Brunello Cucinelli has become know worldwide for his fine cashmere creations. But behind the label, Brunello Cucinelli the man has created a unique management philosophy that will interest any elite traveler currently running a business or starting a new one, and at the same time has nurtured three companies, and is now giving back with the restoration of a theatre. With the opening of a new boutique in Beverly Hills less than two months away, Elite Traveler Editor-in-Chief Douglas Gollan was able to catch up with Mr. Cucinelli to talk about competing in a global market, his latest creations and a wide range of topics.
ET: Many Italian fashion houses span back several generations, but you founded Brunello Cucinelli in 1978. Can you tell us a bit about your background before starting the company, and what led you to founding Brunello Cucinelli?
Brunello Cucinelli: I come from a family of modest means, in which the art of “do it yourself” was the foundation of everyday life. I started my business when I was 25 year old in a small workshop, without any financial availability. After 2 years I hired my first collaborator. At the beginning, the reference markets were Germany and USA, since they are countries with solid economy.
In 1985 I purchased the tumble-down medieval castle of Solomeo, Federica’s hometown, my future wife and inspirer of my future projects. In the same year I started the restoration and in 1987 I moved to Solomeo my company headquarters.
ET: Can you give us a brief overview of your businesses today in terms of your companies and how they are positioned?
Brunello Cucinelli: The garments that we produce are 100% Italian-made. The high quali ty of our products allows us to distinguish ourselves and continue to produce in Italy without moving our operations abroad. I firmly believe in our country’s know-how, in the ability to create handcrafted products with a culture and experience that has been handed down through the centuries.
The production facilities where our products are made are located in Umbria and other areas bordering on the region. A choice that was made in keeping with a principle that is dear to me: to promote the region and its people, while guaranteeing the highest quality.
Approximately 1000 people are employed in the small external workshops where all of our collections are produced. A gift of our land, of our people, who are capable of making a unique and recognizable product, bringing together quality, hand craftsmanship, creativity and good sense.
ET: You have become known for a “humanistic” management philosophy in your companies. Can you tell us what this means and how it came about?
Brunello Cucinelli: The idea behind my philosophy is to give the company a higher goal beyond mere profit, to improve the mankind, which I consider the “Supreme Good”. In Solomeo people work together following a common goal, headed by human values that make them feel part of the company. Everyone has a function to perform giving responsibility to everyone and allowing their contributions to be felt in the brand.
ET: What are some of the daily applications or examples of the “humanistic” approach?
Brunello Cucinelli: First, the deepest respect must be paid to man and his work. People’s creativity is the most important resource we have and needs to be cultivated. For this reason our factory is different. In fact I created a like-home experience for my employees, where the atmosphere encourages each person to work together towards a common goal.
ET: Does this approach mean that you are accepting lower profits?
Brunello Cucinelli: To maintain business the company must adhere to the rules, this includes profit. I do not seek profit first, but promote the humanistic atmosphere inside the company. I have found that the humanistic approach has helped the success of business and ultimately financial gain.
ET: The big conglomerates and their brands are becoming bigger and more global and spending more on marketing. Is it becoming more difficult to compete against the conglomerates for independent companies?
Brunello Cucinelli: I don’t think so. We sensibly grew, and not only in the last 5 years. Even if we are still small compared to the big conglomerates, we are always competitive in our field.
ET: How do you overcome the huge amounts of money these companies are spending to create awareness?
Brunello Cucinelli: High quality and uniqueness are the secret, followed by innovation and creativity. It’s also important to understand the market trends.
ET: Moving to product, tell us about your current collections, and a bit about their inspirations and why you think they’re special?
Brunello Cucinelli: Modern – this is the adjective I would use to describe our collections. I get my inspiration from the street. When I walk in the centre of Perugia, or when I go abroad, I’m always very careful to observe the people I meet and I see passing by. It’s the first thing a stylist should do. Then, of course I interpret the street style into a classic and luxurious one.
ET: How do you balance designing versus managing the business aspects such a fast growing business?
Brunello Cucinelli: I would never renounce to the creativity and the quality just for the profit. However the company is growing fast and we need people who really love their job to be always competitive and ready for this challenge.
ET: What are the biggest changes you’ve seen in the way men dress and involve themselves in fashion over the past 10 to 20 years?
Brunello Cucinelli: Nowadays men like to dress trendy, look young and have distinctive accessories. This is an important change, if you think that these were characteristics peculiar just of women in the past. In fact, the selling of our men’s collection had a big growth in the last years.
ET: You have Brunello Cucinelli boutiques in West Village, New York City, and East Hampton, a high end vacation resort. What are your plans for more Brunello Cucinelli boutiques in the U.S. and around the world?
Brunello Cucinelli: We want to expand the Brunello Cucinelli brand, both in the U.S and worldwide. Our goal is for people to recognize and understand our style, sporty but always suitable for different occasions. I strongly believe the U.S. market can understand our philosophy and I expect positive results in that sense.
In regards to physical expansion we are increasing our presence via monobrand stores and are excited to announce the opening of Brunello Cucinelli boutiques in 2008 in Beverly Hills (November) and Hamburg (December ). In 2009 we have committed to join the lineup in Atlanta at “The Streets of Buckhead” project.
ET: Besides yourself, are there any other family members involved in the company and what their responsibilities are?
Brunello Cucinelli: My wife and my oldest daughter, Camilla, collaborate with me in the style office.
ET: Aside from work, what hobbies do you have?
Brunello Cucinelli: I really love playing soccer and, when I have time, I like to spend evenings with my friends smoking a cigar.
ET: Do you like to travel for pleasure, and if so tell us about two or three of your favorite places?
Brunello Cucinelli: I spend a lot of time abroad for business, so when I have a quiet period I like to stay in Solomeo enjoying my family and friends.
ET: Do you have any favorite hotels or resorts? For business? For pleasure?
Brunello Cucinelli: I always return to the same hotels. This way I can feel a familiar atmosphere all the time I travel.
ET: Do you ever travel by private jet, and if so do you have a favorite type of aircraft or any other thoughts on private jet travel?
Brunello Cucinelli: I have traveled by jet, but I don’t have a favorite jet model.
ET: Recently you announced that you have commissioned the development of a theatre in Solomeo. Can you tell us a bit about the theatre, and what was behind your motivation for the Cucinelli Theatre?
Brunello Cucinelli: I built the Teatro Cucinelli as a gift to the people of Solomeo. I strongly believe that the community will benefit from having a place to gather. My desire was to give the community a place reminiscent of the Forum of Arts typical of the ancient Greek culture, a public place where everyone can gather to partake in life.
The theatre will be used for more than just opera, It is a lay temple for all the forms of arts without distinction between primary and minor like in the Lorenzo the Magnificent time.
ET: If you hadn’t gotten involved with fashion, what would you have done?
Brunello Cucinelli: I studied engineering for 2 years; maybe I would have followed that path.
ET: Anything else on your mind?
Brunello Cucinelli: I will leave you with one last thought, the way I view my business is more than just to create beautiful clothing. I strive to give back to the community; it is the community that brings the Brunello Cucinelli brand to reality every season. Also, looking beyond the immediate success of the business I believe that it is important to live life fully and plan for the future, I am the custodian of the brand, the factory and the headquarters. If at any time the medieval village needs to return to its original purpose it can be done easily. We have restored the village and all efforts are ultimately for the good of the people.