So, the last time we met we talked about philosophy, and philosophy is still the same for us,” Brunello Cucinelli says through a translator, sitting upright behind a glass desk in his sprawling, light-filled office at the brand’s headquarters in Solomeo, Umbria. It’s four years since WISH talked with Cucinelli, the cashmere king lauded in Italy for his capitalismo umanistico (humanist capitalism), but he picks up on our previous thread of conversation as though it were just last week. “First of all, I’d like to share with you some comments on the parco della bellezza, the park of beauty,” he continues unprompted, gesturing outside his windows, “followed by some important comments on these precise moments we are living. Then I’d like to share with you some comments on the decline of consumerism” – he points to my iPhone and grimaces – “this informatics, this IT noise in which we are immersed. And then the other theme is the problem that we overwork. We overwork and we therefore we are too much connected.”
This is how an interview transpires with Cucinelli: equal parts conversation, sermon and symposium. He places A4 sheets of paper in front of him, on which he sketches, circles and underlines notes to emphasise his themes, which over the next hour will segue from the importance of living according to our nature, to the lives of Michelangelo, Lorenzo de Medici, Leonardo Da Vinci and his concern about what he calls il male dell’anima, our “malaise of the spirit”, for which he believes mobile technology is partly to blame.
For 60 minutes, however, he won’t utter a single word about fashion. Nothing about his design inspiration or the desirability of his luxurious ready-to-wear garments – significant, considering the publicly listed Brunello Cucinelli global empire turned over a net profit of 220 million ($320m) in the first half of 2016, and is forecast to grow sales and profits at double-digit rates for the second half. He will talk and talk in his rich, melodious voice, punctuated by passionate gestures, and we listen, happy to be mere passengers in the dialogue. Because it’s not what Cucinelli has to say that makes him such an extraordinary human being. It’s what he does. In this little corner of Umbria, Cucinelli, the son of a farmer turned factory worker, has created an industrial utopia for himself and his 800 workers, with fairness and respect for humanity as the pillars of bigprofit enterprise. “Il futuro dell’Italia è nella bellezza,” Cucinelli is fond of saying. The future of Italy – and maybe of us all – is in beauty.
“Everything we can do, we do for someone else,” Cucinelli had confided during our previous visit to his headquarters in January 2012. “This is the philosophy of our life. I would like that when you buy a Brunello Cucinelli item you know that; I hope you know that we