bal harbour blog

A Fine Weave

Portrait by Bernhard Huber

Robin Sayers cozies up to Brunello Cucinelli to learn how the designer became the king of cashmere.

By Robin Sayers

ON A MANTLE, IN A RENAISSANCE VILLA, atop a hill in the tiny town of Solomeo in Italy's Umbria region, resides a collection of marble busts. There are four of history's true luminaries rendered in stone, collectively representing "my masters from the past," says designer Brunello Cucinelli. Those great thinkers of days of yore are Aristotle, Socrates, Marcus Aurelius and Seneca; Cucinelli chats, fireside, with these visionaries.

Not exactly the picture one immediately conjures upon hearing the phrase 'fashion star,' but that's exactly what Cucinelli is, and that dissonance between industry stereotype and the reality he's finessed is part of his eponymous brand's x-factor. With his new 1,800-square-foot Bal Harbour boutique designed by architect Luigi Fiorentino, Cucinelli will grant loyalists a local cashmere- centric emporium, and provide the uninitiated with the opportunity to get to know this sporty-chic brand fetishized by tastemakers the world over.

Cucinelli's path to the cashmere throne was circuitous. His earliest memory of the fiber with which he would one day weave an empire came during his childhood in a small village. Although he recalls well "the noise of the looms and the special scent of the yarns in my aunt's small workshop," it wasn't love at first whiff. Years later, after contemplating the priesthood, studying both engineering and land surveying, and observing life at what sounds like the Italian equivalent of the Cheers bar, he circled back to the softest of knits.

"In those days, because of the Benetton phenomenon, colors were very important," says Cucinelli. He and a friend had what was, at the time, a radical idea: to vividly color cashmere utilizing dying techniques previously reserved for wool. They scraped together enough money to make six sample sweaters; it launched a sartorial revolution. "We sold many oranges, blues and greens," he says of the first retail order. His favorite hue from that initial half-dozen was "a very intense navy blue that is still present in my collection." He bought out his friend and continued headlong down the cashmere path, never to look back.

Today, it's a family affair, as the older of his two daughters works in his company's design studio. "I hope Camilla will continue," he says proudly, "but I've always told them that we each have our own path. She is free to follow her own dreams without inheriting mine."

To say cashmere is Cucinelli's dream is no exaggeration. He loves the stuff—in clothing, on couches, lining lampshades; he even wears it while playing his twice-weekly game of soccer. "I wear a cashmere neck warmer and cashmere socks." In his team's colors? "Of course," he responds. "White and blue."

It's also been a dream come true for Solomeo. Given the brand's enormous success, Cucinelli could easily headquarter anywhere on the globe. Instead, he chose his wife Federica's hometown, and as his company has prospered, so, too, has its base. Buy any Brunello Cucinelli product, and 20 percent of the profit is reinvested in Solomeo, with revenues helping to build a theater, create a park and restore the town square, among many other projects.

Cucinelli's favorite quote revolves around a philosophical dichotomy: "I always say, to live like this was our last day, and to think like we should live 1,000 years." Considering the duality of the garments he makes—yet timelessly classic—it's not a surprising choice.

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