The heart and soul of its founder is woven through the fabric of every design offered by Brunello Cucinelli, and it’s his passion for quality and creativity that has created a successful luxury lifestyle brand.
This story first appeared in the April 2, 2015 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
“At the core, our brand is the vision of a very special individual — Brunello Cucinelli,” said Massimo Caronna, president of the company’s U.S. business. Caronna met the designer two decades ago when Cucinelli was just creating women’s cashmere sweaters, but quickly saw the “vision of what the brand could eventually become one day.”
When attempting to build any brand, the most essential ingredient is product, he said. Starting with those sweaters in 30 colors in 1978, Cucinelli branched out into men’s wear in 1994, starting with sweaters and expanding into other categories, including sportswear, clothing, outerwear and accessories.
Today, men’s wear represents 40 percent of overall sales, which last year were 355.8 million euros, or $420 million, with 85 percent of the men’s business coming from ready-to-wear and 15 percent from accessories, he said.
While the offering has evolved, one thing has remained the same: offering product with a “casual, chic” taste level that is ageless and sophisticated.
To accomplish this, Caronna said there are three key components: quality, creativity and visual merchandising.
Materials are purchased from the best mills in Biella, Italy, or, in the case of cashmere, Mongolia, and created by the company’s artisans in its hometown of Solomeo, Italy. In fact, Caronna said, 25 percent of the company is dedicated to quality control, ensuring that every product “adheres to the standards of the quality the brand stands for.”
To be certain this continues, Cucinelli has created a “school of craft” in Solomeo where young people are trained in the art of tailoring. “The average age of our tailors is 60 or 65,” he said. “We had to make a clear decision what to do for the future.” The school has turned into a rousing success, with 1,300 students applying for 75 slots.
Turning to creativity, he said this “plays a major role” in men’s wear, and is defined by the details, whether that be the fit, the color or the styling.
Also important is visual merchandising, and Cucinelli employs 30 people in Italy and a dozen in the U.S. whose job is to visit the monobrand and multibrand stores that carry the collection to ensure consistency in the displays.
Today, distribution is split evenly between monobrand and multibrand stores, he said. Among the retailers that carry the line in the U.S. are Saks Fifth Avenue, Neiman Marcus, Mario’s and Andrisen Morton, and over the years, these retailers have proven to be important “guardians of the brand,” Caronna said. “North America has been a key market for us,” he said, noting the U.S. represents 34 percent of sales and is the brand’s largest market. Europe is 33 percent of sales and Italy is 18.7 percent. The Far East is also important, he said.
At the same time Cucinelli has been careful not to sell its brand in too many places around the world. “A high-quality product cannot be overdistributed,” he said.
By staying small, it allows the brand to maintain its culture and its close relationship with its founder.