End of an era. It’s one of fashion’s whiskeriest clichés, but when the curtain fell on Missoni’s Autumn/Winter 2021 collection it was also Angela Missoni’s last bow at the brand she has lived and breathed since the day she was born 62 years ago — or at least since the time when memory kicked in. She claims she has total recall of every single detail of every single garment she saw from the age of four onwards. That skill was surely useful during the decades she was creatively directing the family business, when her collections were, she insists, shaped by her memories, rather than by foraging in Missoni’s vast archives.
Those archives will now be part of The Academy, an initiative supervised by Angela’s brother Luca. Her nephews Giacomo and Ottavio Jr (named for his grandfather), the sons of her eldest brother Vittorio who died in a plane crash in 2013, also have their own responsibilities within the company. And Angela’s mother, the redoubtable matriarch Rosita, is still in charge of Missoni’s homewares division.
So this is by no means the end of the family’s involvement. Angela herself will stay on as president of the company, but just as the pandemic-induced turmoil of the past year left the business facing financial challenges, it left her reflecting on what she wanted personally and that was something else. There were two factors — the 41.2 percent stake in the business taken by the Italian private equity fund FSI Mid-Market Growth Equity Fund in 2018 and the arrival of new CEO Livio Proli during the first lockdown — that gave her confidence that Missoni was well-positioned for the future. And she was equally confident in leaving the atelier in the hands of design director Alberto Caliri, who has been at her side for nearly fifteen years and will take the creative reins for an interim period. If the company was ready for a new chapter, so was Angela. “I had a moment when I was anxious and then all of a sudden I started to sleep very well,” she adds. “I was going to be free.”
As much as she has been inspired by her mother, Angela also takes inspiration here from her eldest daughter Margherita, who was in charge of the secondary line M Missoni till its shuttering in March. She has already moved on to her own projects. “Mum, I don’t want to do the life you did, I don’t want to drive the chariot for everybody”, Angela remembers her saying for years. “She realised that earlier than me. I’m happy I’ve done it, I had my satisfaction, but I think it’s about time that I got on with my own life. At the moment I really want to enjoy the fact that I won’t have this schedule, that I might go to the seaside in the middle of September, or I can go skiing in February.” Bruno Ragazzi, her very patient partner of many years, will be glad to hear that. “Yes, I still have a boyfriend,” she laughs again, “and my boyfriend and I want to go away for a week and maybe, I don’t know, we can extend three more days, or, yes, why not stay ten days?”
If the history of Italian fashion has been written by families, the Missoni brand might be unique in how narrowly it’s been defined by bloodline. Where others have relied on re-invention by outsiders, Missoni’s creative impetus has always come from the family itself. “My parents invented a new language in fashion,” says Angela, “and I think over the past twenty-five years I’ve been able to extend the lexicon of this language.” She’ll never forget one of her earliest and worst reviews which sneered that creativity doesn’t come with the blood. The critic subsequently revised his opinion to praise Angela as a designer whose work elevated her inheritance. She claims the key was her curiosity.
“I have two people inside me,” she says by way of clarification. “My mother is a natural builder, one brick on top of the other, not just strategically but in a natural way. And I think I still have that too. But on the other side, I have the free spirit of my father, who never wanted responsibilities and never wanted to grow the company. He didn’t have any material needs and could change any chapter of his life very easily.”
She retells the famous story of Marvin Traub from Bloomingdales coming to Rosita and Tai in the early Seventies with proposals for all sorts of licences. Rosita got excited at the opportunity. Tai didn’t understand why she wanted to work more. Sure, they’d make more money but when would they have the time to spend it? “So that was my father, right?”
I think that people understand that Missoni never became a multimillion-dollar business because it was not all about money.
Rosita and Ottavio never pressured their kids to join the family business. “Of course, I was fascinated,” Angela says, “I tried to resist also, probably because of my relationship with my mum. My father always said he was working at her service, like he used to say to me when I started. But I remember the day I went to my father — I was in and out, I had my children and I’d been assisting my mum but not wanting very much involvement — and I told him I’d decided that I wasn’t going to work for the company anymore. And he said to me, ‘What would you like to do?’ I said, ‘Maybe children’s clothes? Jewellery?.’ And he told me to consider the company as a big umbrella, that I could do my project under this umbrella and there was no need for me to work with my mum every day. He realized I had to walk on my own two legs to find my strength, to find my way.”
