MILAN — How many other brands can count the founders of Amazon, Salesforce, Instagram, Twitter, Dropbox, LinkedIn and more Silicon Valley unicorns as among their core customers?
Brunello Cucinelli can.
Cucinelli has become the tech world’s go-to luxury brand, filling the closets of titans male and female not only in and around San Francisco, but also stretching up to Seattle, where Amazon is based, and beyond. It has almost become a badge of status — a type of club, signaling that the wearer isn’t only a brilliant techie and businessman, but also knows something about fashion beyond the hoodie. Cucinelli is pure luxury, trendy in a sporty chic way — and, for all those billionaires, very expensive.
It is also a business — based on personal relationships — that Cucinelli has carefully nurtured over the course of several years. As a result, the connections between the likes of Jeff Bezos or Marc Benioff and Cucinelli run deeper than just the latest 8-ply cashmere sweater, fine wool sports jacket or cashmere T-shirt. Cucinelli has, indeed, formed a kind of club with these business leaders centered around the common goal of “humanizing technology.”
Silicon Valley may be as far apart as can be, both geographically and culturally, from the medieval village of Solomeo that Cucinelli has restored and turned into his namesake brand’s headquarters, but the Italian entrepreneur appears to have bridged those differences.
“They are among the most successful and wealthiest individuals on earth, but they are human beings and we share questions about eternity and leaving a mark on earth,” Cucinelli told WWD in an exclusive interview about how he became Silicon Valley’s favorite luxury brand.
Cucinelli, however, admitted his excitement before his first meeting with Bezos, whom he found very “simply in the best sense of the term,” and who greeted his visitor with a table laid out in true Italian style.
“What do you say to the richest man in the world? We discussed what we could do for humanity in the next 1,000 or 2,000 years, which fascinated him. In fact, he said he was working on two projects — going to the moon and creating a watch that would last for 10,000 years. I told him I would come back to Seattle in 500 years and see what he did for the city,” Cucinelli said. “I was fascinated by his genius, he is like a young Einstein. He is amiable and a good listener.”
And what do you present as gift to a man who can buy anything? “A bust of Hadrian the emperor,” said Cucinelli, who is passionate about Latin and Greek history, and often quotes the likes of Plato, Aristotle and Socrates.
While he confirmed that Steve Jobs at one point had ordered 400 black cotton and long-sleeved Cucinelli T-shirts from the storied Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco, the entrepreneur was doubtful this was a strong influence in the later shopping habits of the other Silicon Valley titans. On the contrary, he viewed their choice purely as a consequence of the personal relations developed over the past three years.
“[Salesforce founder] Marc Benioff and [Instagram cofounder] Kevin Systrom in 2016 invited me to a dinner in San Francisco, and they asked me to talk about my humanistic vision,” said Cucinelli.
The look back then was a jacket over T-shirts and matching pants with no ties, he related. “I am in love with Leonardo [Da Vinci] and humanism and they represent the Leonardos of the 21st century. But I told them they had to find a kind of humanism that would mix with this wonderful technology.”
While looking to the past, Cucinelli is a man of his times. “Voltaire said that if you don’t accept the changes of the time you live in, perhaps you will miss the greatest part, so the invitation is to live in the moment, I have always done that.”
Benioff in 2017 asked Cucinelli to be a guest at Dreamforce, Salesforce’s annual tech conference in San Francisco. “All these geniuses were there listening and I was there to bring this idea of humanizing technology,” he said. The following year, Benioff once again invited Cucinelli to the event, defining him as a “trailblazer.” At that time, “there were the first talks of privacy, data, dignity and respect,” he remembered.
This led to Cucinelli sending his own invitation to the first “Symposium on Soul and Economics” held in Solomeo in May and attended by Bezos; Dick Costolo, former ceo of Twitter; Reid Hoffman, cofounder and executive president of LinkedIn; Ruzwana Bashir, founder and ceo of Peek.com; Drew Houston, ceo and founder of Dropbox; Lynn Jurich, cofounder and co-ceo of Sunrun, and Nirav Tolia, cofounder of Nextdoor. Benioff was unable to travel to Italy, but sent a letter that Cucinelli treasures and was read at the theater that Cucinelli has built in the town.
“Nobody ever used their phone, we never spoke of business, and we each talked about both past and future,” said Cucinelli. Next year, he said, the symposium will be held at Bezos’ ranch. “If necessary, I will walk to get there,” he said.
Eternity is one thing, but being properly turned out on a daily basis has also increasingly become a priority for these influential individuals, at a time when social media and a society that is more and more visual are less and less forgiving. At Solomeo, where last year Cucinelli unveiled the latest restoration works of the hamlet, including a travertine monument erected to the dignity of humankind, the guests did carve out some time to discuss sartorial issues, and Cucinelli and his tailors advised on styling and fits.
“They all work on being chic contemporary — for men it’s more difficult, they want to avoid the older and classic look.”
Cucinelli underscored that from early on he was impressed by their good taste — Benioff owns a vicuna suit, he revealed. “They can identify with our sports chic look. These are men and women that are often photographed, they want to feel good and their style has evolved in a way that allows them to be at ease on different occasions, whether it’s on Wall Street or at Wimbledon,” he said pointing to a recent image of Bezos at the tennis tournament wearing a striped shirt under a blue fitted jacket and a tie over white pants — “in sync with our own style,” said Cucinelli, who earlier this month was included in the 2019 Vanity Fair Best Dressed list.
Cucinelli, however, also runs a business, a publicly listed company that last year reported revenues of 553 million euros, up 8.1 percent compared with 2017, and his aim is to double its sales in the next 10 years. To further bring his vision closer to Silicon Valley, next year Cucinelli will open a store in Palo Alto with Mitchells. There are units in Beverly Hills, South Coast Plaza, San Francisco and Pacific Palisades. North America in total last year accounted for almost 34 percent of revenues.
So while Silicon Valley came to Cucinelli this past spring to talk about humanism, next year he will be taking his brand right to their doorsteps to make sure even more techies are both properly clad — and suitably philosophical.