Most often, a brand is born, and from there, a lifestyle is built around it. But Italian knitwear designer Brunello Cucinelli did the opposite, by creating a lifestyle—with a brand that followed. Blending a business model that has been coined “humanistic capitalism” with his signature cashmere, the designer has established a brand as recognizable for its ideology as its luxury apparel. The first monobrand boutique in Canada, freshly opened on Thurlow Street, brings the much-beloved designs, as well as a healthy dose of ethos long steeped in ancient philosophy, to Vancouver.
Affectionately coined the “cashmere king”, Cucinelli has perhaps taken his feudal nickname as a gentle hint towards occupying the role. Employing his hometown of Solomeo in central Italy as the centre of production for the line, Cucinelli has repurposed the village’s castle as his factory, and has beautifully updated a Renaissance villa as its cafeteria, where employees are encouraged to take meandering lunches with a nap suggested afterwards.
However, unlike the livable workplaces found in the start-ups of Silicone Valley, Cucinelli treats the concept not as a revelation backed up by data and workflow charts, but rather as a continuation of tradition. “This story is rooted in the heritage of great artisan craftsmanship,” he says. “It evokes memories of ancient villages, the skills of artisans, and the art and culture of our country open to the spirit of renewal, research, creativity, and modernity. For this reason, it needs the skillful hands, but also the hearts of generous people who are proud of their heritage and who deeply love their land.”
Cucinelli’s business model is entrenched in the concept of being human, of being personal, the goal not being an increase in productivity or revenue but instead the rather uncommon thought that all people deserve an excellent standard of living. Additionally, 20 per cent of the company’s annual profits are set aside for charitable causes. All this is certainly not to say that Cucinelli has sacrificed success. In 2013 the brand generated $444 million in revenue, and the store has expanded to an impressive global reach.
In all of the success, it remains imperative to Cucinelli to not only retain a connection to the clothing’s place of production, but to impart some of the culture of Solomeo and Italian tradition to its global audience. “When we set up a store, the basic structure is similar, in order to perceive the spirit of Solomeo, but customers also need to ‘breathe’ the atmosphere of the place,” he explains. “The Vancouver store must feature some details of the culture, the spirit of the place, the genius loci.”
The Vancouver location pairs a clean, modern aesthetic with strong associations to nature, employing a soft, earthy colour palate mimicking the natural fabrics and inspirations found in Cucinelli’s designs. The most recent collection, fall 2015’s Wild Luxury, references natural elements while introducing new textures such as cashmere treated to appear like fur. Brunello Cucinelli designs continue to reimagine the material and its applications. Cucinelli himself, of course, has entrenched reasons for cashmere being his chosen medium. “Cashmere is timeless, and I loved the idea of giving something treasured to a child or grandchild,” he says. “I am constantly looking for new ways to work with the material and craft unique designs.”
When asked what is currently inspiring him, Cucinelli responds: “I dream about a form of modern capitalism with strong ancient roots, where profit is made without harm or offence to anyone, and part of it is set aside for projects that really make a difference in people’s lives: services, schools, places of worship, and cultural heritage.” His thoughts run much deeper than trend forecasts and colour swatches. What Cucinelli is selling is good for the soul, and it looks pretty good on you.