Here’s the scene: You’ve invested in a double-faced cashmere topcoat from Brunello Cucinelli, an exemplar of sartorial finesse that cost you some $10,000. Basking in its glory as you head into the office, you’re bounding through the lobby when tragedy strikes by way of your single-origin Sumatra cascading down the coat’s front. You dab away, but the damage has been done. What is there to do? You can try your luck with a trip to the dry cleaner, though there’s no guarantee they’ll be able to erase the notoriously stubborn stains. And with cashmere this fine, a chemical bath might do more harm than good. It can hang in shame at the back of your closet or woefully be given up for donation. Or it can be sent to the Brunello Cucinelli center for fashion resuscitation.
Cucinelli is just one of a growing number of brands that are committed to ensuring the longevity of their products, come coffee, moths or years of wear and tear. While producing pieces of the highest quality—implicitly built to withstand the weathering of time—is a given with any luxury purveyor, some are doubling down on that assurance and putting their petites mains where their mouths are. Having assembled teams dedicated to restoring past-their-prime wares, these brands are encouraging customers to send in their wizened duds rather than simply replace them, demonstrating not only resounding confidence in their products but also a dedication to sustainability that is becoming increasingly relevant.
“Beyond a practical choice, it is also an ethical one,” says Cucinelli, who has made repairs a feature of his company since the very beginning. “I come from a culture of farmers, and growing up, we had a truly humble life. We couldn’t simply throw things out. This stayed with me.” After launching with cashmere knits in 1978, Cucinelli established a riparazioni department to accommodate customers whose sweaters had fallen prey to moths, a fairly common issue that requires intricate re-weaving beyond the abilities of the average local seamstress.
The service grew alongside his product offerings and is now a stand-alone building at his Italian headquarters, handling everything from weaving and knitting to re-lining blazers and re-soling shoes. Perhaps most remarkably—and unique to Cucinelli—all of these services are performed at no cost to the customer. “We like to think that this is a sort of lifetime guarantee for our clients,” Cucinelli says. While the service has been available for decades, he says the past few years have seen notable growth. In 2019, the company estimates it performed 5,000 repairs for its global clientele.
For Cucinelli, it’s more than just a thoughtful customer service; it’s a reflection of his brand’s ethos. “Italian design focuses on a timeless trait that makes you want to wear your pieces year after year,” he says. “Sustainability can be achieved in several ways, but I think timeless design is essential to this goal.”
According to a McKinsey report, The State of Fashion 2019, the average person buys 60 percent more clothing than they did 15 years ago—but keeps that clothing for half as long as they used to. Much of the conversation around sustainable fashion has focused on eco-friendly materials, but luxury brands, in particular, are broadening the scope. No amount of organic seersucker or plastic bottles reborn as parkas can change the fact that 73 percent of the world’s clothing materials wind up in landfills or in flames (85 percent in the US). Fashion’s sustainability problem isn’t what it’s making; it’s widespread overproduction, teamed with consumers’ perception of clothing as disposable.
That’s one reason Kering recently expanded the parameters of its Environmental Profit & Loss measure for its brands, which include such powerhouses as Gucci and Bottega Veneta. The luxury conglomerate is using data from an extensive consumer survey to calculate the environmental impact and financial implications of how shoppers care for and eventually discard products. Many brands have examined their choices during the production process—water and carbon used, toxins generated— but a look at the life of a product after its sale paints a more accurate picture of a company’s environmental footprint.
While we may not be facing the austerity that inspired England’s World War II campaign to “Make Do and Mend,” current events—from the pandemic to global warming—have made conscientious consumption a priority for a wide swath of shoppers. Luxury brands that give their time-worn products a new lease on life are meeting the moment on two fronts: lightening their toll on the environment and providing products designed to retain their appeal over time.
The latter tenet is central to Hermès. Like Cucinelli, it eschews fashion trends in favor of haute craftsmanship and enduring design. When asked the company’s single most defining trait, Robert Dumas, the brand’s former CEO and artistic director, once advised an heir: “Hermès is different because we are making a product that we can repair.” The company’s collection includes more than 50,000 products—from luggage and teacups to suits and silk scarves—so rehabbing everything that is sold in a little, or large, orange box is a considerable undertaking.
