If there’s an Oz in the fashion world, it’s Solomeo. The tiny Umbrian hamlet, just outside of Perugia, is an almost mythical destination for anyone who values designer clothing because of how it preserves and innovates craftsmanship. Its cachet is thanks to the wizardry of a single brand, Brunello Cucinelli, the Italian label known for draping the world in greige cashmere.
Solomeo is home to Cucinelli’s headquarters, a contemporary campus where you’ll rarely see a stray piece of yarn littering the immaculate factory floor and where employees, somewhat legendarily, gather in the canteen over family-style pasta lunches for 90 minutes each afternoon. The brand’s influence on the company town extends to the village theatre (with its seats upholstered in Cucinelli tan), to its tailoring academy (where a new generation of makers hone their craft), to every cobblestone and pizza oven in the town square.
Likening Solomeo to Oz might imply there is a camel curtain down an alleyway that you’ll pull back to reveal that it’s all just a stage set created to conjure up some brand theatrics. But as a recent visit with a team from Holt Renfrew revealed, Brunello Cucinelli’s mission to approach fashion in a more human-centric, sustainable and culture-boosting way comes across as entirely real.
The Holts team arrived in late June to put the finishing touches on a holiday-season collaboration with Carolina Cucinelli, the co-president and co-creative director of the company her father founded in 1978. “We went back and forth on what are the 10-ish pieces that you have to have in your wardrobe,” says Joseph Tang, Holt Renfrew’s fashion director, about the sartorial impetus for the line. “It felt like a dialogue between the two of us.”
“The collection reflects my taste,” adds Carolina. “The neutral palette is key because I usually wear very neutral colours. It’s always very easy to mix and match. I get up in the morning and I try to mix and match everything in a very easy way.” The resulting lineup is inspired by what Tang calls Carolina’s “voice within the family.” There is a slouchy shearling aviator jacket, which feels like the kind of piece you’ll buy right now because the style is trending but then wear every chilly day for the rest of your life. Sweater pieces such as a ribbed dress and a cropped, cabled crewneck reference Brunello Cucinelli’s knitwear origins. Wide-legged denim reflects where Carolina and her sister Camilla, who heads up women’s design, see the brand moving in the future.
“I joined the company 13 years ago,” says Carolina, who moved through Cucinelli’s production and marketing departments as she developed her career. “Now, I work behind my father. I work in the design team but also, I try to add a bit of my point of view to the evolution of the company.” That shift includes identifying collaborators such as Tang and Holt Renfrew who can help see the collection from a new perspective. “From the point of view of two young people,” she says.
“Brunello finds the Canadian market very special,” says Sebastian Picardo, Holt Renfrew’s president and CEO. “It’s very clear that they’re not just selling a beautiful product. They’re here for much more than that.”
“For us, we always want to work with partners that have shared values and missions,” Tang says, citing Carolina’s buy-less-but-better philosophy. That ethos unquestionably enriches the dolce vita lifestyle that’s channelled into the Cucinelli collections and campaigns (Holt’s photoshoot took place in Carolina’s villa atop the family’s private winery; that aforementioned pizza oven gets fired up often in the summer to host intimate dinners for famous fans passing through town). But it also demands hard work and reinvesting in the community. After spending millions to turn Solomeo into the Oz it is, the company recently announced it will be making a similar investment in reconstructing Castelluccio, an Umbrian village destroyed by earthquakes in 2016 and 2017.
“This is our own way. We have a family business and we try to make everything like a family,” Carolina says. “The people who work with us are part of the family. It’s important that they feel part of a big dream together and we work together for the same vision.”
Style Advisor travelled to Italy as a guest of Holt Renfrew. The company did not review or approve this article prior to publication.