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There are some brands that are truly next level, and Brunello Cucinelli proves time and time again that they are one of them. One of the world’s most luxurious brands, Brunello Cucinelli not only produces some of the best clothing we’ve ever seen, but they also maintain a commitment to giving back that is unparalleled.
We had the unique opportunity to chat with Mr. Cucinelli himself this summer, where he told us all about his desire for human dignity and harmony with creation, which starts in the hamlet of Solomeo, where his business is headquartered. Eager to learn more, we headed to Solomeo to experience his philosophies first-hand. Here’s what we learned there.
Federica Cucinelli, Brunello Cucinelli’s wife, grew up in the small hamlet of Solomeo, which rests atop a hill like many other villages in Umbria do. Established in the 12th century, this is a truly historic area. In the 1980s, unfortunately, people began to move to bigger cities for work, and so these smaller villages began to crumble.
With his company already building momentum, Brunello Cuccinelli made the decision in 1985 to move his headquarters to Solomeo in an effort to revitalize the hamlet that meant so much to his wife. He rebuilt the historic (and crumbling) castle and used it as his main hub, with menders and knitters on the main floor, and administration offices above.
“We wanted to restore the hamlet because we feel like we are custodians. We like to call ourselves temporary guardians of creation.” - Brunello Cucinelli
Eventually, they outgrew the castle, so they relocated to a large building at the bottom of the hill. The castle is now home to one of the largest Brunello Cucinelli boutiques in the world, spanning three floors. Of the 430 residents in Solomeo, nearly half of them work for the brand.
Not satisfied with just an economic injection to the hamlet, Brunello Cucinelli began to bring his vision of human dignity to life in Solomeo in 2010. Referred to as the “Project for Beauty,” the redevelopment expanded beyond just the town centre and into the countryside. Historic monuments were restored and preserved, and new life was brought to the breathtaking landscape that Solomeo is situated upon.
With his charitable foundation, The Brunello and Federica Cucinelli Foundation, he and his wife began to rebuild every aspect of the hamlet, including the creation of three parks: The Agricultural (Agrarian) Park, the Industrial Park, and the Secular Youth (Laic Oratory) Park.
Beyond that, they also developed the School of Arts and Crafts and The Forum of the Arts. It is an overwhelming experience to witness it all, and it is one that we would highly recommend if you find yourself in Italy. We'll talk about each of the pieces of the Project for Beauty a bit more below.
The Agrarian Park and the Monument to Human Dignity were the last elements of the Project for Beauty to be completed, which was finalized in 2018. Covering nearly 100 hectares, it encompasses fields of Senatore Cappelli wheat, sunflower, cypress trees, vineyards, olive groves, and more, which are all open to the public. It’s not uncommon to come across someone going for a jog through the park, stopping along the way to collect fruit from the trees.
The vineyard is especially beautiful, featuring rose bushes at the end of each row of vines. The rose bushes were traditionally used as an indicator of parasites, which would allegedly attack the roses first, giving the orchard keepers time to fix the problem before it affected the grapes. This isn’t exactly a common gardening practice today, but at the very least, the rose bushes are beautiful.
The Vinyard in Solomeo
There is also a newly built wine cellar, which will be producing wine from traditional Umbrian grape varieties using ancient techniques within the next couple of years. At the entrance to the wine cellar sits a statue of the philosopher Bacchus to symbolize the relationship between man and nature, which is visible throughout Solomeo.
Just beyond the vineyard sits the Tribute to Human Dignity, which is a monument built to represent Brunello Cucinelli’s commitment to mankind. It is a celebration of human skills--or the art of the hands. It is an exedra built out of travertine, with 6 columns and a tripod in the middle. Between every column is the name of one of the world’s continents written in bronze, and Africa is written in the middle as a representation of the origins of humanity.
The Tribute to Human Dignity, Solomeo
A statue of Philosophia is to the right of the monument (to represent philosophy) and a statue of Sophia is to the left (to represent knowledge). The Tribute to Human Dignity was built using ancient, steadfast techniques to ensure that it rivals the longevity of the centuries-old architecture that Solomeo was built upon.
Behind the agricultural park is The Laic Oratory Park, where six hectares of open space surround a boundaryless football stadium and gym. The park supports a youth football team and other activities for children, which Brunello Cucinelli himself is often involved with.
If you look down from the top of the hill in Solomeo, you’ll see the Brunello Cucinelli factory. It’s a large, U-shaped building with a massive fountain placed in the middle. Floor-to-ceiling windows open wide to rose bushes just below. They keep the windows open rather than using air conditioning to allow the fragrant air to waft in and the sound of the fountain to permeate the halls. Everything has been done with the purpose of bringing dignity to the workplace.
The Fountain outside the Cucinelli Factory, Solomeo
As you enter the building, you’ll walk by mood boards and offices before coming across the large, airy factory that is flooded with natural light. Part production space and part creative/business hub, this is where the ideas are formed and prototypes are created, testing different techniques, threads, and designs. Brunello Cucinelli himself supervises it all.
