Text Carlo Mazzoni
An annual production of one million pieces for a turnover of almost 1 billion euros. The company was listed on the stock exchange in 2012. Brunello Cucinelli employs 1,700 people: the creative department, the sales department, the prototype studio, production control and the administration department require almost 900 people who work at the headquarters – others work in the 136 single-brand stores around the world (including franchises), which make up a distribution network along with the 500 accounts in multi-brand stores, from small provincial boutiques to Neiman Marcus. “There’s one rule. If you offend someone, you’re fired. There’s never a reason to offend a human being,” says Brunello. Production remains in the hands of outside contractors – all in Italy, 80% in Umbria – to safeguard artisan production in a local workshop. What arrives at the headquarters is the raw material: cashmere from Chinese Mongolia.
Brunello lived in the countryside until the age of 15. He worked with animals, he was the skinniest – his father had a plough: the furrows had to be straight, he asked his father why – because they look better that way – the phrase that Goethe wrote during his trip to Italy. The tithe for the church was destined for the community – while at home they had neither lights nor a bathroom. “The first time I went to China, it was the day before Tiananmen: people were living like animals. Now they live like us in the Sixties when I used to work in the fields: they have taken giant steps forward.”
As a boy, Brunello did not study – his school was the bar on the corner, where people talked until late at night about life, women, religion, politics and philosophy. It is not a justification when he quotes a British newspaper in which he happened to read about a survey that indicated that 60 percent of rich people had no education. Aged 45, his father went to work in a factory, and the family settled in an urban area. In the evening, returning from work, if his eyes were burning, there were potatoes to put on his eyelids. His father still jokes, even today at the age of 90, he jokes with Maria, a girl from Solomeo “Maria, Maria you’re so beautiful … eh, if only I was seventy” – note the desire to be seventy, not forty.
Cucinelli talks about his adventure and goals – one of his few regrets, the thought, like for all of today’s parents, of having instilled a sense of fear in his daughters. On the 3rd of September was his 65th birthday – the day after, he celebrated the 40th anniversary of his company with 500 journalists from around the world, institutions, philosophers, Benedictine monks, cardinals, and quotes from Kant, Plato and Saint Augustine – while Brunello has been married for 48 years.
Business must make a profit, of course, but it has to come alongside ethics, dignity and morality. “We need to bring dignity back to the heart of our work.” Brunello’s dream is the evolution of a new Humanism: people at the heart of technology so they can get their lives back, offline. “If an employee sends me an e-mail at six in the morning, you can be sure she won’t be doing that again the next day.” Invited to the Amazon headquarters in San Francisco, Brunello underlined how it was precisely there, in that company, that there were the Da Vincis of the 21st century- “but Leonardo was a humanist, you will be true humanists when you can bring humans to the heart of the web,” and of course Brunello moves with the charm and ease of an actor on the suspended stage: “The other day, a friend of mine told me that he had 441 e-mails to read at eight o’clock in the evening – but how can you do that?! you have to jump off a cliff.”
“They can say what they want, but Italy has the best welfare state in the world – besides the fact that we invented the piano and the kiss. In my 65 years, I have seen 60 governments and 30 prime ministers. I’m not worried about this government, it’ll be gone in a year.”
The other night, Brunello’s father was not around. He had stayed at home – he was afraid that the guests would not find him in good shape – but his advice returned in his son’s smiles – “Debts work on Sundays too” he used to remind him. When Brunello talked to his father about his project, about cashmere pullovers, his father looked at him strangely, understanding neither the word cashmere nor pullover. “Dad, I’ve bought these warehouses,” he would explain, showing them to him – “What are you doing with them?” – “I’m knocking them down.” – “You’re off your trolley.”
The warehouses were knocked down. The village of Solomeo has been restored – the bell in the tower sounds the hour, ten strokes for 7.45, and the Ave Maria, two minutes of off-key bronze: “You can hear the gentle peace that the bells give, can’t you?” Brunello gets up early in the morning, walks and chats to the saints, Benedict and Francis. “Man is a guardian. We are all guardians. When you work on a project, you need to think about its care and maintenance.” The concept of suburbs and a repeated adjective – amiable, the place where man lives is amiable, it must be saved and protected – we must be its guardians. If the Art of Safeguarding is the dignity of Man, work elevates it: work elevates the dignity of Man – this sums up the strength of Brunello Cucinelli.