Brunello Cucinelli on Philosophy and Humanity

We are long time fans of Brunello Cucinelli’s designs here at LEO; of those cashmere suits and tuxedos, luxurious cable knits, corduroy vests with pleated trousers. On the red carpet, men of good taste such as Ryan Reynolds, Chris Evans, Armie Hammer, and Milo Ventimiglia, to name a few, would name him as a favorite—for the relaxed luxury of the clothes; the comfort of the unstructured shoulders, perfectly-slouched trousers, and soft fabrics of his formal wear; the subtly old-fashioned elegance; and the evident Italian-ness, per say, of the looks.

But what’s always been most fascinating about Cucinelli is the work ethos of his business. You don’t have to dive too deeply into his history as a designer to see how his study and passion for philosophy have inspired the way he has grown his company, and the idea that each action should have a positive effect on humanity as a whole.  

The Italian designer, who was born into a peasant family in Castel Rigone, a 15th-century small hamlet nearby Perugia, started his company in 1978 with an eye on creating not just a fashion brand, but a means to promote a concept of work that ensured “being moral, and economic dignity’, his dream of a “Humanistic Capitalism”, and a passion “for everything that helps restore beauty and dignity to the things that man’s oblivion has buried under the dust of time.” Not least of all his adopted town of Solomeo, a once crumbling village he has helped bring back to glorious life bit by bit.

When Cucinelli moved to Solomeo in the early ’80s, he didn’t just set up a factory. He refurbished a fourteenth-century castle in the hamlet as his corporate headquarters and a workshop in which he could build his success as an entrepreneur and humanist. There, he eventually created the Solomeo Forum of the Art as the ideal venue for culture and art; and later the Solomeo School of Arts and Crafts to preserve the memory of an important humanistic factor, such as craftsmanship, to pass on to future generations; as well as the Project for Beauty—an initiative supported by his foundation which entails the creation of three parks in Solomeo hills, recovering part of the property once occupied by abandoned factories and using it to grow trees, orchards, and lawns—as a symbol of the crucial value of the earth, “from which all things are”, as  the philosopher Xenophanes once put it. 

“Beauty will save the world, and the world will in turn save beauty.”

Below, Mr. Cucinelli on discovering a love of philosophy as just a young boy in a local bar, the works that have inspired him, and being remembered as a good man.

LEO: How old were you when you first developed an interest in philosophy?

Cucinelli: I’ve always had a strong curiosity which, in some ways, is closely related to the concept of wonder, from which philosophy was born in ancient Greece.

But if I have to pinpoint a precise time, it all goes back to when, as a boy, I used to go to my local bar in my small town; this place was animated by the most disparate forms of humanity, and I consider it my University of Life. Some of my student friends studied ‘philosophy’ at school, which I did not as I attended a scientific school. Sometimes at night there were many debates going on at the bar: on politics, women, economics, sport, philosophy. And clearly I could not take part in a discussion I did not know much about, so I decided to buy a book by Kant, a somewhat difficult author even today, but still fascinating. 

What is it about philosophy for you?

I have always imagined it to be something that would allow me to treat that malaise of the soul that accompanies us in our daily life. The idea of getting to know myself has always fascinated me since I was a boy, when we lived in the country, and the true inspiration was always the sky with its stars.  

Who are some of your favourite philosophers? 

Kant, whom I have already mentioned, reminds us all of the beauty that is around us, but also inside us, as he stated: “The starry sky above me and the moral law within me”. Another great source of inspiration was this statement of his: “Act in such a way as to consider humanity both in your own person and in the person of everyone else, always as a noble end, never as a mere means”. This same statement is engraved on a plaque under the image of his bust at the entrance to our little village that we like to call ‘Solomeo, Hamlet of Harmony and Spirit’.

I am also passionate about the ancient philosophers, especially the Greeks and Romans: Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, Seneca, Marcus Aurelius, Emperor Hadrian himself. All of them have contributed to transmitting to me a love of knowledge and the fascination of research that knows how to blend science and the soul together.

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All photos courtesy of Brunello Cuccinelli. Great men adorn the walls of Cucinelli’s workshop.

Did you ever consider pursuing a career in philosophy over fashion?

As I said, I didn’t study it at school, but it immediately made me realise its precious value for life and my love for deeper knowledge and the dialogue with the great spirits of antiquity. I try to live by mixing a love of philosophy with a passion for fashion, constantly seeking a balance between profit and giving back, which perhaps represents the true theme of life. 

How does the study of philosophy influence and inspire your work as a designer?

I can say that there is always a subtle thread linking the two fields.

I am reminded of Adrian Emperor when he says: “I felt responsible for the beauty of the world. I wanted cities to be splendid, full of light, watered by clear waters, populated by human beings whose bodies were not disfigured by the mark of misery or slavery, nor by the turgidity of vulgar wealth”. I would like Cucinelli’s style to reflect this humanistic vision of life. 

And how does this affect your lifestyle?

My father, 99-years-old, a farmer who has studied nothing, during the pandemic has been the true advisor of my spiritual and economic life, and he constantly repeats to me: “Be a good man!” I would like the following to be said about me after my death: “He was a good man who loved beauty”. 

Are there any books on philosophy you would recommend for someone trying to dive into this subject for the first time?

To begin with, perhaps the ideal would be to read the Dialogues of Confucius, Epicurus’ Letter on Happiness and Marcus Aurelius’ Thoughts. They are dialogues or exchanges with one’s inner self; it is the same inner dialogue that my beloved Socrates recommended to cherish, and this then acquired exceptional value in the thought of Augustine or in the beautiful Canzoniere by Petrarch.

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Brunello Cucinelli’s Design Studio

And any favorites you recommend for someone who is already an avid reader of the subject?

It is difficult to do this in front of human beings who are familiar with this lovely discipline, but if I must, I would give you some titles that have captured my spirit: The Phaedrus with its immortality of the soul; The Symposium and its idea of the love of beauty; The Republic on the sense of the common good; The Apology—all works where Socrates and Plato have directed me towards a way of leading a happy life.

I would also like to mention the great Rousseau with The Confessions or The Social Contract. Indeed, in my opinion we are all called upon today to make a new social contract with Creation; and then I would also like to suggest The Little Prince, which is indeed a great work of world literature, but which can also be read with the eyes of the philosopher, thus truly benefiting the mind and spirit.

What book would you choose as a gift?

It is my habit to give my staff a book as a gift every year. This year it will have been Moby Dick, a true masterpiece. As Hadrian the Emperor put it: ‘Books have shown me the way of life, life has made me understand the meaning of books; whoever builds a library will have built a granary for future generations’.