Solomeo is a small town in Italy, 90 miles south of Florence, that’s home to about 500 people. Unless you work in fashion, you’ve probably never heard of it, as there’s not much to do there—though it is picturesque—and only one main (but stylish) attraction: it’s the global headquarters of Brunello Cucinelli, the $2 billion global luxury label, where around 1,000 people work. It’s also the home of Cucinelli himself, who was born and raised on a farm just outside the town.
Those who’ve had the good luck to know the 66-year-old Cucinelli treasure conversations with him, because he’s more interested in talking philosophy and the ancients than thread counts and costs per unit. He’s not a garmento so much as a dottore. As Italy reopened, I reached out to him to get some insight on how companies can re-start and wisdom he could share for the months ahead. I should have known that even though I’d be speaking to him via Zoom from a few thousand miles away, I’d still feel his ever present sunny optimism. Part of it was because he knew that he and his town were fortunate. While the virus decimated Milan and the Veneto region, Solomeo saw no fatalities. But he also took a long view of what had happened and would come from it.
Michael Hainey: How do you take your business forward in this new world we have emerged into?
Brunello Cucinelli: I tell the staff this story: When I was a boy, a giant hailstorm came through one day and destroyed our crops. We had nothing. But the following day, the farmer next to us came to my father and lent us seed so we could re-plant. This is the spirit that is needed. To come together. To help each other. Together we will reseed for a rebirth of our fields. We need to see that, in this period, something has changed, and it will reveal to us that family and community are the buds of society. Michelangelo said life is an art form—and like art you need your heart more than your hands. This moment is an opportunity that concerns all of us.
M.H.: What has changed at Cucinelli?
B.C.: I have been thinking a lot about a re-balance, between profit and giving back, between spirit and harmony, between technology and humanism. We need science, and we need soul. I did not lay off one person during the confinement. How could I? If I did, the burden simply falls to society, to all of us. So, I wanted to be responsible to these people. I knew if I kept my bond strong, society will stay strong. This is a moment that has been a calamity for humanity. But what is needed now more than ever is humanity. And to remember we all have dignity. This is a moment when we are re-discovering the great value of our behavior. That every action has a consequence. I hope this will extend to how we treat the natural world going forward. We must live according to nature. We have gotten too far from it. The rhythm of creation beats in our hearts. We need to listen to it.
M.H.: Whose words are in your mind these days?
B.C.: I think a lot about Confucius. He said, “He who does not foresee things far away exposes himself to close-range misery.” If we listen to creation, we will find balance again—and, I hope, we will have re-discovered important values.
Michael Hainey is a Deputy Editor for Air Mail