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While we all love a bit of newness in our fashion, we also crave consistency. But in the era of fast fashion, repeat shopping to replace beloved old favorites can be a bit of a frustrating exercise. Brunello Cucinelli, one of Italian fashion’s leading lights, tends to agree. He has just launched a new online initiative called The Great Classics, a capsule for men and women of cashmere pieces in the brand’s most popular colors. In men’s there’s a crewneck, a V-neck, a half-zip, and a full-zip cardigan.
Cucinelli likens these old favorites to the great classics of literature, things to be kept and handed down rather than thrown away. Long-lived clothes are in fact central to his ethos, which is why, even with innovation and change in every new collection, you always know you’re wearing clothes with a consistent point of view. It also means everything pretty much goes with everything, the first rule of common-sense dressing.
In a way the project is a return to Cucinelli’s roots. The range of the label’s men’s and women’s offerings has grown exponentially in the past decade into a full lifestyle proposition with thousands of pieces in his calming signature palette of gray, cream, taupe, and navy. But in 1978, it was bright colors that were fashion news, but never in cashmere. With a friend, Cucinelli made six bright cashmere sweaters. Those samples garnered his first order for 53 sweaters. He was off.
The designer presides now over a global brand from his HQ in the medieval hilltop village of Solomeo, which he has spent much time and even more money restoring—a sort of enlightened neighborhood revitalization unique among fashion designers. Many of the village houses are occupied by various departments of the design, fabric research, and sampling teams, while the main factory sits just below the town. Cucinelli constructed a new neoclassical theater, and feeds his staff—they get a 90-minute lunch break in case they need to pop home to feed family—in a cafeteria stocked with excellent local food for a handful of euros. Carved plaques around the town carry uplifting quotes from the other loves of his life—the great Humanist thinkers like Kant, Socrates, and most of all Marcus Aurelius, whose name at times litters his conversation more than the word “cashmere.”
Cucinelli grew up in humble surroundings on a farm in these same rolling Umbrian hills. While the idea may seem idyllic, rural Italy in the 1960s was no picnic, the family surviving season to season entirely at the whim of the weather and, in extremis, on the mutual support network of the local community. Apart from a pair of lurid green trousers (which he buried in the garden), Brunello’s clothes were invariably hand-me-downs, a humiliation at school but a valuable lesson that has informed many of his decisions as the founder and creative director of the company.
Perhaps because of his formative years on the family farm, Cucinelli loathes waste, and thinks of throwing away clothes as disrespectful to the hands that made it. A little-known fact about his company is that a repair service for woven and knitted garments sent in by customers who can’t bear to part company with a prized piece of clothing has been in place since the early ’80s. But in the past couple of years, he’s noticed an uptick in the number of customers who, like him, think it’s plain silly to throw away good clothes. Last year the factory processed 5,000 garments free of charge to customers, and the company’s School of Craft even includes a course on mending. It’s a different angle on modern sustainability straight out of his own childhood.
Last week, I spoke to Brunello in Solomeo via Zoom on behalf of some of his top U.S. customers. If you’d like a glimpse of his next spring/summer collection—and a lot of Marcus Aurelius—you can watch that entire discussion right here.
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Source : Esquire