How Brunello Cucinelli’s SF Union Square location is thriving


Amid the anxious hand-wringing and disagreements over the future of retail in downtown San Francisco, at least one Union Square store is surviving — and even thriving.

Brunello Cucinelli’s San Francisco outpost has been open since 2014 on the corner of Grant Avenue and Geary Street. There are 124 such boutiques worldwide, all of which bear the Cucinelli name. The 69-year-old Italian billionaire designer champions his personal — and company-wide — belief in “humanist capitalism,” a resonant message for big-tech tycoons who pride themselves on corporate altruism. Mark Zuckerberg wears Cucinelli’s gray T-shirts almost exclusively; Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff considers Cucinelli a ‘good friend’; Jeff Bezos was invited to Cucinelli’s Italian village along with many other tech offspring.

“Brunello refers to the great minds of Silicon Valley as ‘modern Leonardos,'” Massimo Caronna, Brunello Cucinelli’s North American president and CEO, told SFGATE via email. “… Brunello’s ultimate goal is to make the world a better place and improve the human experience, and many in the tech sector aspire to do the same.”

Mark Zuckerberg, wearing a Brunello Cucinelli t-shirt, attends day four of the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference July 14, 2017 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Mark Zuckerberg, wearing a Brunello Cucinelli t-shirt, attends day four of the annual Allen & Company Sun Valley Conference July 14, 2017 in Sun Valley, Idaho.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Aside from shared ambition and flattery, another appeal to the flashy-dressed Bay Area crowd is that Cucinelli’s products don’t immediately catch the eye. They are handmade in Italy but are relatively simple. With these garments, the public does not stand out like a Gucci sweater with insignia or even a Birkin bag from Hermès.

In San Francisco, where the male tech uniform of button-down shirt, Patagonia vest, Allbirds sneakers and logo-embroidered backpack has become a well-known stereotype, Brunello Cucinelli’s uniform is a step up. That’s what separates the founders and CEOs from the code grunts.

“You’re not looking for labels…nothing like that. They just want to look like they know how to dress,” Shirley Newton, a sales consultant at Brunello Cucinelli’s Union Square location, told me. “Some of them don’t, so we help them get to the point where they look good.”

That’s not to say Cucinelli’s clientele is all entrepreneurs — there are other ultra-rich, ultra-famous guys like Ben Affleck, Angelina Jolie, and LeBron James who frequent the store, too. James has worn the brand’s trousers for both tunnel suits and the covers of business magazines.

A view of the Brunello Cucinelli storefront in downtown San Francisco near Union Square on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

A view of the Brunello Cucinelli storefront in downtown San Francisco near Union Square on Wednesday, May 17, 2023.

Charles Russo/SFGATE

Overall, Cucinelli’s global sales for the first quarter of 2023 were $290 million, up 33% year over year. That success has spilled over into San Francisco, where the store has doubled its space in recent years even as long-established downtown chains have left the area. Last August, Cucinelli expanded its Bay Area footprint and added a convenient Silicon Valley outpost in Palo Alto. Newton said the San Francisco store is consistently hitting its sales targets, but declined to give specific financial details.

“The recovery since the pandemic has been positive and the Spring 2022 boutique expansion has renewed interest from both new and existing customers,” said Caronna, the brand’s North American CEO. added.

Newton estimates that up to a few hundred people enter the San Francisco store on busy Saturdays, but on quieter weekdays there can be as few as 10 total visitors by the time the store closes. When this reporter walked by the Union Square outpost early Wednesday, there were no customers in the store.

The key is that unlike other downtown stores, an occasional lack of foot traffic isn’t too much of a problem for Cucinelli. When customers pay a visit, they intend to buy. Some male shoppers, Newton said, only come to the store to buy replacement sweaters for worn-out sweaters — same color, same size, sometimes multiple.

For reference, the quarter-zip cashmere sweater, one of the store’s best sellers, retails for $1,075. A pair of pleated linen pants for women retails for $1,695. A leather motorcycle jacket costs $7,495; A suede jacket with a shearling lining costs $9,295.

A selection of images from Brunello Cucinelli's Spring/Summer 2023 collection.

A selection of images from Brunello Cucinelli’s Spring/Summer 2023 collection.

Images courtesy of Brunello Cucinelli / Image by SFGATE

“There isn’t a lot of traffic, and that’s mainly because the price is extremely high. “Basically, the people who come in are the ones who want to spend like $4,000 on a jacket,” Newton tells me as we sit on a plush sofa that resembles RH’s $8,000 “Cloud” couch resembles.

Recent downtown store closures have been blamed in part on crime, Businesses are citing reports of break-ins, shoplifting and unsafe outdoor conditions. But as long as Newton worked there, which is about a year, there had been no robberies or break-ins at Brunello Cucinelli’s San Francisco store. A security guard stands at the store’s doors, and the door is often left locked, although the security guard who worked that day told this reporter that the locked doors were a holdover from pandemic-era appointment shopping rather than a response to safety concerns. Newton posited that Cucinelli’s lack of overt branding — unlike other luxury or hype brands — may make it less of a target for theft.

Newton didn’t name those who visited the San Francisco boutique, but acknowledged that over the course of her time she’s seen some tech executives, politicians and athletes. All who enter the store are fluent in the store’s fashion language – and the hallmark that clothes carry in these vaunted circles.

This seal of quality has even created a new group of customers, said Newton: the up-and-coming one-percent customers. “Somebody came up to me last week,” Newton told me. “He’s starting — or at least proposing — a new startup to get money, and he was looking for clothes because he wanted to present himself well to his speaking audience.”

Caronna endorsed the idea of ​​budding founders wearing Cucinelli: “Since it’s been known that icons in the tech industry are wearing Brunello Cucinelli, many young entrepreneurs are also interested in wearing the brand.”

The idea of ​​”quiet luxury” — the old-fashioned code for denoting logoless wealth picked up by brands like Cucinelli — is indeed back in vogue, bolstered by the popularity of the HBO show Succession as well as TikTok teens who are longing to fill a wealth gap that has only widened over the course of their lives.

But while other brands strive to set or chase trends, Cucinelli is far from the pressure to conform to fashion cycles. Cucinelli’s customers go there to be well-dressed and gather information among the who’s who clientele, not to look hip or trendy — even if the aesthetic is right on the current trend cycle. It’s the ultimate “if you know, you know” signifier; His clothes will endure (literally and figuratively), even if “quiet luxury” is again outdated or passé.

Cucinelli and San Francisco seem like a perfect, synergistic combination, attire for a city that cares about looks but not fashion. What downtown San Francisco will look like — and how the Franciscans will shop and dress — remains entirely uncertain for now, but this understated boutique, aimed at the city’s elite, is likely to be here for the long haul.

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