Missoni boss is feared lost in plane crash

The last time news of the Missoni clan spilled beyond the fashion pages was in June, when Margherita, the 29-year-old heir to the Italian fashion empire, celebrated her marriage to racing driver Eugenio Amos with a deliciously over-the-top gypsy-style wedding party on the family's estate north-west of Milan.

But yesterday the family's modernist villa near that party site was locked to the outside world as its inhabitants came to terms with the death of Vitterio Missoni.

The 58-year-old, who took over the running of the family firm in 1996, had set off on the short 140km hop from an upmarket resort in Los Roques north of the Venezuelan coast, to Simon Bolivar airport, 18km from Caracas in Venezuela, on Friday. With him in the twin-engine plane were Maurizia Castiglioni, his companion of the past 10 years and two close friends with whom they had passed a New Year fishing holiday. They were on their way back to Italy via Venezuala.

But the plane vanished from the radar about half an hour after take-off. Rescue teams were mobilised and Vittorio's younger sister Angela, creative director of the family firm, told La Repubblica: "We still have hope." But last night, with no clues of any sort, hopes that anyone on board the plane might still be found alive were ebbing.

If the loss of the plane is confirmed, it marks a tragic departure from a family script which has seen two generations of the Missonis negotiate the fickle seas of fashion with a dazzling touch.As Italy boomed through the 1950s and 1960s, so did the Missonis, establishing a uniquely inventive and stylish repertoire of knitwear, "all in a warm kaleidoscope of colour and pattern," as Vogue put it, and becoming stars of Italian mode. In 1973 the New York Times declared that Missoni's knitted clothes "have become international status symbols, like Vuitton bags and Gucci shoes".

Their children proved worthy heirs, with their daughter Angela becoming creative director in 1997, a year after Vittorio became marketing director.

The fashion world at large reacted with shock yesterday, with Vogue editor Alexandra Shulman talking of the "terribly worrying news", and Jane Bruton of Grazia tweeting that her "thoughts are with the lovely, close Missoni family". Style and music mogul Russell Simmons added that the family was "in his prayers".

By dusk yesterday a sorrowing crowd of locals had gathered near the gates of the Missoni villa.