Hermès employs a team of 78 repair specialists at 14 ateliers throughout Europe, Asia and the United States. Last year, they received close to 100,000 requests, and the demand is so great that Hermès is opening an additional workshop. While many of the requests are for bags, luggage and accessories, the damage-repair crew offers 700 different services. And in case you’re doubting whether that frayed tie merits their expert restoration, know that company policy is to examine every Hermès product, no matter how small, old, battered or not.
Paul Stuart has a staff of tailors on-site at each of its stores—the Madison Avenue flagship has a full-floor workshop with a team of 22—which allows for particularly speedy turnaround. CEO Paulette Garafalo says it’s not uncommon for men to come in with trousers that need adjusting or even a shirt that needs pressing before a big event. Most often, though, the tailors are working their magic on suits to accommodate inches lost or gained. If it’s something the in-house team can’t address— say, a Scottish cashmere sweater or an Italian nubuck belt—they’ll send it back to the factory to be revived. As Garafalo says: “It’s the essence of what we do, providing our customer with the very best—pieces that they’ll have for a very long time.”
Darning socks and patching seams have typically carried an association with hard times. Why fuss? You can afford a new one. But the increased interest in repairs among luxury consumers is proving that attitude is changing. In reality, repairs have been a secret weapon of savvy shoppers for decades. In his book Elegance, menswear historian Bruce Boyer quotes John D. Rockefeller III’s tailor at bygone Pec & Company: “Every couple of years he’d bring in his old shirts to be reconditioned. I put on new collars and cuffs and . . . patch a hole or something, and he’d get another five years out of them. Then back he’d come again with the shirts for the same treatment. That way he’d get fifteen or twenty years out of a shirt.”
That kind of thriftiness is just smart: If you invest in the best, why not get your money’s worth? This re-collaring and re-cuff- ing service has long been a part of Turnbull & Asser, which keeps an archive of fabric offcuts from its bespoke shirts precisely for this purpose. Even for ready-made shirts, the company will do its best to match the fabric—trickier than it may sound, since colors can fade—or, at the very least, refurbish a shirt with a contrasting white collar and cuffs.
Some brands are going one step further and selling rehabbed goods as collectibles unto themselves. After noticing the appetite for vintage Mark Cross products on the secondary market, CEO Ulrik Garde Due saw potential for new business. “Why should we be giving the vintage resale opportunity to third parties?” he says. “We represent future vintage. Meaning when you buy a Mark Cross product, it is long-lasting, and from a design point of view, it’s never going out of fashion. So we said, ‘Let’s take ownership of this ourselves.’ ”
The brand, which celebrates its 175th anniversary this year, began buying up vintage pieces in 2019, from attachés to opera glasses and rugby balls. Many of its vintage offerings now come from existing clients who trade in their old wares. A team assesses each piece and, if deemed worthy of resale, buys it back; then the firm either keeps it for the archives or puts it up for sale after repairing it (a service that is available for all Mark Cross products, regardless of whether owners want to off-load them).
“We have a very solid group of existing customers buying vintage as well as new products, and we’re also seeing a completely new customer specifically for vintage. Young customers and older consumers, Americans but also international,” Garde Due says of the vintage collection’s broad appeal. “You can feel good about continuing the eco-cycle of a product. We are see- ing an acceleration in the consumer’s antipathy towards the waste-producing model in the fashion and luxury world.”
French shoemaker J. M. Weston, too, is turning the scuffs and stains of its products’ past lives into a selling point. The dedicated repairs workshop at its Limoges headquarters fixes up or entirely rebuilds about 10,000 pairs of shoes each year. Building on that service, the brand decided to offer customers the option of trading in their tired kicks to be resold. Weston Vintage, which debuted earlier this year, accepts old shoes at any Weston boutique, where they’ll either be exchanged for store credit or, if they aren’t quite up to snuff, get a complimentary shine. Those that are bought are sent for refurbishing before heading back to the sales floor, in either one store in Japan or two in France. And just like that, the circle of sartorial life continues.