A radically self-contradicting GPS, Italian toll booths and a sense of direction of a vision impaired lemming. In hindsight, we would have had more luck finding Neverland.
Nevertheless, after several phone calls and an amount of time I don’t feel comfortable disclosing, we find Solomeo, home of Brunello Cucinelli, for me, one of the most beautiful companies in the world.
The Cucinelli brand remains one of, if not the, worlds most sought after ready to wear cashmere manufacturers, with a focus on products being made by hand. This level of quality and handwork comes at a cost, as it must, with prices often nearing $3,000USD for some of their heavier gauge cardigans. The brand has expanded to a full range of men’s and women’s clothing, small leathergoods and homewares, all produced on site at what is the most aesthetically pleasing “factory” I’ve ever seen, given that most factories I know of don’t have water fountains at their entrance.
Since his company began, decades ago now, Brunello had been committed to a business built around humanistic values and the dignity of his employees and stakeholders. The company now stands as a global model for what can be achieved when the pursuit of beauty and caring for others is placed at the centre of a capitalist enterprise. A philosophical approach which I admire greatly.
Among the company’s numerous employee benefits, his staff have always been paid well above average wages, encouraged to take longer lunches and those lunches have been made in house, with most of the cost being covered by Brunello.
In addition to his focus on caring for his staff, the wider community has been equally important, with approximately 20% of company profits being donated to restoration works and charitable endeavors.
Growing up in Perugia, Brunello moved to Solomeo in 1985 as it was his wife, Federica’s, home town. Since that time he has purchased most of the medieval towns historic buildings, carefully restoring them, stone by stone, to their original beauty, as a gift to the town and its people, most of whom are employees of the company.
As the company continues to grow, with staff numbers now touching 1,000 (approximately 700 of whom are from the local regions), Brunello’s desire to give back to others is stronger than ever, with the establishment of 5 schools in the noble arts, based on site. They are comprised of Masonry, Fitting and Linking (for garments), Horticulture, Cutting and Tailoring, the latter being a 2 year course for 6 students, with a maximum age of 27, who are nominated for consideration by the local regions. Students of the schools are paid a wage and are taught by senior employees of the company. This has all been created with the hope that the skills will continue to live on in future generations.
We spent the afternoon being taken on a tour through the hamlet, exploring the buildings and learning about how they’ve been re-purposed, before heading down to have lunch together in the staff cafeteria (again, using the term loosely here, you’ll see why). I thought it would be easiest to just describe some of the different buildings, along with some images to help give you a better understanding of each area.
Cutting School and Mending and Linking School
Hand built by stone masons over a period of 8 years, the theatre of Solomeo seats 230 patrons. The costs for shows is heavily subsidized, with tickets never selling for more than 25 euro, many for around 8 euro.
Library and Conference Room
Adorned with history and philosophy books in numerous languages, including original texts in Hindi and Arabic, the space acts as a library, conference room and gathering space for theatre productions, so performers can interact with patrons before and after a production.
By the end of our afternoon, it seemed fitting that one of best meals we had over several weeks in Italy would be here. Catering for hundreds of staff every day, a team of just 12 source fresh ingredients each morning from the surrounding region, work up a menu and have it ready for lunch. We were met with local wine, salads, prosciutto’s, cheeses and pasta, all covered in olive oil from the town.
Factory, Shipping and Corporate
An experience I doubt I’ll ever forget, the Cucinelli brand is one that appears very much at peace with itself and its place in the world and I suspect that is true of Brunello himself.
“Beauty will save the world”. Theodore Dostoevsky.