Cucinelli Becomes Billionaire Knitting $1,920 Cardigans

Cucinelli Becomes Billionaire Knitting $1,920 Cardigans

Brunello Cucinelli, the 59-year-old founder of the luxury fashion house that bears his name, has become a billionaire.

Knitwear brand Brunello Cucinelli SpA (BC) has more than doubled in value since its initial public offering in Milan last April, giving Cucinelli a net worth of at least $1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He has never appeared on an international wealth ranking.

“From the beginning we hoped for a positive and gentle listing,” Cucinelli said by phone from his Milan showroom through a translator. “Investors appreciate our quality, our positioning in the absolute luxury market and our Italian heritage.”

The Solomeo, Italy-based company, which sells $4,530 suede jackets and $1,920 cashmere cardigans, had sales of $360 million in 2012, up 15.6 percent in a year. It forecast “modest double-digit” revenue growth for 2013, Bloomberg News reported in February.

“It is chic sportswear where the quality of the finishing is very high,” Armando Branchini, founder of Milan-based luxury consultant Intercorporate, said in a telephone interview. “Cucinelli offers couture finishing, elegance and sophistication and yet you can wear it in a very casual way.”

Cucinelli’s 63 percent stake is valued at $947 million. He collected more than $90 million selling shares in the IPO.Fashion Fortunes

“I am thankful, but in all honesty, my life has remained the same as when I was working alongside my father, farming in the countryside,” Cucinelli said, without commenting specifically on his net worth. “The most important thing is that we managed to achieve this success while respecting our workers, the people of Solomeo and the environment.”

Cucinelli joins new fashion billionaires such as Tory and Chris Burch, as well as Alberto Prada Bianchi and Marina Prada Bianchi, all of whom have benefited from a booming luxury market and the resulting surge in values of fashion retail companies.

The Bloomberg European Luxury Goods Index (BNLXGDEU), whose nine constituents include London-based Burberry Group Plc (BRBY) and Germany’s Hugo Boss AG (BOSS), has risen 13.3 percent in 2013. In its annual luxury market report in October, Boston-based consultancy Bain & Co. said global sales of apparel, accessories, cosmetics and fragrances would expand by 10 percent in 2012 to $270 billion, and estimated growth of four to six percent per year between 2013 and 2015.

Medieval Hilltop

A one-time engineering student, Cucinelli dropped out of college and founded his company with half a million Italian liras ($550) in 1978. His bright-colored cashmere sweaters proved popular and, in 1987, he moved his workshop into a converted 14th century castle in the medieval hilltop hamlet of Solomeo, which is located in Italy’s Umbria province, east of Rome.

The company’s website features quotes from Socrates, Aristotle and Immanuel Kant, and over the past 25 years, Cucinelli has helped restore and renovate Solomeo, building a theater, amphitheater and gardens for workers and residents.

This is part of a business philosophy that he set out in his letter to shareholders in the company’s 2012 annual report, referring to it as “humanistic capitalism.”

“Throughout the company’s 35 years, I have invested everything in human dignity, always believing that working in the best conditions makes people more creative ingenious, and responsible,” he wrote.

Milan Debut

Cucinelli’s shares rose 50 percent in their trading debut in Milan, after investors sought to purchase 17 times the amount of stock available in its initial public offering, Bloomberg News reported in April 2012.

“There are only a few luxury brands that can justify Cucinelli’s price positioning,” Goldman Sachs analyst William Hutchings wrote in a March 5 note. “Design, history, quality, manufacturing and provenance all support its price position and the company is well positioned to benefit from growing global demand for high-quality, authentic luxury products.”

The billionaire owns his shares through Solomeo-based holding company Fedone Srl, according to his company’s website.

“We want to grow but in a way that protects the exclusivity of the brand,” he said. “This definitely can be done. The world is a big place. Currently we export to 59 countries so maybe in five years we will export to 70.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Tom Metcalf in London at tmetcalf7@bloomberg.net; Zohair Siraj in New York at zsiraj1@bloomberg.net

About bambooinnovator
Kee Koon Boon (“KB”) is the co-founder and director of HERO Investment Management which provides specialized fund management and investment advisory services to the ARCHEA Asia HERO Innovators Fund (www.heroinnovator.com), the only Asian SMID-cap tech-focused fund in the industry. KB is an internationally featured investor rooted in the principles of value investing for over a decade as a fund manager and analyst in the Asian capital markets who started his career at a boutique hedge fund in Singapore where he was with the firm since 2002 and was also part of the core investment committee in significantly outperforming the index in the 10-year-plus-old flagship Asian fund. He was also the portfolio manager for Asia-Pacific equities at Korea’s largest mutual fund company. Prior to setting up the H.E.R.O. Innovators Fund, KB was the Chief Investment Officer & CEO of a Singapore Registered Fund Management Company (RFMC) where he is responsible for listed Asian equity investments. KB had taught accounting at the Singapore Management University (SMU) as a faculty member and also pioneered the 15-week course on Accounting Fraud in Asia as an official module at SMU. KB remains grateful and honored to be invited by Singapore’s financial regulator Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) to present to their top management team about implementing a world’s first fact-based forward-looking fraud detection framework to bring about benefits for the capital markets in Singapore and for the public and investment community. KB also served the community in sharing his insights in writing articles about value investing and corporate governance in the media that include Business Times, Straits Times, Jakarta Post, Manual of Ideas, Investopedia, TedXWallStreet. He had also presented in top investment, banking and finance conferences in America, Italy, Sydney, Cape Town, HK, China. He has trained CEOs, entrepreneurs, CFOs, management executives in business strategy & business model innovation in Singapore, HK and China.

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