MILAN — Is old-school print on paper a thing of the past? Not if Brunello Cucinelli has anything to say about it.
The Italian entrepreneur has been known to rub shoulders with Silicon Valley tycoons, but, in his mind, the desirability of physical tomes beats e-books on all fronts.
So much so that, on Thursday, Cucinelli presented his next project for Solomeo, the medieval Italian village home to his namesake company — a Universal Library.
“The founding of libraries is like constructing public granaries,” said Cucinelli, quoting Emperor Hadrian, adding that he “felt responsible for the beauty of the world.”
Cucinelli spoke from the stage of Milan’s Piccolo Teatro — behind him, a giant reproduction of the Great Library of Alexandria, Egypt, one of the largest and most significant libraries of the ancient world, and a rendering of the 18th-century villa he bought in Solomeo that he will restore to house the library.
Thinking long-term continues to be a priority for Cucinelli, as it has been in building a future for his company and in the restoration of Solomeo. In fact, he said that “the library is a project meant to last for the next 1,000 years.” Building monuments similar to those of antiquity has long been a focus of Cucinelli’s, who in meetings at Solomeo has pushed tech titans such as Jeff Bezos of Amazon and Jack Dorsey of Twitter to ponder the question and think in those terms.
Cucinelli on Thursday was flanked on stage by architect Massimo de Vico Fallani, a longtime friend and collaborator, as well as by the Cardinal of Perugia Gualtiero Bassetti, who has blessed his previous projects.
“During the pandemic, Massimo and I asked ourselves, what can we do for humanity?” The library is the response, and yet another step in Cucinelli’s restoration of Solomeo, dubbed the “Hamlet of the Spirit,” which also includes a theater, a winery with a vineyard, and the building of the Monument to the Dignity of Man.
Cucinelli’s company was publicly listed in 2012, and he underscored that this project is separate, funded by his family’s foundation, but he declined to provide financial details.
The villa, surrounded by a park, spans over some 21,600 square feet and Cucinelli estimated the library will comprise between 400,000 and 500,000 books. The first 30,000 to 35,000 books are forecast to be available in 2024.
The library will be open to the public and carry books on five subjects: philosophy — dear to Cucinelli; architecture, literature, including poetry and craftsmanship — not necessarily connected to fashion, he noted. “There is a strong return to the value of craftsmanship,” he contended.
Cucinelli was eager to underscore that the books will be acquired from all over the world, and potentially also translated into Italian. Only the catalogue of the titles will digitalized, but not the books, he insisted. A dedicated team of 14 people, in Italy and around the world, will be in charge of buying the books.
“Books indicate us the path,” mused Cucinelli, who in 2018 published his first book, “The Dream of Solomeo,” subtitled, “My life and the idea of humanistic capitalism” — a collection of his notes, he insisted, shying away from being called a writer. “I’ve always been in love with books,” he continued, saying that he gifted each of his daughters with 1,000 books on their wedding days. “And I plan to give the same amount to each of my three grandchildren when they will marry,” he added.
“My first encounter with philosophy took place at the age of 17, with Immanuel Kant, thanks to a book, the “Critique of Pure Reason,” reminisced Cucinelli, who throughout the press conference cited several of his mentors and inspirations, from Plinius and Aristotle to Saint Benedict, Plato, Alexander the Great, and Petrarch.
“Today I am convinced that the universality instilled by the great thinkers in their writings is perhaps the greatest gift to humanity, and that this gift nourishes any collection of books, large or small, as long as they are good books,” claimed Cucinelli.
“Emperor Hadrian and Alexander the Great both knew how to combine dreams with actions for the benefit of the world, and Massimo and I remembered that they both loved books. One of Alexander’s most trusted generals was Ptolemy, who wanted to build the most famous library in the world in the newly founded city of Alexandria. And so we said to ourselves: why not follow on the dream of those great men in spite of our smallness, why not build a great library here in Solomeo, a library that, thanks to the universal thinking of the authors of the books that will enrich it, may be imagined as ‘universal.’”
Cucinelli said the type of books he would like to see on the shelves of the Universal Library in Solomeo “is the original text but in current editions, enriched by fascinating, simple and deep prefaces, to be read after finishing the book, and not before.”
While a separate project and connected to his fashion group, Cucinelli earlier this month said he is also investing in a former industrial space in Solomeo that covers eight hectares, or about 540,000 square feet, which will allow him to expand the company. The project is expected to be completed in 2024 and is in sync with Cucinelli’s 10-year goal to double his brand’s sales compared with 2018.