Jeff Bezos, Angelina Jolie are fans: meet Brunello Cucinelli, the fashion guru who dresses Silicon Valley giants and admires King Charles
- Brunello Cucinelli speaks to the Post about his admiration for King Charles and hosting Amazon’s Jeff Bezos for a symposium in 2019
- He explains why he does not use celebrities as advertisement, why he still lives and works in the place he was born, and reveals his stance on sustainability
Much like the titans of the world who wear his clothes, Brunello Cucinelli – the Italian designer, entrepreneur and renaissance man who helms the brand of the same name – is a company founder.
It is a rarity to meet a successful founder in any field, let alone in fashion, an industry dominated by heritage labels helmed by so-called creative directors who change jobs every five years or so.
When Cucinelli started his company in 1978 in Solomeo, a hamlet in the Umbria region of Italy where he was born, he wanted to create a brand completely made in Italy and based on the idea of timeless luxury.
Despite the incredible growth that the company has experienced over the last four decades, Cucinelli says that the excitement he felt when he sold his first 53 cashmere jumpers as the son of a farmer back in 1978 is not different from what he feels now when looking back at his achievements.
A lover of history and philosophy, Cucinelli has created an aura around himself and has become a sort of prophet in the elite circles of the world – name another designer invited to speak at a G20 meeting.
After getting to know Benioff and giving a speech at one of his conferences, Cucinelli hosted him and other Silicon Valley entrepreneurs in Solomeo for a three-day symposium in 2019.
“I told them, ‘You’re the Leonardos of modern times but he [Leonardo da Vinci] was a humanist. Will you be able to make the internet human?’” he says. “I love technology – it’s a gift from the creator – but I also think it could steal the soul that the creator gave us.”
He was not afraid to challenge them about the effect their companies have on society and to remind them of the pitfalls of technology and social media. “This extreme, constant connectivity is in danger of stealing our soul. You can’t spend 14 hours every day connected,” he says.
The association with those men has helped Cucinelli become a household name and grow his business, especially since it went public in 2012. How does he reconcile growth with his ethos of living in harmony with nature?
“Companies have to grow but not too fast or too much,” he says. “I’ve always aimed for sustained and gradual growth. On average, we’ve grown 10-11 per cent per year. It’s a healthy growth. Why do you have to grow so fast, what’s the purpose? You need to find a balance.”
He recounts how he once invited six Buddhist monks to Solomeo and, as they were about to eat a vegetarian lunch, one of them said, “Let’s eat just the right amount so that there’s enough for humanity.”
It is no secret that you have to be very wealthy to afford a Brunello Cucinelli sweater, but Cucinelli believes that purchasing products with integrity is the best way to be kind to the planet.
Once again, Cucinelli brings up King Charles, a man he admires not only for his impeccable style but also for his beliefs.
“The idea of reusing and repairing is something that I talked a lot with him about,” he says.
Billionaire tech moguls and royalty are obviously the ultimate seal of approval for a brand that targets the 1 per cent – those ultra-rich individuals who are not very impressed with celebrities and instead look up to people like Bezos.
“We don’t pay celebrities,” says Cucinelli. “They buy our clothes because it’s a matter of taste but also because they want to buy something made with dignity and respect for the Earth and humanity. If you have to buy something and it’s actually made by harming the world, you think twice.”
Even though his company is listed on the Italian stock exchange, Cucinelli plays by his own rules and has no plans to sell to a luxury group any time soon.
“We want to be independent because this was my life dream, to have my family involved, and make everything in Italy and make sure that this lasts for the next two centuries,” he says. “I plan for eternity. I wouldn’t sell. I love my land and Italy and believe that every human being is better off living where he was born, like I do.”
Cucinelli’s two daughters are both involved in the business. Co-president and co-creative director Carolina works with her father to develop the overall image of the brand, which may be known for its high-profile male clients but is equally strong in womenswear.
Soft-spoken and reserved, she keeps a low profile and brings a feminine sensibility to the label. When we meet her, she talks with fondness about her idyllic childhood in the Umbrian countryside and her first and only trip to Mongolia in 2017, describing her visit to the goat farms that supply the raw materials at the heart of the company.
Her father first went to Asia as a young man in 1989, on a trip that took him from Hong Kong, where he saw his first mobile phone, to Beijing and, finally, Mongolia.
“I always tell my Chinese and Mongolian friends, ‘No matter what happens, please keep selling me your cashmere,’” he says laughing.
After meeting Cucinelli, members of his family and his loyal employees, it feels easy enough to drink the Kool-Aid. Ultimately, the man is selling ultra expensive jumpers and jackets to the rich of the world – but he is also a breath of fresh air in an industry that could do with a bit of slowing down and more thoughtful leaders like him.