The Knitting Process
The brand produces up to 1 million pieces per year, and all of their knitwear is produced right in Umbria. The process starts with the machinatura step, which is knitting the individual components like the sleeve, front, back, etc. Once completed, these components are placed on a lit surface and are checked for loose threads, holes, and other flaws. Each piece goes through seven rounds of quality checks to ensure perfection. The mending team will fix any flaw, making sure that nothing goes to waste. The last step is the linking phase, where all the components are assembled into the final product.
There is a serious commitment to creating positive working conditions here, further emphasizing Brunello Cucinelli’s dedication to human dignity. Hours of work are strict, with an 8 a.m. start time, a 1.5 hour lunch break, and a hard 5:30 p.m. end time. Working through lunch is impossible, as the lights will turn off promptly at 1 p.m. The goal is to allow staff to have time for hobbies, passions, relationships, and family without always focusing on work.
“We wanted our employees to work under better conditions.” - Brunello Cucinelli
Some staff may head home for their lunch break, and others may choose to spend their lunch wandering the agricultural park and dining in the company-subsidized canteen. The canteen offers fresh foods produced using ingredients grown in their very own agricultural park. From the olive oil made in their own olive mills to the pasta made of wheat in their own fields, this is about as fresh and healthy as it gets.
In addition to their Project for Beauty, the Brunello and Federica Cucinelli Foundation also established the School of Arts and Crafts in Solomeo in 2013, which is a vocational post-secondary school. Ancient medieval buildings are home to classrooms that are dedicated to traditional skills that have been in decline, such as sewing, mending, tailoring, gardening, and even masonry.
Once again, Brunello Cucinelli’s dedication to humanity is clear here. Tuition is free, and students are paid for their time in class through scholarships. Anyone between 18-27 can apply to the program. Prior experience is not required, though a genuine passion for the craft is. Students are not permitted to have any other jobs or schooling to ensure dedication to the skill they are learning.
Classrooms are small, and the student to instructor ratio is 2:1. At the end of the program, students receive a certificate that is recognized across Europe, though some stay to work with Brunello Cucinelli. 98% of students receive a job in their field within 6 months of graduating.
Brunello wanted to convey culture and the love of the arts to the future generation. Inspired by Forums in ancient Rome, Brunello Cucinelli’s Forum of the Arts encourages community in a way that is not often found in today’s towns and cities.
The site on which it was built was just once just an empty field, and now it features open spaces surrounded by beautiful architecture and parks, open to the public to enjoy. Within the Forum of the Arts are four key pillars: Theatre Cucinelli, the Garden of Philosophers, a public library (the Aurelian Neohumanistic Academy), and an outdoor amphitheater.
While exploring the Forum of the Arts, you are likely to encounter children practicing choir lessons, gardeners tending to their plots, and residents enjoying a peaceful moment in nature.
Theatre Cucinelli, Solomeo
Theatre Cucinelli is a 220-seat renaissance-style building whose aesthetic reflects Brunello Cucinelli’s own tastes. Marble busts of historical characters and philosophers can be seen throughout the theatre, from Cicero to Julius Caesar.
All the materials used to build the theatre were sourced from the Umbria region, with the exception of the large trunks in the ceiling, which come from France. It was completed and opened in September of 2008, for Brunello's birthday.
Each season lasts from November-April with 16-20 theatre and dance performances that are curated by Federica Cucinelli. Tickets are available to the public and typically cost between 8-12 euros. Recently they have hosted actor John Malcovich for his one-man show, and it is not uncommon for other large names to perform here as well.
The Cucinelli Amphiteatre, Solomeo
An outdoor amphitheater sits just beside Theatre Cucinelli. The oval space hosts open-air symphonies, events, festivals, and even film screenings. Music often floods the hamlet, whose residents will gather to enjoy the show.
The events here encourage community, conversation, and cultural sharing, such as the Villa Solomei Festival, which celebrates classical music. The Renaissance Solomeo Festival brings customs and traditions from days past to the forefront, honouring folk music, traditional Umbrian food, games, and entertainment. The Seventh Art – Cinema at the Amphitheater festival focuses on the art of cinematography.
The Garden of Philosophers
The Garden of Philosophers is a stunning terraced green space that was built for quiet contemplation and meditation. Immaculately manicured greenery with stunning views--it is the perfect place to reflect.
The Aurelian Neohumanistic Academy is a public library and meeting space that centres around humanistic topics like ethics, philosophy, arts, spirituality, and history. The book collection has been curated by Mr. Cucinelli himself and includes some of his favourite titles, as well as classic books in their original language to encourage people from across the globe to gather and enjoy the space.
Students from The School of Arts and Crafts will often congregate there to read essays, and actors will hold workshops and gather with the public there as well. The building also holds regular choir lessons for children, which we encountered on our visit.
The effort put into the restoration by the foundation inspired the residents to follow suit, resulting in a picture-perfect town where no detail has been overlooked--quite similar to the products Brunello Cucinelli produces.
Truly a humanistic hamlet, Solomeo is a physical representation of Brunello Cucinelli’s values and philosophies. The entire Cucinelli family lives here, and you’re likely to see one of them out and about if you get the chance to visit.