Italian designer Cucinelli makes a medieval fashion statement

Italian fashion tycoon Brunello Cucinelli speaks during a presentation of the newly restored medieval hamlet at valley at his company headquarters in Solomeo village near Perugia, Italy, September 4, 2018. REUTERS/Alessandro Bianchi

SOLOMEO, Italy (Reuters) - Italian fashion tycoon Brunello Cucinelli, best known for selling cashmere sweaters for thousands of dollars each, has unveiled his latest creative project: a fully restored medieval hamlet nestled in a valley in central Umbria.

Cucinelli showed hundreds of invited journalists and guests around the 13th century settlement of Solomeo on Tuesday, having spent 30 years and an undisclosed sum from his personal fortune to refurbish stone buildings, build a theater and demolish some warehouses to plant a new landscape of olive trees and vines.

Solomeo has been Cucinelli’s corporate headquarters since the 1980s, in keeping with his efforts to distinguish the firm that bears his name from rivals that are more closely associated with Italy’s fashion capital of Milan.

The business moved gradually to the valley from its original premises, the Solomeo castle, because it needed room to expand. Today, Milan-listed Brunello Cucinelli Spa employs 1,700 staff worldwide, with around 1,000 living around Solomeo.

Cucinelli, 65, told his guests the restoration was part of his philosophy of “humanistic capitalism”, which involves paying workers above the market average, providing a decent work environment and banning email outside office hours.

The founder said his employment practices stem from his years growing up in a poor family in Umbria, watching his father toil in a factory making pre-fabricated concrete and being appalled at the way uneducated workers from the countryside were treated.

“This changed my life,” Cucinelli said, adding that he believed his business model could be exported.

“I’m absolutely convinced the same can be done in other parts of Italy, Europe and the world,” he added.

Editing by Mark Bendeich and Gareth Jones