try to buy cashmere garments because they last longest. Not sure where you’re getting your cashmere – I’m sure HOW it’s made will affect its longevity – but the cashmere sweaters and coats that I own are indestructible.

  14. Tim
    on Jun 8th, 2011
    @ 6:23 PM

    Taking a shot at religion? His stuff is WAY out of my price range but everything is so beautiful! I wouldn’t mind moving into a castle :)

  15. Joel
    on Jun 9th, 2011
    @ 10:26 AM

    This post finally helped to explain why this clothing is so incredibly expensive. Just wish I could afford any of it.

  16. Dennis from Siberia
    on Jun 9th, 2011
    @ 10:40 AM

    I love Brunello Cucinelli!!!

  17. Justin
    on Jun 9th, 2011
    @ 11:39 AM

    @ Monika N:

    I had no idea thrift stores carried much Grade A Cashemere garments. Then again, I usually don’t find myself looking through the women’s section. I need to go to the thrift stores you do if people are just giving stuff like that away.

  18. fermelife.blogspot.com
    on Jun 9th, 2011
    @ 6:43 PM

    Any recommendations for Marcus Aurelius writings?

  19. Joel
    on Jun 10th, 2011
    @ 11:34 AM

    Any talk while you were there about the Michael Bastian line that they (I think) used to make? Was the Bastian stuff made there as well?

  20. Bonchance
    on Jun 10th, 2011
    @ 2:12 PM

    @ Phil
    This company may cater to the rich, but the people making them are
    regular folks as far as I can see. What’s so different about this post from the post on IWC
    or HIckey Freeman and what not?

  21. The Trad
    on Jun 11th, 2011
    @ 5:34 PM

    Monika-
    Two words. Cashmere socks.

  22. Sean S.
    on Jun 12th, 2011
    @ 8:00 PM

    You do realize that cottage industry/piece meal work was regulated out of existence mostly due to the gross abuses and exploitation that it created? While obviously Alabama Channin isn’t engaging in that, there IS a reason why it was targeted, often times by the “workers” who were in it.

  23. marc
    on Jun 13th, 2011
    @ 8:19 PM

    People sewing at home never get proper compensation or a decent salary. It’s the oldest form of worker exploitation. They are paid poorly, don’t get Social Security, will never get a pension, and they do not usually pay taxes. That’s way it’s a forbidden practice on most of the civilized world. Calling exploitation “outsourcing” does not make it more acceptable.

    Don’t ask the couturiers, they all say they pay them well. They lie.