Angela Missoni’s talk was the second in a series of three collaborations with the V&A and Peroni to investigate aspects of fashion and the future of Italian design. Her vivacious nature and megawatt smile immediately warmed the chill of fashion journalist stoicism, injecting a welcome shot of vitality into what had the potential to be a quite staid affair. Missoni has the wisdom, charm and charisma of the thinking woman’s dream auntie or big sister, and the approachable energy of a well-liked and respected boss or mentor. The evening soon transformed into a post dinner party parlour gathering. Renown fashion journalist Gianluca Longo guided the audience through a slideshow featuring Ottavio and Rosita’s early sketches detailing their design process, collages of Missoni family history and candid backstage and holiday snapshots.
Missoni is the product of a romantic convergence of two creative and skilled artisens, Ottavio and Rosita (Jelmini) Missoni. After a five year stint in a WWII POW camp, Ottavio , the son of an Italian sea captain and Dalmatian noblewoman, set up a workshop with a friend to produce wool jumpsuits for the Italian team at the 1948 Olympics in London, where he was a qualifier in the 400 meter hurdles. Family lore has it that Ottavio had a ‘meet cute’ with Angela’s mother, Rosita Jelmini, under the Cupid’s Arrow at Piccadilly Circus during those Olympic Games. Rosita had honed her “passion for fashion” as the daughter of two generations of knitters and embroiderers. Soon after Ottavio and Rosita were married in 1953, they set up a small knitting workshop where they designed and built the Cappadoni knitting/weaving machine and pioneered the technique of producing a more versatile knitted “fabric”. It was there the Missonis created their signature kaleidoscopic multitude of stripes, geometrics, and abstract floral designs using a patchwork of wool, cotton, linen, rayon and silk yarns, thus securing the Missoni name firmly in the annals of textile and design history.
But after over 40 years in the business, Rosita began to lose interest in fashion. Feeling like she was “trapped in a zig zag cage” Rosita proposed that Angela take over her duties at Missoni. Rosita felt that Angela was “young and passionate and had the energy to fight toward the commercial side” of the business. Although apprehensive at first, Angela (who admitted that as a rebellion against her parents, she designed only in solids and earth colours) took over the helm in 1998.
To Angela, business was synonymous with family. The family’s strong work ethic and deep respect for the tradition of Italian craftsmanship is evident in everything they do. At the age of five she saw Vogue’s “Double Page” feature writer and Grande Dame of eccentric fashion Anna Piagi dressed relatively sedately in a little black dress, tweed, and a turn of pearls visiting her parents backstage at the first Missoni show in 1966-67. In 1991, photographer Oliviero Toscani (of the legendary Benetton ad campaign) shot a family portrait which was the first time the family appeared in a Missoni ad. She had her first official Missoni catwalk show in October 1997. In 2001 a 16-page spread shot by Mario Testino featuring Margarita, Angela’s eldest daughter, appeared in US Elle, thus launching the Margarita Missoni “It Girl” phenomenon. Margarita is now an accessories designer for Missoni and could possibly take the helm from Angela.
To secure Missoni’s future in the global fashion market, Angela knows she must streamline production to maintain the company ethos. The global economic bust has heralded newfound austerity and shrinking ad budgets. “The Missoni name”, as Angela puts it, “is much bigger than the company”. Despite the success of past ad campaigns shot by Marion Testino and the team of Mert Alas and Marcus Piggot featuring Gizelle and Kate Moss, images of the family have returned to Missoni’s new ad campaign. It features a collage of family, close friends, and long-time loyal clients cut out and assembled by photographer Peter Blake (of the Sgt Pepper's album cover fame). Alas, the fashion isn't all doom and gloom. In November 2011, Missoni launched a 400-piece collection including men's, woman's, and children's active wear, accessories, house wears, and even a bicycle for American retailer Target. The label's signature zig zag stripes proved so popular with the American public that orders for Missoni products crashed the Target website. This debacle proved challenging, but the family remains optimistic about the future of the Missoni family way of doing business. To make leap into the world of mass production they can't approach things ‘hat in hand’. They need solid, strong, and sustainable investors. With an arch of the eyebrow and sly grin, Angela cheekily scanned the hall to see if there were any takers.