Jun 20, 2010
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Cucinelli, Italy's cashmere philosopher-king

Jun 20, 2010

ROME, June 20, 2010 (AFP) - The secret of Brunello Cucinelli's success is his desire to make the world a better place, the purveyor of high-end cashmere sweaters suggests.

Cucinelli Collection SS 2010

"A company needs to make profits," he said, "but profits also need to improve the world, to embellish humanity."And his bottom line suggests he is doing something right, with profits up more than 11 percent last year despite the global economic downturn and 2010 sales projected to total 180 million euros (220 million dollars).

The son of a farmer turned factory worker, Cucinelli says he pays his 500 workers "20 percent more than the going rate, to ease the hardship of repetitive labour."

They get a one-and-a-half-hour lunch break, during which they enjoy a hearty meal at the factory's cafeteria for three euros and take a nap if they want.

Cucinelli, saying he was inspired by Benedictine rules, describes his management style as "rigorous and mellow -- that of a demanding boss and loving father."

Sprinkling his remarks with quotations from philosophers like Kant ("The starry sky above me and the moral law within me"), Rousseau and Socrates, he added: "Work needs to be accompanied by economic and moral dignity, marrying capitalism and humanism."

Cucinelli has brought his brand of humanism to the small medieval town of Solomeo, his wife's hometown in the central Umbria region, by restoring the castle for his headquarters and setting up workshops and design studios in 15 renovated homes. He also built a theatre, which stages monthly plays and a classical music festival each summer.

While generous with workers, Cucinelli said he does not believe in "democratic luxury, accessible to all."

Indeed, many of his sweaters sell for well over 300 euros.

Cucinelli's formula is to offer high quality "with strong artisanal content, our 'luxury sporty-chic' style," he said.

The company then chooses its markets carefully in what Cucinelli called "controlled distribution" through a network of 1,000 retailers and 50 mono-brand stores in places like Greenwich Village in New York or in St Tropez on the French Riviera.

Most Cucinelli sweaters, jackets and trousers made of cashmere and other luxury fabrics are sold in Germany, the United States and France.

Cucinelli, who also sells shoes, belts and bags, is planning to open two new stores in central Paris, one in August and the other in April 2011.

The garments are entirely produced in Italy, with 80 percent of the work done in ateliers or by subcontractors in and around Solomeo.

Other products such as shoes and bags are mostly produced in Tuscany and in the northeastern Veneto region.

"One cannot say our products are expensive. They are simply onerous," he said.

Unlike many of his Italian confreres, Cucinelli does not believe China and other emerging economies are a menace.

"On the contrary, it's thanks to them that we are here," he said, noting that his cashmere comes from Chinese and Mongolian goats.

As demand for Italian or French luxury goods grows, Cucinelli hopes for a "new golden age."

Cucinelli's sales in the emerging markets of China, India and Latin America have grown from three to 11 percent of the total.by Francoise Kadri

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