Kuramoto Diary #536 -【Brunello Cucinelli】
After finishing the opening party on September 23rd, three days later, I departed from JFK Airport in New York to Rome on ITA Air. I was somewhat concerned because the airline used to be Alitalia, but there were no troubles at all. Moreover, the food served on board was pleasantly surprising̶simple and delicious compared to other European airlines.
The first destination was the village where the headquarters and factory of the ultra-luxury Italian fashion brand Brunello Cucinelli are located. This village, Cortona Solomeo, is about a two-hour drive from Rome and can be considered almost entirely Brunello Cucinelli's facility. The entire village embodies Cucinelli's pursuit of authenticity, sustainability, and, above all, the philosophy of valuing craftsmen.
First of all, the village is incredibly beautiful. It takes your breath away. Cucinelli has scattered facilities such as a theater and five schools for men's and women's tailoring, all built around the 14th-century castle he funded. (Apparently, if people graduated from those tailoring school, they must work under Cucinelli!) The cobblestone streets connecting these facilities are incredibly picturesque. This seems to be a result of the accumulation of Italy's rural lifestyle over the years, something that a designer attempting this on their own wouldn't easily achieve.
Thanks to the person who took me there, it felt like a VIP tour even though I wasn't a guest. I was guided through the village by Julia, an Italian beauty fluent in Japanese. At the end of the tour, she took me to a monument̶an open space the size of Hibiya Park, with only the monument and expansive lawns. This embodies Cucinelli's ideals. It's a wide open space that anyone can enter freely and play in.
The structure consists of five arches, with the inscription "Dedicated to the dignity of man" at the top. Cucinelli founded the brand in 1978 (I took over the brewery in 1984̶still struggling with my lack of ability to this extent!). He focuses on cashmere products, consistently producing them in Italy, avoiding outsourcing sewing and dyeing to places like China or Korea. The goal is always to provide the best, made possible by the excellent Italian craftsmen. It's a well-known story that he rewards them with the highest treatment, surpassing Italian standards.
This philosophy, he says, arose from an experience in his childhood. His birth home was a farm, but at one point, his father gave up farming and started working in a factory in the city. One day, seeing his father come home exhausted and crying, he not only thought about how hard labor is but also questioned the modern capitalism that destroys human dignity to such an extent.
Today's Brunello Cucinelli aims to answer that question with a "factory that preserves human dignity." Solomeo village is a manifestation of that, and the monument is an abstract representation of this idea.
Standing in front of the monument, you can understand how Cucinelli cherishes craftsmen like family. In contrast to what is often seen in the West, managers and sales departments stand completely separate from craftsmen and workers, almost as if they see them as mere "tools to produce profit”.
There was something that deeply resonated with me. I had been struggling with the working conditions of the production staff at the New York Brewery, which had been bothering me since before. I had been told, "In America, you don't make manufacturing staff do cleaning," "Americans don't do cleaning, not even in school," and "Cleaning is done by specialist immigrants; staff usually don't do it" (and management and manufacturing staff are completely separated as different professions) (and further division within the manufacturing staff, differentiating technical roles from cleaning staff). "If you can't get that right, your brewery in America won't succeed," they said, but I resisted. Of course, at that time, I made American staff do cleaning. And for their honor, they understood the importance of cleaning and, although not skilled, worked hard.
In the sake brewing industry, it's unimaginable for manufacturing staff not to do cleaning and equipment cleaning. I wondered, "Can sake made by such manufacturing staff be truly delicious?" At the same time, I felt a resistance against the idea of dividing work into superior and inferior, the kind of thinking that came with the remark "In America…." It was a completely different approach from what I had experienced at Dassai in Yamaguchi. In the United States, managers (including the head of manufacturing), take the lead in cleaning the workplace and organizing items.
Even Mr. Nishida, the head of manufacturing in Dassai Brewery in Japan, arranges discarded slippers. There's no hierarchy in the jobs of Dassai's brewery staff.
The manufacturing department, which is at the core of the brewery, essentially bears the fate of the brewery and is, in a way, different from the American-style corporate organization that tends to belittle the production department. This is one of the reasons behind Dassai's unparalleled high growth in the food industry, supporting high wages.
I once had a conversation with someone in the restaurant industry, and when I mentioned, "After closing time at Robuchon in Paris, we spend about an hour and a half
on cleaning and washing in the kitchen," the American listener was surprised and said, "Employees in America don't do that."
However, when you see that the star-studded restaurants in America, created with the thinking of specialization, don't succeed in Paris, you realize that the American-style neatly divided labor doesn't work in the world of food. Of course, McDonald's is different. However, high-end restaurants face this reality. If you want to aim for the top in the world of sake, you won't succeed with the American-style neatly divided labor.
In the sake world, like in the food world, let's go with the Japanese style. By doing so, let's aim for high wages for manufacturing staff in American wineries. Let's aim for an "American Brewery" that pursues human dignity and equality. Let's do Dassai style in America. That was the moment I felt that it was good to come to Brunello Cucinelli.