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 CondÃ© 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.