Brunello Cucinelli’s Next Order of Business? Restoring an Old Italian Town


Brunello Cucinelli’s father once gave him some blunt advice: There’s no point in being the richest man in the graveyard. In September, Cucinelli repeated that anecdote while speaking to a crowd of 500 journalists at the culmination of his latest philanthropic project—the restoration of the twelfth-century town of Solomeo. About two and a half hours north of Rome, the hilltop hamlet has sentimental significance: It’s where his wife grew up, and Cucinelli himself was born not far away. But it also represents the designer’s preoccupation with a vanishing Italy, where the old ways of life persist, undisturbed by digital incursions.

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Courtesy of the designer

Cucinelli is hardly the only Italian fashion name to take an interest in his country’s patrimony. Bulgari restored Rome’s Spanish Steps and Fendi its Trevi Fountain, while Only the Brave founder and chairman Renzo Rosso helped rehabilitate the Rialto Bridge in Venice, and Gucci donated toward the preservation of two screen treasures, La Dolce Vita and The Leopard. But Cucinelli’s project is not focused on a single monument. He’s aiming to revitalize the area as a whole—not just creating jobs in his Umbria-based company and the surrounding workshops throughout Italy, but elevating the spiritual life of the entire region.

The town serves as a microcosm of his ideal society. Since the mid-’80s, he’s made significant inroads, building a new theater and establishing a craft school. His most recent addition is a travertine monument “to human dignity” he built in the valley outside Solomeo, where he’s also torn down industrial buildings and replaced them with olive trees, orchards, and a winery. The designer calls the initiative “A Project for Beauty,” and it represents the commitment to giving back that defines him almost as much as his luxury cashmere wares do. “It’s ingrained in me,” he says. “Growing up in the countryside, we didn’t have very much, but we were concerned for people who had less than we did.” He dubs his ethos “humanistic capitalism”: Twenty percent of his profits go to philanthropic endeavors, and everyone who works for him benefits from a cafeteria offering a three-course meal, prepared with products from local farms (like Cucinelli’s olive oil), for just three euros.

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Tassili Calatroni

Increasingly, the feel-good credentials of a fashion brand—look at Toms or Shinola—have become part of the appeal, a way to mark this pair of cloth slip-ons as morally superior to that pair. But does the person who snaps up, say, one of Cucinelli’s $3,725 cashmere hoodies care about his extracurricular pursuits? “I would hope that my customers appreciate it,” he says. “Everything that I purchase, from a cheese to a watch, I would like for it to be produced with respect to man, to the land, and also to animals.” Given the way fashion is headed—with its increased scrutiny of sustainability and the supply chain—perhaps Cucinelli’s approach will soon become the norm, not the exception.

This article originally appeared in the December 2018 issue of ELLE.



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