In those days, she dressed in head-to-toe black, a subtle repudiation of Missoni’s rainbow lexicon, and when she launched the Angela Missoni collection, it was knitwear in initially solid shades, with the emphasis on silhouette and texture. The mélange of pattern and colour came later. Rosita was impressed by the way Angela handled the whole process, the collection, the show, the PR. “She asked if I’d ever thought about doing the main line and I was very surprised. I said, ‘Not at all, because you were doing that.’ And she said, ‘I decided I think what you are doing today is what I would like Missoni to be. Fashion is something you have to do while you’re young, or very passionate, so that you can fight for your reason with the commercial side of this business.’ That was when I realised that she was trapped in a zigzag cage.”
Angela’s definition of the difference between her Missoni and her mother’s is fundamental. “At the time I used to say that she was walking with flat shoes and I was walking with high heels. This was in 1995, right? Today, we all walk in flat shoes.” But back then, it was all about the way that Angela and her friends wanted to dress. It transformed Missoni. And when she brought in Mario Testino to shoot the ad campaigns with Carine Roitfeld’s styling, the transformation was complete. Tom Ford was using the same team at the same time, which was a testament to Angela’s antennae.
“It was maybe different from other companies with the big muscles. I always had to use my intuition and my creativity, I had to be a talent scout.” Like her parents, in fact, who hired the legendary Antonio Lopez to illustrate Missoni’s campaigns in the Seventies. But Angela also realized how much of an asset the family was, and Missoni’s campaigns eventually pivoted towards something that reflected three generations of realness and heart. Two words: “Juergen” and “Teller.”
Teller’s photographs of the family defined Missoni’s strength in ways other than the obvious commonality. The brand has always been about a lifestyle too. In fact, Angela mentions a number of posts from people asking to be adopted by the family. Which would be creepy if not for the fact that the clothes broadcast a free-spirited closeness. “I think that people understand that Missoni never became a multimillion-dollar business because it was not all about money,” Angela suggests. “The family was not a marketing project, because the family was there. Like when Margherita started being the muse in the middle of the 90s. It was because Margherita was Margherita. She came out of her own life, she was the perfect fit, and it all happened naturally.
“Even when I took over, it happened in a natural way. My parents were going out on the catwalk, and I think my father took my hands. I went out with them and then they stopped and they let me go. It was very natural, very spontaneous.”
People always thought we were bigger, stronger than we were, so we had to keep certain standards.
So it seems appropriate that Angela’s point of pride for her past twenty-five years should relate to family. “When I started, my pride was really that I gave my mum a different schedule in her year and I relieved her of something that was becoming a burden for her. And seeing her evolving in a creative life with a different schedule, that was my pride. And that’s what I’m taking for myself now, a different schedule. And I was very proud when we celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of Missoni with the fashion show with a hundred garments, and the reaction was, ‘Oh my God, fifty years of Missoni and everything seems contemporary’. And also when we did the exhibition for my father, and you had to look at the year because there were so many things you could still wear now.”
“It’s always been a challenge to do what we did,” Angela continues, “because people always thought we were bigger, stronger than we were, so we had to keep certain standards. I mean, a show cost me as much as it cost other brands. And when you’re not a strong company, it was my challenge to do good shows with ideas, to do campaigns, to play the game with, let’s say, not many resources.”
Technology has always been critical in the Missoni story. When Tai and Rosita started out, they had machines that only knitted stripes, then they found a machine that did zigzags, and then jacquard. “Yes, Missoni evolved through the evolution of technology, but the hand was always more relevant,” Angela counters. “People were asking my father if he designed on computer. No, my father was designing on a little square of white paper.” That human touch may be one subliminal reason why the brand has inspired such loyalty and such affection. Customers pass their Missoni on through generations. “It’s a very good investment,” Angela answers with a throaty laugh when I ask her what makes Missoni unique.
At the same time, she’s worrying about how the pandemic will impact the money people have in their pockets. “A product well-made with passion, well-communicated… I can still see it,” she suggests. “If you have a project and you have your own voice, you can be heard today.” There’s a reflective pause, perhaps while she thinks about her own future. “You can be heard.”
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