Fashion designer Brunello Cucinelli grew up in an old stone farmhouse outside the town of Castel Rigone in Umbria, Italy. There was no electricity or running water and, as it was shared between 13 members of the extended Cucinelli family, might feel a bit crowded. Still, “it’s a house that’s beautiful to me,” says Cucinelli, 68, who has fond memories of playing with his siblings and cousins in the kitchen’s cavernous fireplace, and creeping down to the barns before school to steal milk straight from the source.
In some ways, Cucinelli’s life now, as CEO and creative director of his eponymous fashion brand, is miles away from that farm. And yet, he says his years there instilled in him the values, namely love of family and a taste for curiosity and hard work, which are still dear to him. He didn’t go very far geographically either. About 22 kilometers south of Castel Rigone is Solomeo, a medieval hamlet which since 1982 has been Cucinelli’s home and since 1985 his headquarters. He first traveled to the town as a teenager and intended to woo his wife, Federica Benda, who was born and raised there. (They first met as passengers on the same school bus.) “I was just hanging out to be seen by her,” he says with a smile. Cucinelli founded his brand, which began by producing dyed cashmere and wool sweaters for women, when the couple were engaged and, once married and after a stint in the nearby village of Ferro di Cavallo, he joined permanently. Benda in Solomeo.
Since then the brand, which went public in 2012, has expanded to most continents and retail areas, including children’s clothing and home decor, although it is best known for its neatly cut and meticulously designed sport coats and separates that are especially popular among Silicon. Valley Crowd. However, throughout it all, it has been nearly impossible to separate the label from Solomeo. Nearly 10% of the village population residents work for the brand to some extent, a pattern reminiscent of the craftsmen’s guilds of yesteryear in Europe. And Cucinelli also left his mark on the architecture of the city. By moving there, he renovated the 14th century stone castle of Solomeo, which once housed the brand’s main offices. In 2008, a public theater commissioned by Cucinelli and designed in the style of a Renaissance playhouse opened in Solomeo – a concert of early Handel works is scheduled for March – and he later created an industrial park for the mark in the valley below the town, with an olive grove, orchards and vineyards.
A few streets from the town center, on the edge of a hill, is the house of Cucinelli and Benda, a seventeenth-century three-storey villa, with a cream-coloured facade and a terracotta-tiled roof, built in originally for a noble family. This too was a project for Cucinelli. The couple bought the nearly 250-acre, cypress-dotted property, which also includes a small chapel, in 1990, and Cucinelli ended up spending four years renovating it in quintessential Umbrian country style, carefully restoring the floors stone, vaulted ceilings and wide arched windows. To furnish the bedrooms, he opted for wooden antiques such as a 16th-century bookcase carved with Greek columns for the library, a sturdy 15th-century table and chairs for the dining room, and comfortable, upholstered sofas in the same neutral palette. creams, whites and browns that define the Brunello Cucinelli look. “I tried to keep in mind the words of great teachers who advised us to listen to the genie loci, or the soul or spirit of a place,” Cucinelli says of thinkers such as Vitruvius. and Andrea Palladio.
Although Cucinelli did not study much growing up, as an adult he became a voracious autodidact and over 3,000 titles line the heavy wooden shelves of his library. The room also has a fireplace, and Cucinelli likes to curl up there with a book each night before bed, taking notes as he goes. It pays further homage to its historical heroes via white Carrara marble busts which are displayed throughout the house and on the grounds. The library, for example, features portraits of Marcus Aurelius, Alexander the Great and Sappho, while Renaissance men such as Galileo and Leon Battista Alberti keep company on the terrace. Cucinelli also commissioned busts of modern men, including Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. Each of the works is hand-sculpted by artisan Stefano Giannoni in Pietrasanta, Tuscany, who works marble from the same quarries that once supplied Michelangelo. The men have been collaborating for 23 years and at present Giannoni has enough orders from Cucinelli to keep him busy until 2026.
This kind of long-standing relationship comes as no surprise to anyone who knows Cucinelli personally. Much of his life is driven by consistency, down to his daily routines. “Our family has hundreds of rituals,” he says. Every Sunday, for example, he gets up at 6:30 a.m. and goes to a local patisserie, where he buys a pack of freshly baked flaky buns for each household in his family: his daughters, Carolina and Camilla, and their families all live two within walking distance, as is Cucinelli’s father Umberto, who turns 100 next month. Cucinelli leaves a bag on each of their doorknobs, then continues to his house. Other habits date back to his childhood: he and Federica grow their own vegetables in the villa’s garden and raise rabbits and chickens. Their grandchildren help collect the eggs, just like Cucinelli did as a child. Also, Cucinelli prefers to spend the evenings without flashlights. “At night, I live by candlelight,” he says. “I sit in front of the fireplace in silence and intoxicate myself with beautiful thoughts.”