Brunello Cucinelli began life in humble surroundings, growing up with no electricity or running water. Today, aged 60, he is the founder, chief executive and designer of a global luxury lifestyle brand with a market capitalisation of more than $1.5 billion.
Cucinelli told BoF, “I wanted to be a real expert, to have a specialty or niche. There was no coloured cashmere for women. So I went to the dye shop and here we had the most famous dye expert, a young guy, I said, ‘I’d like this to be orange.” The Italian soon went out to market equipped with three round neck sweaters and three V-neck sweaters, selling 400 in the first three months.
Over the next 15-20 years the brand remained entirely focused on one product category. ““In terms of the product, it was innovative. I was seeking perfection for one single thing. I was the man with the sweaters, the cashmere guy. Womenswear was the first step and then around the 1990s we started with menswear too, but knitwear only. My hope was that it would be modern, looking after colours, the shapes.”
By 1998/1999 sales stood at 200,000 sweaters a year, despite the fact the brand operated only one tiny monobrand store. In 2000, following requests from American buyers for a total Brunello Cucinelli look, the brand expanded its product offering. Over a period of six years, during which the brand annually rolled out four or five stores globally, Brunello Cucinelli established his namesake brand’s aesthetic. Cucinelli took his business public in the Milan Bourse’s only IPO in 2012, becoming a billionaire in the process. The company generated $444 million in revenue in 2013.
Cucinelli built his company with a deep respect for his employees and the human impact of his business. In keeping with what he dubs a human capitalist philosophy, every stitch of clothing his company creates is made in Italy, mostly in and around Solomeo, the 14th century Perugian hamlet that Cucinelli has lovingly and personally restored over the past two decades and where his clothing empire is based. Seven hundred and twenty employees work in Solomeo and, on average, are paid about 20 percent more than they would make elsewhere.