Designer Brunello Cucinelli: Soft Philosopher

Designer Brunello Cucinelli is a unique humanist with ethics at heart. Oh, and he makes incredible luxury clothing, too!

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Brunello Cucinelli is known as ‘the king of ethical cashmere‘, with an eponymous luxury fashion brand selling womenswear, menswear and homeware based in Italy.

His 500+ employees are mainly based in a  a medieval hamlet near Perugia. Although they’re a large group, they often act as a family, eating outdoors together on tables groaning with Italian delicacies, or in the canteen which Cucinelli has ensured is stocked with gourmet Italian foods.

If their work is suited to it, employees can also simply go home and be with their real families while they produce butter-soft cashmere clothing or crunch numbers for Cucinelli. He is a big believer in the dignity of work, and trusts his employee’s judgement in how they think they can be most productive.

designer Brunello Cucinelli

A Modern Italian Renaissance Man

Truly enamoured with the ‘green heart of Italy’, the knitwear designer has invested heavily in local restoration projects and the creation of a Forum for the Arts in the hamlet. There, musical concerts, theatrical productions and lectures on philosophy are given.

In fact, he is passionate about philosophy, and goes to debates twice a week. The second century Roman Emperor, Marcus Aurelius, is a true inspiration to him. The ancient Roman believed we should all live like this may be our last day on Earth, but plan as though we would live forever. In other words, live in the moment, but safeguard the future.

This is exactly what designer Brunello Cucinelli aims to do. Not only with his wildly successful sustainable cashmere business, but in his personal life, too. He is a practitioner of Tibetan yoga, which he does daily, and claims the benefits of yoga are beyond what he ever expected. It has, he says, relaxed him immeasurably, improved his failing eyesight, and can even make hair grow back on balding pates.

designer Brunello Cucinelli

Humble Beginnings

You now might be thinking designer Brunello Cucinelli is some kind of posh, intellectual snob. But nothing could be further from the truth!

Born to a peasant family in Castel Rigone — a 15th century little hamlet near Perugia — designer Brunello Cucinelli grew up with no electricity or running water. This probably nurtured his conviction that every human being should have guaranteed access to basic needs.

Fast forward a few decades, and he decided to set up his own sustainable fashion company. Not to gain fame and fortune, but to empower his local community by working in the industry of their ancestors: producing cashmere.

designer Brunello Cucinelli

Responsible Capitalism

Now listed as one of the richest men of Italy in 2018, with a net worth of €1.5 billion, knitwear designer Brunello Cucinelli not one to keep his wealth to himself. He puts his money towards what he defines as “Humanistic Capitalism.” For example? Cucinelli paid for the restoration of Norcia, the city near Perugia devastated by the August 2016 earthquake.

Using capitalism for social good is, of course, not something that Cucinelli conceived of on his own. He has coalesced the ideas of philosophers who pondered the “Social Contract,” such as Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke and especially Rousseau.

According to Cucinelli, modern capitalism should be a space “where humans and animals, land and water live in harmony.” He uses the past as inspiration, recalling how humanity once “harvested and husbanded animals using no fertilizer.” Everything was balanced and natural, unlike today.

And this is why in the summer of 2019, designer Brunello Cucinelli organised a three-day Summit in Solomeo. Here, tech leaders from Silicon Valley were invited to discuss how entrepreneurship can have a more human face. And heaven knows, this subject was an urgent one, since some of the most inhumane, authoritarian CEOs on earth were present. These included LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman; Dropbox co-founder and CEO Drew Houston; Twitter CFO Ned Segal, and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Brunello led discussions on how rather than killing free speech and creating social division, these mega-enterprises could transform to become agents of positive change. Hmm. We have our doubts, but fingers crossed!

While the local cashmere that Cucinelli sources is all ethical, his work practices and personal philosophies are what really make his company stand out. He believes that with modern life being as it is today, ‘there is a need to return to ethics in every activity.‘ And thank goodness, he has no problem taking the lead.

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Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

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