Brunello Cucinelli Interview
Known as the philosopher-designer of the world's most luxurious cashmere sweaters, Brunello Cucinelli shares his love of classic books and looks and his commitment to his Umbrian hometown.
By Britt Burritt
Brunello Cucinelli really is that proverbial thinking man. Before the term was common, Cucinelli practiced slow fashion. Studied describes not only his approach to his craft but also to his influence in the world. Since entering the industry in 1978, Cucinelli has built a well-compensated workforce in Solomeo, Italy, where almost every bit of his collections is created, and invested in the Umbrian locale through historic conservation projects: returning an abandoned industrial center to nature and creating a public playfield and community vegetable garden nearby. He has also financed a free arts school in Solomeo, where students learn traditional skills like agriculture, masonry and tailoring.
"Solomeo is a special and serene place," he says. "It is a small village with few people. However, its community cares a great deal about the preservation and beauty of the land. We have worked hard to restore many hundreds of acres within and surrounding Solomeo, which is evident to anyone who visits. It is filled with beautiful trees, forests, countryside, farmland, wineries and historic sites that are unique to the town's history."
Cucinelli refers to Solomeo's genius loci, the ancient Roman concept that every place has a residing spirit or god that imbues it with unique characteristics and capabilities. "Listening to the voice of the spirit of the place is at the basis of all my projects, whether big or small," he says. "Solomeo inspires our collections by bringing us life and beauty in the simplest of ways."
For nearly two decades, the Italian designer focused exclusively on making the highest quality cashmere sweaters. He sought the best wool, the best artisans, the best designers. Once his knitwear became the ultimate in luxury construction, Cucinelli expanded to include equally exquisite shoes, suits, outerwear and accessories, all made in Italy. Every Brunello Cucinelli piece is the most perfect version of itself, a sort of sartorial Platonic Ideal. While made for this moment, the design will be wearable for decades, if not forever.
Fall 2019 includes sumptuous sweaters and trousers, which feel in step with this season's oversized, relaxed tailoring but will endure well beyond. The beige and natural palette lends itself to both monochrome dressing and mixing with the jewel tones sprinkled throughout the collection. The wide-leg, high-waist, belted pants in both denim and a cotton blend are the staple that will reshape your autumn wardrobe. Cucinelli's jackets are where his team lets loose. You'll find embroidered silk bombers, paillette-dotted knits, curly-mohair cropped coats and nappa leather trenches: statement outerwear for those who speak eloquently.
According to the collection, men can't have too many layers this season. "Our signature style is enriched with a new variety of volumes and combinations harking back to the style icons of the 1950s," Cucinelli says of Fall 2019, "a time when new generations swept in to evolve the tailoring tradition through the introduction of unconventional elements and increasingly creative combinations."
This mix of the evolution and classicism is a common theme for Brunello Cucinelli the man as well as the label, as evidenced by his reading list which he shared.
You are a lover of philosophy and knowledge. Can you share with us:
What you're reading right now?
I am currently reading Per amore del mondo, a collection of the acceptance speeches by Nobel Prize in Literature recipients.
Who is your favorite author?
It is a tricky question because choosing a name means excluding others I am equally fond of. However, I can say that a thinker who has definitely changed my life and the way I see the world is [Immanuel] Kant, in particular the moral thinker of the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, who wrote, "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means."
But I am equally fond of the other great Kantian statement closing the Critique of Practical Reason: "The starry heavens above me and the moral law within me."
What is your favorite novel?
Another difficult choice: how to choose between Manzoni's The Betrothed, Cervantes' Don Quixote, Tolstoy's War and Peace? … Not to mention another absolute masterpiece, The Odyssey! However, if I was to single out a novel that has always been really close to my heart, I would pick Marguerite Yourcenar's Memoirs of Hadrian, a combination of Emperor Hadrian's vision of the world and the extraordinary literary talent of the French writer.
Books you most often give as gifts?
A philosophy book I like to give as a gift to my friends is Epicurus' Letter on Happiness, as it is also a special wish. I also love one of the most beautiful stories ever written, The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, maybe because, in spite of my age, I still feel I have a young heart like the protagonist of this marvelous, delightful story. Another book I like to give as a gift is Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined, as it helps recover a certain degree of optimism that each human being is entitled to have in their spirit.