GOOD FELLA

EV­ERY STORY ABOUT BRUNELLO CUCINELLI TALKS ABOUT HIS BIG HEART (HIS STAFF WORK IN A RE­SORT-LIKE FAC­TORY) AND PRO­FOUNDLY ETH­I­CAL AP­PROACH TO RUN­NING A FASH­ION BUSI­NESS (HIGHER WAGES, FREE GOURMET MEALS FOR EM­PLOY­EES). NOELLE LOH RE­PORTS ON THE OTHER THING

Female (Singapore) - - CONTENTS -

Ital­ian designer Brunello Cucinelli makes cash­mere a class act.

Ital­ian cash­mere designer Brunello Cucinelli de­serves a place in eco­nomic text­books as much as he does in fash­ion his­tory tomes. Since found­ing his epony­mous la­bel in 1985, he’s been prac­tis­ing what he calls “hu­man­ist cap­i­tal­ism”, a busi­ness phi­los­o­phy that’s based on the sim­ple, right­eous logic that work should be a dig­ni­fied ac­tiv­ity. The 61-year-old had grown up poor in the coun­try­side of Cas­tel Rigone in the Um­brian re­gion, and the way his farmer-turned-fac­tory worker fa­ther toiled left a deep im­pres­sion.

To­day, his staff work in a sprawl­ing pro­duc­tion house that looks more like an idyl­lic hill­side re­sort – ev­ery room is de­signed with ex­pan­sive win­dows to let the post­card views and nat­u­ral light in. Ac­cord­ing to fash­ion trade jour­nal Women’s Wear Daily, they’re paid about 20 per cent more than the mar­ket av­er­age and get off on the dot at 6pm. Lunch ev­ery day is a three-course meal, pre­pared by gourmet chefs, that in­cludes wine and olive oil from Cucinelli’s own groves, and doesn’t cost a thing. The charis­matic designer tells us: “Since the be­gin­ning, my dream has been to con­fer moral and eco­nomic dig­nity on work, be­cause it can so of­ten be hard and repet­i­tive.”

And in his case, good­ness does pay. He’s prac­ti­cally Lord of Solomeo, the 14th cen­tury Peru­gian ham­let where his com­pany, fac­tory and own home are based – he re­stored most of it, in­clud­ing the town’s cas­tle (now his HQ); set up a theatre, am­phithe­atre and “philoso­phers gar­den”; and even hands out stu­dent schol­ar­ships. Five years ago, he re­ceived an hon­orary de­gree in phi­los­o­phy and ethics from the Uni­ver­sity of Peru­gia. It’s a happy tale of a good king adored by his peo­ple.

The man is also a bil­lion­aire, his brand pub­licly listed since 2012 and sell­ing in more than 60 coun­tries. This raises some­thing of­ten over­shad­owed by his sto­ry­book life: Con­sumers dig this whole hu­man­ist cap­i­tal­ism utopia of his. You see, it’s what en­ables him to cre­ate gen­uinely lux­u­ri­ous clothes. This sea­son’s eth­nic-in­flu­enced col­lec­tion, for ex­am­ple, in­cludes cash­mere knits hand-wo­ven us­ing clas­sic macrame or braid­ing tech­niques for a net-like ef­fect, while skirts are made from fine wool gauze then swathed in silk feath­ers.

In Sin­ga­pore, where the brand opened a 2,000 sq ft bou­tique – its first in South-east Asia – at Paragon (#01-17/18) in De­cem­ber, prices start from $300 for a ba­sic

tee to $21,000 for a leather jacket. Even in an era of hy­per luxury, few ready-to-wear la­bels are as con­sis­tently ar­ti­sanal or com­mand as much.

“I choose to pro­duce ex­tremely high qual­ity, ex­clu­sive, hand-made prod­ucts cre­ated through tra­di­tional ar­ti­sanal meth­ods,” he says. “We need hu­man be­ings to pro­duce them… In or­der for peo­ple to want to stay and work with me, and build their skills, they have to be of­fered some­thing more… If you can see the sky, you are more cre­ative. If you are in a spe­cial en­vi­ron­ment, you be­come spe­cial.”

