After 40 Years, Brunello Cucinelli Revitalized all an Italian Town

After Over 40 Years in Business, Brunello Cucinelli Has Quietly Revitalized an Entire Italian Town

The questions that a designer asked at a sunset press conference on the Umbrian hamlet of Solomeo on Tuesday evening, as the temperature cooled and the marble tiles turned bright pink, could make sense only if you knew that the man questioned was Brunello Cucinelli, One of the Italy’s best creator of fashion.

“Does the word dignity have different connotations for different people?”

“What is the worst thing you have done in your life?”

“What is the meaning of life?”

hundred of journalists were gathered here in this hilltop village midway between Florence and Rome, to witness the fruits of Cucinelli’s 40-year-old cashmere empire, which have been meticulously harvested into a company that prioritizes human dignity and social good over mindless production of merchandise. For decades, Cucinelli, who turned 65 on Monday, has invested millions of dollars in the revitalization of Solomeo, beginning with the medieval castle and fortress atop Solomeo, and continuing with renovating or removing the dilapidated factories and warehouses that once blotted the landscape below. He has planted fields of sunflowers, opened a state-of-the art factory where large workspaces suggest a vastly democratic hierarchy, constructed a winery that will someday produce Brunello Cucinelli vintages, and most recently erected a striking monument made of travertine marble.

The monument is called the “Tribute to Human Dignity,” and features a circular marble base nearly 80 feet in diameter and a grand series of five arches symbolizing America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceana. Cucinelli says this monument was designed to stand for thousands of years, a testament to his lifelong pursuit of a company that balances style with soul, which is, you might think, a fairly idealistic goal for a man who makes a living selling four-figure cashmere sweaters and suits. But, in fact, his example is worth studying more seriously as we enter another rat-race season of fashion shows, with New York Fashion Week beginning on Wednesday, followed by collections in London, Milan and Paris.

While the designer landscape has been vastly altered in recent years due to technology, changing attitudes toward luxury goods, and an unabashed embrace of marketing buzz among millennials, Cucinelli’s business has produced gains of 20 percent or more. This makes a solid case that some especially affluent customers still long for clothes that are well-made, thoughtful, seasonless, and not wasteful, since they are designed to be worn for many years. They are also quite beautiful, as his guests observed while touring the company’s 430,000-plus-square-feet factory, filled with cashmere knits and leather jackets in the process of being made. Here, factory workers, who are treated as equals to executives, begin their day at 9 a.m., enjoy a company subsidized lunch break, and, after they leave at 5:30 p.m., are prohibited from using e-mails for work after hours. The company now has more than 1,700 employees.