INTERVIEW | Brunello Cucinelli: I Am The Guardian And Ferryman

July 15,2019

In June, Luxe.CO was invited to Florence, Italy, to sit down with Mr. Brunello Cucinelli to discuss his thoughts on culture, heritage and development as the founder of the brand.

Rebuilding The  "Spirit of The Place" 

Brunello Cucinelli started his own cashmere business in 1974, and in 1978, then started the eponymous cashmere brand Brunello Cucinelli with only $550. In 1985, Brunello Cucinelli and his family decided to return to Solomeo ---- the hometown of his wife, and renovated the 14th-century castle in the village as the company's headquarters and began exploring and revitalizing the “Spirit of The Place” (Latin: Genius Loci).

Later, in Solomeo, Brunello Cucinelli led the establishment of art and craft schools, theaters, libraries, sports stadiums and country parks. The brand's haute couture workshops and production plants are also located here, with bright floor-to-ceiling windows, gardens, fountains and restaurants that are almost free to employees.

At the end of May, in the town of Solomeo that seemed to be isolated from our fast world, a group of "Internet Heroes" from Silicon Valley -- Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo and a dozen others (below) -- sat down with Brunello Cucinelli (with no internet connection) to discuss major issues concerning the destiny of mankind under the theme of "Symposium on Soul and Economics", and think about how their companies could better serve humanity in the future.

From custom-made grey t-shirts for Mark Zuckerberg to Jeff Bezos's favorite cashmere suit, Brunello Cucinelli is not only building the wardrobes for Silicon Valley's elites, but also engaging them in deep spiritual communication. Mr Brunello Cucinelli calls these brilliant Internet entrepreneurs "Young Leonardos of the Third Millennium", and he wants to use his personal philosophy and brand philosophy to lead a discussion about "Technology And Humanism".

This is not the first time Mr. Cucinelli has reached across the global elite in different fields in his own way: In 2012, for example, before the company went public on the Milan Stock Exchange, he broke some of the boring roadshow conventions and invited investors to Solomeo to experience and understand the brand's unique culture. What Mr. Cucinelli does goes beyond commercial marketing. 

Speaking about the reasons for going public, he said that he hoped to bring in someone outside the family to run the company in the future to help the "perpetuation of the brand". He regards all these as necessary inputs to protect and strengthen the brand spirit, and has created a virtuous ecology integrating "Personal Proposition -- Brand Philosophy -- Spirit of The Place -- Universal Fashion".

Luxe.CO: How do you view the relationship between the spirit of the place and brand philosophy?

Cucinelli: Art and culture are the seeds of civilization. In our daily work, we often discuss topics related to art, culture, ideals, humanities, the younger generation and aesthetics. We believe that protecting the brand is more important than promoting the brand. Luxury means scarcity and waiting -- which is why we have acted to highlight and maintain the importance of Italian values, whether it be society, family, culture or artisan.

Luxe.CO: I heard that you like the Chinese philosopher Confucius, can you tell me why?

Cucinelli: Confucius is one of my favorite philosophers. As a master of philosophy, his humanistic thoughts have brought me many inspirations. Last Christmas, I gave a copy of “Analects” of Confucius to all my friends.

Confucius believed that the restoration of ancient etiquette and good language was essential to human progress. his rationale is not simply nostalgia, but instead the search for true values in which we can find answers to building our future. This is why I have always regarded myself as a guardian and a ferryman from the past to the future.

Luxe.CO: Can we talk about the book you wrote about Solomeo?

Cucinelli: This book is my autobiography, containing my life memories and reflections on human nature. When you get back, I'll give you a copy.

The English version of the book "The Dream of Solomeo: My Life and the Idea of Humanistic Capitalism" is a unique autobiography of a brand’s founder, not only including how he thinks about brand management, but also the sincere philosophical thinking of Mr. Cucinelli.

"Inherited Ownership Does Not Mean Inherited Management Ability"

Brunello Cucinelli revealed earlier this year that he was planning to step down as CEO within a year to become the Executive Chairman and Creative Director of the group. Riccardo Stefanelli, his eldest son-in-law who has worked for the company for 13 years, and Luca Lisandroni, who joined the company three years ago from Luxottica, will take over as Co-Chief Executives.

Brunello Cucinelli has been preparing for the succession of the brand. Five years ago, he made a detailed will that he would run the company until his death. When he dies, his two daughters will each get 50 percent of his shares. Talented executives will run the company in his place, ensuring the brand does not die with his departure.

Luxe.CO: Are you thinking about retirement now?

Cucinelli: I don't think about retiring at all. I will always take the lead, especially in brand creation, until the last stage of my life. Of course, I really hope that more young people can join us to grow our brand.

Luxe.CO: What do you think the brand means to the second and third generation of your family?

Cucinelli: Our family's ideal for future generations will remain the same: the inheritance of aesthetics, humanity and dignity. We now have about 2,000 people in our company, and I hope that we can keep our creativity, with an open attitude to the world, and have the courage to listen to the ideas of others.

