My conversation with the King of Cashmere

Brunello Cucinelli wants you to learn the art of doing nothing. He’ll tell you this idea goes back to the Latin word otium and the Romans, who used to lay around and stare, and then he’ll probably quote a few ancient philosophers.

Why? “If individuals rest properly,” he says, they’ll be more productive. Beyond that, they’ll be more soulful. Cucinelli, who is known for his luxury cashmere sweaters, is part businessman, part philosopher and part monk. Though his eponymously named fashion house had more than 355 million euros in revenues in 2014, he focuses on the individual and Italian craftsman traditions. The King of Cashmere rushes for no one, and he doesn’t check his text messages before 6 PM. He would rather be known as “citizen cashmere.”

At his company, “You start at 8 AM, and at 5:30 PM you are forbidden to work any further. No emails can be sent to more than two addressees.” He wants to communicate face to face, to make eye contact. “If you have 1,000 people, you have 1,000 geniuses,” he told me. “They’re just different kinds of genius and a different degree of intensity.”

It goes back to Cucinelli’s belief in the importance of craft. “Say you are a tailor,” he said. “If you earn $1,200 a month, you are sort of ashamed to say that that’s your trade, because that’s the culture. We have to do the opposite.”

That’s why the Italian businessman dropped out of engineering school to design cashmere sweaters. “The idea of manufacturing something that you never scrap — I liked it.”

Just as he treats his raw materials as indispensible, Cucinelli respects his employees. For example, he pays them 20 percent more than the industry standard. “I want a profit with dignity,” he explained. “We need a contemporary form of capitalism. I would like to add ‘humanistic’ to that equation.”

Beyond that, Cucinelli wants us to take care of our souls while working. How? By resting, preferably with a book of philosophy in hand.

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