Of the various men I’ve met since I founded The Rake 11 years ago, the two I’ve found most inspiring are Ralph Lauren and Brunello Cucinelli. Lauren, because he is my spiritual father: he and his eponymous brand formed my tastes at an early age. What was amazing upon getting to know him was the discovery that he was far more than a design genius — I prefer America’s poet laureate of style and, ultimately, one of the best human beings I know. As for Brunello, each conversation we have had over the past decade has deepened my respect and admiration for him. Here is a man who, from the very beginning, has professed a belief in what I feel is the most important philosophy in the luxury world: ethical capitalism.
It was Cucinelli who told potential investors in his company before his IPO was launched (and he became a billionaire) not to invest in his company if they were interested only in quick profit. He wasn’t going to move production to eastern Europe, as other Italian brands had. Quite the opposite, in fact: he was going to do everything he could to connect the next generation with the artisanal skillset of their country. For him it was important to create a successful empire but also to give dignity to the people who worked for him. It is for this reason he intentionally pays his workers 20 per cent above the market rate. It is for this reason he gives every employee the possibility to purchase his garments at a price that reflects only the cost of the raw materials. He wants them to be proud of what they make. And it is for this reason he feeds them the best communal lunch in the fashion industry, all from locally sourced produce.
Brunello is one of those people whose motivation is to do good, to positively benefit everyone around them and humanity in general, and I think you can sense that in the clothing he makes. His clothes are about softness, liberation, comfort, individuality and timelessness. In the same way you can feel Lauren’s extraordinary sense of optimism each time you wear a Ralph Lauren garment, I believe you can feel Brunello Cucinelli’s sense of ethics and his desire to positively impact the world each time you put on one of his sweaters or gilets or one-and-a-half-breasted, deconstructed jackets. And because he has been such a pioneer in making ethics the highest priority in a business, it would be impossible to create the Ethics issue of The Rake without visiting his home in Solomeo. Over a wonderful conversation, which ended with cigars on the terrace of his daughter Camilla’s house, I had the opportunity again to learn from this magnificent man about the values that have shaped both his luxury empire and his vision for living.