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Cashmere and Peace in Mongolia

“I don’t like to travel too much. I would rather be at home, with the animals.”

Not exactly what you’d expect to hear from an Italian fashion designer whose luxurious earth-toned knits and cashmere coats are the preferred (under)statement pieces worn by Hollywood power players like Angelina Jolie and Ryan Reynolds, but Brunello Cucinelli is unlike most in his industry.

Rather than taking his cues from pop culture, Cucinelli finds inspiration in the writings of philosophers like Voltaire and Saint Augustine and “the silence and the stars” of his native Umbria.

Though he sees little reason to leave Solomeo (population 450), 13 miles from where he was born and where he runs his $1.4 billion company out of a renovated medieval hilltop castle, Mongolia is one place in the world that he finds “fascinating for the mind and soul,” he says.

“When you go there, and you lift your eyes to the sky, life will feel a little different.”

turtle rock mongolia

Turtle Rock in Gorkhi-Terelj

Cucinelli has been malting the trip for almost 30 years, to source cashmere from nomadic goatherds in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park.

After landing in Ulaanbaatar, he helicopters to a ger, or yurt encampment, to inspect the bales of unspun fibers that come from the downy bellies and chins of the Capra hircus breed.

The goats spend the winter grazing in high-altitude grasslands, developing a fleecy undercoat to insulate themselves from the rapidly shifting weather in the Mongolian mountains—”the country of wind,” as Cucinelli likes to say.

Each animal produces three to four ounces of cashmere per season—enough for about a third of one of the fine-gauge sweaters for which he’s known.

High-altitude grasslands

High-altitude grasslands

For the weeklong journey, Cucinelli always packs four books—Memoirs of Hadrian, Meditations by Marcus Aurelius, Michel de Montaigne’s essays, and Plato’s Republic are among his favorite reads—and a cherished regolo, or slide rule, that he’s had since he was a boy, to help with calculations on the fly.

The trip always ends the same way, with the herders inviting Cucinelli to a meal of roasted goat and a few cups of arkhi, a fermented milk liquor.

It’s a simple tradition that he looks forward to every visit.

“Saint Augustine said that one of the keys to a good life is to ‘put your soul in order,’” Cucinelli says.

“This, for me, is a place where I can reorganize my soul.”

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