Luxe.CO: Italy has many successful family-owned brands, however Chinese fashion brands have a relatively short history, and many of their founders are facing the question of whether to let the second generation take over. What is your suggestion for them?

Cucinelli: My eldest daughter Camilla used to ask me in her freshman year, "Dad, I want to work for the company. What do you think?" I told her,“ It is good for me because I think you and Carolina (second daughter) are following your hearts. But remember: Just because you inherit ownership of the company, doesn’t mean you inherit the ability to run the business.

The company owner has the responsibility to pass on the value of the brand. I want my children and my staff to join me in passing on our culture.

And I believe greater responsibility will lead to more ideas. Now that my two daughters and son-in-law are involved in the business, we will build a young and dynamic company.

Our Clients Are Utilizers, Not Consumers

Brunello Cucinelli looks at the value of every product he sold. "I don't like to call our clients 'consumers' , but should be called "utilizers" -- we should not only consume", he stressed during the interview.

Brunello Cucinelli started his cashmere business in 1974 and created cashmere dyeing technology, he revolutionized the traditional cashmere market with previously there were only beige and gray. Over the past four decades, Brunello Cucinelli has emerged from the competitive Italian domestic market to become one of the world's top luxury brands.

In 2017, the brand's annual sales exceeded the 500 million Euro, and it has maintained steady growth every year, even during the period of decline of the global luxury industry. However, purely from a financial report, one will not be able to see the difference between Brunello Cucinelli and other brands -- more vivid examples of what Brunello Cucinelli calls "Humanistic Capitalism" are: 20% above industry average wages, employees can buy company products at cost, employees can take breaks (no emails on weekends), and so on.

In Brunello Cucinelli's view, no economic growth should override human dignity or sacrifice the well-being of employees. People who work for him work for their dreams, not for their financial gain.

Regarding the internet, Brunello Cucinelli expressed a cautious but embracing attitude. In early 2017, Brunello Cucinelli group invested a lot of money to launch the official online store to strengthen its connection with online users. The Brunello Cucinelli online store not only provides unique packaging and handwritten cards, but also includes special gifts such as books and even local flour and olive oil from Solomeo.

Luxe.CO: How do you view today's Internet era and e-commerce?

Cucinelli: I have always believed that the Internet is an unexpected and powerful tool of communication, but we should know how to use the Internet instead of being controlled by the Internet in our lives.

From our website, you can see two parts, one part is to show our products, and the other part is to convey our brand philosophy. The site was created with the approach of "web artisans and humanists," to showcase the character and spirit of brick-and-mortar stores, and narrate our relationship to tradition in a modern way.

Today, 8 percent of our revenue comes from online business, but we want to put more effort into physical channels where people can communicate closely, can touch our products and feel the warmth.

From IPO to The China Market

Prior to Brunello Cucinelli in May 2012, there had been no successful IPOs in Italy for several months due to the global economic downturn. Brunello Cucinelli's stock rose a record of 50% on the day of its debut. Since going public, Brunello Cucinelli's performance has been solid and has shown resilience under pressure from the global economic downturn.

Going public has also accelerated the speed of internationalization of the brand. Brunello Cucinelli entered the China market in December 2010, and in 2017, it started to run its store directly. The China market is becoming increasingly important to Brunello Cucinelli's global presence.

In 2018, the brand's sales in Greater China increased by 28.6% year-on-year to 54.9 million Euros, accounting for 9.9% of the total sales, and the sales performance of exclusive stores and multi-brand retail channels was outstanding. Sales in Greater China increased 15.9 percent year-on-year to 28.8 million Euros in the first half of fiscal year 2019.

In order to better develop customer relations in China, Brunello Cucinelli group has established a team in China, which not only helps headquarters to better understand the Chinese market, but also communicates Solomeo's culture and values to Chinese users.

Brunello Cucinelli currently has 22 stores in Greater China, including 17 in Mainland China. "Our plan is to open a small number of very high quality stores in China," says Brunello Cucinelli, who expects China to account for 20% of global sales in the next three years and 27% to 28% in five. At the same time, he says, "We are very cautious about making one market too important, and we don't want too much of one market to influence the overall design direction of the brand."

Luxe.Co: What are your expectations for China's future?

Cucinelli: We should not forget that for thousands of years China has established a culture that has influenced the entire Eastern world and is still very different from the Western model. It is an inclusive culture, accepting at the same level but with different experiences, ideas and realities. It is a cultural trait that has given the Chinese enormous creativity, allowing them to make remarkable leaps in technology and industry without losing the traditions of family, work and society.

The 19th century belongs to Europe, the 20th century to America and the 21st century to China. Chinese have an important responsibility to show the world how to live in harmony with nature in modern society.

Luxe.CO: Last but not least, what makes Brunello Cucinelli different from other brands?

Cucinelli: Everyone has their own way of understanding the world, but I just share the brand culture, respect for human nature, the inheritance of craftsmanship, and a little view of the soul. I want people to know that we treat every product with awe and respect.


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