When Brunello Cucinelli met British designer Paul Smith at the Pitti Uomo menswear fashion show in Florence a couple of seasons ago, the two men found they had much in common. Both are lovers of Italian culture – Smith has had a summer home in Tuscany for several decades – both run independent fashion companies in a world dominated by huge fashion groups, and, where menswear is concerned, both are passionate about the importance of tailoring and its hero garment, the suit. ‘We spoke about the beauty of men’s tailoring, and the suit in particular, and our commitment to finding a way of making it look and feel contemporary,’ says Cucinelli.
While both men approach the task in different ways, coloured inevitably by the sartorial traditions of their respective nations and cultures, an ability to reimagine classic pieces – the tailored jacket and suit especially – in new ways that keep them relevant is a hallmark of both their work. And in the case of Brunello Cucinelli, this has taken the form of a softening of the menswear wardrobe, both literally and metaphorically. We are in territory that is far from the traditional idea of tailoring as a type of male armour.
‘You need to know the classics in order to awaken their charisma with new interpretations and combinations,’ he explains. ‘All the disciplines that express the value of time – after all, time is the ultimate luxury, is it not? – possess the ability to evolve in a refined way: consider a fine wine, or an artwork that acquires new meaning as it ages, or a new culinary pairing that updates familiar and natural flavours.’
Evolution is the key to understanding Cucinelli’s world. ‘The new collection has a focus on time,’ he says. ‘The time for experience that cultivates knowledge, the time for artisanal creation, the time in which every garment will have the opportunity to renew itself with combinations that enhance its inherent qualities. Classics have strong roots, and can take on new and richer meanings, day after day.’
It is the ability to work within the established, classic codes of design – particularly those that relate to the tailored look – and yet reimagine them for a contemporary wearer, that has seen Cucinelli become a byword for “quiet luxury”. Much has been written about this trend recently, but this has been his guiding principle since he first founded his business making cashmere knits back in the ’80s.
A Cucinelli outfit will not declare itself as such. And yet, those in the know have come to recognise the signs: the softly tailored shoulders on jackets and the light-touch construction, almost like pieces of cloth that magically acquire form when put on; the trousers that flatter by being not too-tight, but always elegantly tapered; the sumptuous fabrics – cashmere, vicuña, leather lined in soft shearling – and their subtle micro patterns (take this season’s chevron and Donegal designs); the hand-knits, padded gilets and well-cut coats, which all layer together effortlessly.
Notably, everything seems to be conceived to mix effortlessly with other pieces. A Cucinelli suit is only a suit if you choose to wear it as such: ‘The suit confirms its role as a cornerstone of the collection: contemporary, comfortable, and now more versatile than ever thanks to fabrics that allow wearers to convert the style of a jacket by matching it with different trousers,’ explains the designer.
And then there is the use of colour. The Cucinelli palette is rooted in beige-browns that typically range – and this season is no exception – from a mid-tone of camel to sand, pale tobacco and ecru. Grey always makes an appearance, as does navy blue. This season, though, there are also reds which, says Cucinelli, are ‘inspired by historic wines that have stood the test of time, transcending trends’. The Italian grape barbera is the inspiration for maroons and burgundies that have a grey cast.
Perhaps Cucinelli’s expertise in manipulating the codes of dress for his own purpose is nowhere more apparent than in his eveningwear. This most conventional clothing category for men has long been a kind of laboratory for him, in which he has explored a type of old-school glamour that references the look of ’50s and ’60s leading men of the silver screen – from his home country and Hollywood – through colours and fabrics designed to stand out in a sea of traditional black tie. This season, tuxedo jackets come in red velvet and tartan patterns. Match with Cucinelli’s patent calfskin shoes to achieve a head-turning look. In a good way.