Life & Style: One on One with Brunello Cucinelli

 “I always knew that no matter what I was going to do, I was going to put people at the forefront of my operation and their well being would be my priority.”

“I come from a family of farmers, and I had a very simple and blissful life as a kid because of the ease we had in our daily life,” recalls Brunello Cucinelli. Perhaps it was that ease that drove him to dream up an empire based on the idea of casual luxury derived from cashmere separates. But Cucinelli, who also enjoyed a brief, 2-year stint studying engineering, knew that he wanted to be entrepreneurial, and thus, the eponymous brand began. Inspired by the tradition of knitwear in his region of Umbria in Italy, Cucinelli set out to find the perfect juxtaposition between his Italian heritage, and the success of such brands as Benetton which he remembers garnering a lot of attention for their colorful wool sweaters. At just 25 years old, he took the leap, designing and manufacturing his first collection of thirty tunics for women, made of colored cashmere. Blasphemous at the time—cashmere was not done in colors, instead it was reserved for clean neutrals that spoke to its timelessness, and primarily, for men—the collection was innovative and fresh.

The idea behind it all was still about the kind of clothing that would speak to never-ending style. As Cucinelli explains it, “neutrals are at the base of the collections but it is important to always give something new, yet timeless to our clients. Colors were the innovation when I first launched my collection.” While color was at the helm of what first made the concept haute, it was the steady evolution that resulted in a long-lasting and loyal following. The injection of pieces in both the ready-to-wear and accessories portions of the brand aided in developing an aesthetic that would long be heralded as chic in a special, well-edited, and extremely Italian way. “In the past few years our final consumers [actually] came to know us for our grey palate, so for this fall I’ve decided to bring back some earth tones with pops of orange, yellow and green…but always with a softer approach,” explains Cucinelli, who has a strong connection to his client base. A connection that was key from the onset: “The journey started with the dream to create a new luxury collection but more importantly to create a company that would have a humanistic approach with principles based in ethics, dignity and morality.”

Keeping the consumer in consideration is unique in a world where success is most often measured in dollars. For Cucinelli, however, it’s key. “I always knew that no matter what I was going to do, I was going to put people at the forefront of my operation and their well being would be my priority. “ To that end, it’s no surprise that the Cucinelli camp describes their collections as lifestyle driven with sportswear at the helm. It’s about a wearable brand where one can feel confident and finished when in Brunello Cucinelli.

Employing the help of key elements such as innovation, research, craftsmanship, and quality, and keeping a strong focus on interweaving them throughout all aspects of the business has been an integral part of Cucinell’s growth. “I try to focus on small details that really show the attention to craftsmanship,” says Cucinelli of his designs. He also focuses on keeping the collection light so that styling oneself from within the brand is an easy task and layering remains timeless.

Since the thirty tunics of 1978, the Cucinelli brand has grown leaps and bounds. He touches on the tipping point: “The real change started happening about 4 years ago when my clients, especially department stores in the US, started asking me for a total look, so we focused on really creating a lifestyle collection that would allow both men and women to wear head to toe Brunello [Cucinelli].” Accessories were the obvious next step in order to deliver real head-to-toe options. “We definitely view accessories as a complement to our ready to wear,” explains Cucinelli. Adding that the “comfort element is important” as are other points such as high-quality and color palate. Essentially, the accessories leg of the brand was added in an effort to create pieces that were a complement to every one of their garments.

But that’s only a small part of the ongoing expansion of the Brunello Cucinelli brand. New outposts are popping up all over. The most recent of their openings happens to be at the famed Bal Harbour Shops, where long wait times are commonplace for brands hoping to obtain a coveted spot. And there is a reason why so many of the world’s biggest labels wait with bated breath to snatch a storefront. For Cucinelli, it was about the experience: “Bal Harbour Shops is the ultimate shopping destination in South Florida.” Just as the king of cashmere aims to deliver the very best in his realm, it was only fitting that his customer be able to shop Cucinelli in equally high-quality confines.

As for how the store will be merchandised to cater to the south Florida client, Cucinelli shares that “the inventory will take into consideration the weather,” and that luckily, “an international clientele” is still interested in acquiring even the heavier pieces, including, special fur items.

It all goes back to his unwavering commitment to his fan-base; the loyal Cucinelli devotees without whom he is sure things would be different. And the past few years have been reflective of the need for such devotion. Cucinelli recalls buckling down and staying true to his roots in the face of adversity: “. Our success is greatly incumbent upon the people that made it possible. A few years ago when many luxury brands were going into survival mode, I turned to my employees and promised not to let them go, but merely asked for more. I made it clear that in times of financial turmoil in the world, we would have to work harder and become more creative in our approach to promoting our brand…As a result, we posted three of our most profitable years and grew rather than cut back. “

That kind of steady growth is what has allowed Cucinelli and his team to keep a solid footing in a fickle industry where far too many great talents just don’t make it. Aside from their domestic expansion with openings like Bal Harbour shops and their soon-to-open monobrand boutique in South Coast Plaza in California, Brunello Cucinelli is growing rapidly in the Asian market, promising several new doors there as well.

But regardless of where the brand goes next, in which mall, or for which culture, they keep their DNA at the forefront of every move; respecting the original values about lifestyle and quality—values that speak in a soothing, cashmere soft whisper to the unyielding Brunello Cucinelli collector.