De­spite his hum­ble back­ground, Cucinelli has known no other way of mak­ing clothes. His first foray into the in­dus­try was in 1978. Then a col­lege dropout, he got lo­cal ar­ti­sans to pro­duce 53 cash­mere sweaters in bright, Benet­ton-in­spired hues when dye­ing cash­mere was un­heard of . “I’ve al­ways been at­tracted to the ma­te­rial and its long-last­ing qual­ity,” he says. “You hardly ever throw cash­mere away.” While he’s grad­u­ally ex­panded his reper­toire to cover a whole life­style – ready-to-wear, ac­ces­sories, home­ware – in the 2000s, at least 60 per cent of ev­ery col­lec­tion is still made out of the fine goat-de­rived fleece, ac­cord­ing to in­dus­try news­pa­per The Busi­ness of Fash­ion.

The lux­u­ri­ous­ness of the fi­bre, he says, is rea­son enough to buy his sig­na­ture sweaters, even with the lo­cal trop­i­cal cli­mate. “It is a highly spe­cialised prod­uct. Out of the whole fleece, you only use the fine fi­bres from a very small area be­neath the an­i­mal’s neck… Only around 250g of this un­der-down is ob­tained per goat per year, which is why cash­mere is so pre­cious,” he ex­plains. “The dif­fi­cul­ties as­so­ci­ated

“IF YOU CAN SEE THE SKY,

YOU ARE MORE CRE­ATIVE. IF YOU ARE IN A SPE­CIAL EN­VI­RON­MENT, YOU BE­COME SPE­CIAL.”

with sourc­ing and in­spect­ing the fi­bre fur­ther in­creases its value. (His long-term yarn sup­plier) Cariaggi and I make an­nual vis­its to Mon­go­lia and China to se­lect the best qual­ity.”

Of course, it helps that the knits have been skil­fully crafted by his ar­ti­sans to be pil­low light. Cucinelli read­ily ad­mits that his “is not a fash­ion brand”, fo­cus­ing in­stead on “con­tem­po­rary luxury pret-a-porter” – ev­ery­day wear­a­bil­ity is key. His Spring/ Sum­mer 2015 col­lec­tion is a mix of so­phis­ti­cated sports-in­spired sep­a­rates (wool pin­striped jog­ger pants and pa­perthin suede bombers); re­laxed yet el­e­gant tailor­ing (gilets and cu­lottes); and pretty, flow­ing skirts and dresses. Colours are pleas­ing and easy-to-match, with pow­dery pinks, greys and an off-white dubbed bis­cuit. The over­all look: un­der­stated and ef­fort­less, with­out los­ing that glam­our so in­trin­sic to Ital­ian dress­ing.

The term of­ten brings to mind the sar­to­rial pea­cock at­ten­dees of Pitti Uomo, the Florence-based menswear trade show, or bold fe­male clotheshorses like stylist Gio­vanna Battaglia, but Cucinelli de­liv­ers it with sub­tlety. “The whole idea of wear­ing clothes is not to look ridicu­lous,” he says. For him, look­ing and feel­ing dig­ni­fied is more im­por­tant than be­ing fash­ion­able, so much so that women would feel at ease even in his men’s pieces. “When we try our men’s sam­ples, we say, ‘Would you feel com­fort­able, ladies, if you went out dressed like this?’ Now you get dressed to come out to have din­ner with us,” he says of his cre­ative ap­proach.

It’s no won­der Prince Wil­liam wore a Cucinelli sweater for his of­fi­cial en­gage­ment por­trait in 2010, while Kim Kar­dashian re­port­edly lived in the brand af­ter giv­ing birth to daugh­ter North West. The la­bel is the epit­ome of mod­ern-day luxury – quiet, func­tional, ex­quis­ite enough for roy­alty. For those who want to look taste­ful, it’s an elixir. “We cre­ate things you will never want to get rid of – you can wear our pieces for years,” says the designer. In this age of In­sta-grat­i­fi­ca­tion, that alone is an im­mense luxury – and ev­ery cus­tomer’s hap­pily ever af­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Singapore

© PressReader. All rights reserved.