Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Benedictine Monastery of Norcia in The New Yorker

As an interesting aside, The New Yorker has an article out on Italian fashion designer Brunello Cucinelli, who also happens to be a friend and supporter of the Monastery of the Benedictines of Norcia (whose Sung Vespers you may listen to each Sunday evening).

While the article is about Cucinelli the designer, the article includes an explanation and exploration of Brunello's interest in this monastery, his relation with Dom Cassian Folsom (described as his spiritual father) and discusses the work of the monastery of Norcia. The article includes relevant quotations from Dom Cassian Folsom.

Unfortunately, only the abstract (found below) of the article is available online to non-subscribers, but those of you who are particularly interested in this monastery, you may like to pick up a copy of this publication at your local newsstand (March 29, 2010 issue), or by purchasing it online.

Even if not, it is interesting to note nonetheless, as it is always good to see such monasteries given publicity.

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ABSTRACT: LETTER FROM UMBRIA about cashmere designer Brunello Cucinelli.

In January, Brunello Cucinelli was one of the honorees at an event celebrating the Leonardo Prize, at the Quirinal Palace, in Rome. Cucinelli lives in a hilltop village called Solomeo that dates to the twelfth century and has a population of fewer than five hundred. Over the past thirty years, as his company has grown from a one-man operation to a business employing five hundred people, with an annual turnover of more than two hundred million dollars, Cucinelli has been renovating Solomeo. He has enacted a peculiar fantasy of beneficent feudalism, with himself as the enlightened overlord, and the residents, many of them his employees, as the appreciative underlings. Cucinelli’s clothes are usually described as “sporty chic.” He got his start, in the eighties, by making cashmere sweaters in bright colors. These days, his sweaters are more likely to be in subtle shades of goat, and be more expensive. He has lately extended his brand into a wider range of sportswear and accessories. Having dropped out of engineering school at twenty-four, Cucinelli has followed a self-imposed curriculum of study, which has resulted in his assembling a personal pantheon of sages, ranging from Socrates to St. Francis of Assisi and Pascal. Mentions Kant and Charlie Chaplin. A more recent inspiration is President Barack Obama, whom Cucinelli regards as a new Marcus Aurelius. Cucinelli has distilled an idiosyncratic business philosophy that draws on Renaissance humanism, Senecan stoicism, Benedictine rigor, and the theories of Theodore Levitt, the marketing scholar. Cucinelli pays his employees a higher wage than the market rate, and he attempts to infuse pleasure into the process of making clothes. He also looks to do good works for people not on his payroll, earmarking twenty per cent of the company’s annual profits, he said, “for humanity.” His integration of high-end manufacture with a higher purpose is widely admired among his colleagues in the fashion industry. Mentions Ron Frasch, Bob Mitchell, Rosella Cianetti, and Don Sandro. Describes how Cucinelli started his cashmere business. The next project he hopes to undertake in Solomeo is the construction of a “sacred park” in the hilltop woodland. Describes a visit to a monastery in Norcia, where Cucinelli’s “spiritual father,” Father Cassian Folsom, resides.

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