"When I was 25, I decided to do cashmere. Umbria is a famous area for knitwear. All other kind of yarns, wool and so forth, but not cashmere. I had this idea: I wanted to do something that you could keep in your closet for many, many years, never to throw away.
When I started I didn’t have any money – not even a dollar. I went to see a friend of mine. I asked him whether he could he sell me 20kg of cashmere, and said I didn’t have money to pay him now. He said, ‘Don’t worry about it, you can pay me when you have the money’. He was 50-year-old man, and this was the spirit of the small village, of a small city, where everyone knows each other. It’s like today. If you are 25, and you come to me and ask me ‘Can I have 100 kg of cashmere?”, I am happy if you can start something new. So I will give it to you, for sure.
So I bought the product. We had a new idea: we had cashmere for women, and in colour. And we started to sell the first sweaters . It was a very, very small family business. [When questioned by suppliers or customers as to his company’s heritage, Brunello would tell a white lie and say he had 72 employees working for him and that the company was founded by his father 50 years ago.] The first order we had was 53 pieces. I was alone. I had a small laboratory of 40sq/m in Perugia. I had to decide to go another step [to grow the business]. Where can I do it? I had been visiting this town, Solomeo (below) since 1972, because my fiancé lived here.
And in this little town no one lived inside the castle. It was quite destroyed. I asked the owner of the castle if he could sell me a piece of the castle, and he agreed. And I started to re-build part of the castle. Because I didn’t have any money, it has taken me 30 years of re-building, including building the theatre in Solomeo (below). [It took Mr C. ten years to build this theatre - called Teatro Cucinelli - for his workers and the villagers of Solomeo to use for “seasons of prose, music and dance”. It’s an achingly beautiful theatre with views over San Mariano.]
I started to restore [the town of Solomeo]. I had these great ideals: I would like that the people that work with me could work in a nice place. Because I know that the craftsman job is very hard. And my dream was to be a custodian and to be a re-builder. Not the owner… I don’t feel like the owner. I feel like a custodian. The custody of something brings you real beauty, because if you feel as though you are the custodian, you want it to last forever. I believe in the life of a small town. There is a nice sentence from Jacques Cousteau. He says, ‘Our cities are hard to live, you have to come back to the small towns to talk about and project new deals for the humankind.’ I thought that life in a village could be more successful in the future.
Today we are over 700 persons working inside the company. Everyone has a key to the castle. But the rules are very strict. You have to respect the rules. It’s a matter of trust. When I started my business I had just 20 workers and it was quite easy not to have the security badge, just to give all the workers a key. Today we are over 700. It means that man is responsible.”