Google “quiet luxury.” It’s the buzz in the fashion press, citing the timeless, minimalist but interesting apparel worn by the cast of HBO’s "Succession" or Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent courtroom wardrobe.
Cucinelli was either ahead of his time or just always found a market with a luxury shopper who wanted logo-free, quality, lasting pieces that would be desired by the next generation.
The generation part is important to him. His Solomeo, Italy-based operations are in restored buildings, including a 14th-century castle on 247 acres. He just bought his boyhood home in a nearby village where he was born into a peasant family that grew wheat, harvested olives and had a dairy cow.
“I never throw anything away. If I buy myself a bicycle, I hope my grandson will use it,” he said.
Cucinelli was in Dallas last week spending time with some of his best customers and celebrating an award from Neiman Marcus. The Dallas-based luxury retailer resurrected its fashion award this year and awarded it to Cucinelli during Paris Fashion Week. For decades the retailer brought fashion legends such as Coco Chanel, Christian Dior and Yves Saint Laurent to Dallas to schmooze with customers.
For the first time in the 20-plus year history of the Neiman Marcus and Brunello Cucinelli partnership, a collection of 50 pieces is labeled “Exclusively Designed for Neiman Marcus.”
Select sweaters — three in women’s and two in men’s — are numbered like art prints in a nod to collector-focused customers.
Several customers have already purchased one of each of the 50 items in the new collection across men’s and women’s apparel, shoes and accessories, said Lana Todorovich, president and chief merchandising officer of the Neiman Marcus Group.
Multi-brand retailers such as Neiman Marcus were believed to be toast years ago as Europe’s luxury brands opened their own stores in major U.S. cities. But the relationship with luxury department stores didn’t end, and Todorovich said Neiman Marcus is pursuing wholesale partnerships on a heightened level.
Where there were always “capsules” of four or five styles held back by designers for just one retailer, Neiman Marcus is asking for more. A recent Christian Louboutin exclusive product launch included 27 shoes. Last year’s Cucinelli collection for Neiman Marcus was 40 pieces.
“Capsules are sprinkles on a cupcake,” Todorovich said. “What we’re doing now is the whole cake. We’re a living stage for the brand.”
The multi-brand retailer occupies a different ecosystem, she said. “It’s not either or. Stores coexist for whatever journey the shopper is on.”
Neiman Marcus was the first retailer in the U.S. to sell Brunello Cucinelli. The relationship dates back to the mid-1990s when it started carrying a few sweaters. Neiman Marcus is also the designer’s largest wholesale partner in the world.
Brunello Cucinelli had sales last year of $1 billion, and it generated 36% of its sales in the U.S. The company has a couple of dozen of its own U.S. stores, including one in Highland Park Village and is sold through multi-brand retailers Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman, Saks Fifth Avenue and Stanley Korshak in Uptown Dallas.
Wearing his signature white corduroy trousers, gray socks, white polo shirt, his own brand of sneakers and a subtle gray plaid double-breasted jacket, Cucinelli sat for an interview in Dallas.
A question about whether there’s a blue or green hint in the jacket conjured up a story about how he’s hated green since he was maybe 8 or 10 years old and his mother brought home some green trousers for him. He buried the pants in the yard and played dumb about their whereabouts until she eventually forgot about them.
Cucinelli addressed the multi-brand question and a few others. Here are his edited responses through an interpreter.
Q: Put Neiman Marcus as a multi-brand retailer in perspective for your business.
The multi-brand retailer has been plying this trade for 2,500 years. I’m an entrepreneur and manufacturer, but they know how your collection is doing. They view results of 300 collections at a time, so it’s very important to listen to their feedback.
Q: And Neiman Marcus?
A: Neiman Marcus is the most beautiful multi-brand department store in luxury worldwide, and this is really undisputed. Thirty years ago this was the case, and it still is today. They went through their financial difficulties. We are a public company and I scheduled a call for the day after they settled their reorganization. I said they will be the best boutique worldwide because they have always, always talked about taste and the new collection. That’s the first thing they talk about. Price points are not the focus. Others come and say, well this sold well last year and I say, yes, but we have to talk about what’s coming next.
Q: What about the Dallas customer? You have one of your own stores in Highland Park Village and Stanley Korshak is building a large in-store shop for your brand.
A: My childhood was first about watching "Bonanza" and then as a young adult, the "Dallas" TV show with the villain J.R. That was Texas for us. It was always fascinating to us. But America is the true luxury market and here it’s a market that doesn’t like logos. It’s more chic and understated. We’re seeing a second generation now. Fathers are coming in with their sons.
Q: What are you learning from the younger generation?
A: We don’t pay brand ambassadors. The reason to buy from us is that you care about our taste level and craftsmanship. And this generation cares about the ethical side of our business. Human dignity matters to young people and that’s the tenant of our company.