Stars in their stripes: Missoni a fashion powerhouse

For 50 years, it has dressed the stylish in its striped and zig-zag knits. Missoni is a fashion powerhouse, a family business and, a new exhibition argues, an Italian national treasure.

Passion, pasta and pullovers. Italians may be renowned for their fiery temperaments, but they’re also a nation of knitters, and one of their most recognisable fashion brands is celebrating 50 years in the business with a new exhibition.

Workshop Missoni: Daring to be Different explores the house of Missoni’s idiosyncratic stripes and patterns, and the aesthetic and technological impact that the brand’s innovations have had on both traditional knitwear and directional fashion.

“They’re artisans who understand how to connect and enhance one generation to the next,” says Maggie Norden, Director of Creative Media at the London College of Fashion and producer of a documentary about the Missoni family, which will be shown at the exhibition. “

They have a signature style that makes one feel empowered.” The trademark zigzag stripes of the brand transcend age and gender, adorning collections of menswear and womenswear, plus children’s clothes, home furnishings and, most recently, a concept hotel which has just opened in Edinburgh. Three generations of Missonis have built a veritable empire, presided over by founders Ottavio and Rosita, from their villa in Sumirago, in Lombardy.

The husband-and-wife team began their knitwear business in the late Fifties, and presented their first collection in Milan in 1958.

Flamboyant fashion editor Anna Piaggi has supported them since the early days: “They really started a knitwear revolution,” she says in the film, and they certainly did break some of the rules. Showing in Florence’s prestigious Palazzo Pitti in 1967, Rosita Missoni instructed her models to take off their underwear because it looked too bulky underneath the delicate, silken wool. When they emerged under the bright lights of the catwalk, the jersey pieces were almost completely transparent. The show’s organisers asked the Missonis not to come back.

“Knitwear tends to fit to the body,” says Luca Missoni, son of the founding couple and one of the brand’s creative directors. “My father was a sportsman, a man all the time in jersey suits, so they started experimenting to try and bring something more comfortable to fashion.” Sport is a particular Italian passion, and the label created outfits for the opening ceremony of the 1990 World Cup in Italy, with jewellery made from jersey and exotically-patterned turbans.

Missoni was one of the earliest brands to explore the link between sport and chic, and the label’s look is based around similar dualities: it’s an Italian heritage brand inspired by the avant-garde; it’s timeless (and effectively seasonless because it isn’t led by trends) but is constantly evolving; and the family themselves are cultured, well-travelled and sophisticated, but work as artisans in the countryside.

It’s also a seemingly haphazard sort of pattern and combination of colours, but is scientifically calculated and plotted on grids and graphs during production. “Who said there are only colours? There are shades too!” cried legendary US Vogue editor Diana Vreeland, after seeing the Missonis’ complex work in 1969.

The brand experienced some difficulties during the early- to mid-Nineties, when fashion was preoccupied with minimalism, black, white and ‘greige’, but remained loyal to its heritage, kept the colours and began experimenting with texture.

They, to some extent, re-invented and reinvigorated menswear, with their near-clashing combinations of patterned shirts, ties, scarves and jumpers. “It’s hard for young designers and this generation to imagine fashion without this crop of Italian giants, like Missoni and Armani,” says Suzy Menkes, fashion editor at the International Herald Tribune and respected industry commentator, in the documentary.

But it’s the quintessentially Italianate spirit of the brand that ensures its survival – pieces are vibrant and contemporary, whether a scarf, shawl, sweater or swimming costume, without ever losing a sense of their roots.

Daring to be Different focuses not only on the technical aspects of the Missoni label, but also on the family’s extensive sources of inspiration. “With my mother, we always went to a lot of primitive art,” says Luca Missoni. “Something that comes from the origin of culture, before it gets refined.”

The family are also keen collectors of early 20th-century art, however, that draws on the more primordial angles of modern culture; their villa is decorated with paintings by Gino Severini and boldly-coloured suits by Giacomo Balla, two main protagonists in the Futurist movement, whose studies in colour, movement and dynamism have been a constant source of inspiration to the brand.

The Missonis draw on everything from fine art to folk art and find colours all around them, from the priceless works on the walls to the kitschy ceramic mushrooms on the mantelpiece.

“It’s more than just the geometries of Futurism and simultaneity of colour,” says Maggie Norden of the brand’s trademark look. “It’s like observing how design works. If you look now in the windows of Zara, say, they’re paying homage to the Missoni designs of 30 years ago. Ottavio and Rosita understood modern taste then and their children do now. Anything that inspires like that is going to continue.”

‘Workshop Missoni: Daring to be Different’ opens at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London N1 on 1 July

Life and Style
ebookA wonderful selection of salads, starters and mains featuring venison, grouse and other game
Life and Style
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
Arts and Entertainment
Up my street: The residents of the elegant Moray Place in Edinburgh's Georgian New Town
tvBBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past
Albus Dumbledore, the headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry has been the teaching profession's favourite teacher
Luis Suarez looks towards the crowd during the 2-1 victory over England
Life and Style
Cheesecake frozen yoghurt by Constance and Mathilde Lorenzi
food + drinkThink outside the cool box for this summer’s frozen treats
John Barrowman kisses his male “bride” at a mock Gretna Green during the Commonwealth Games opening ceremony
peopleBarrowman's opening ceremony message to Commonwealth countries where he would be sent to prison for being gay
Sir Bradley Wiggins removes his silver medal after the podium ceremony for the men’s 4,000m team pursuit in Glasgow yesterday
Commonwealth games Disappointment for Sir Bradley in team pursuit final as England are forced to settle for silver
Alistair Brownlee (right) celebrates with his gold medal after winning the men’s triathlon alongside brother Jonny (left), who got silver
England's Jodie Stimpson won the women’s triathlon in the morning
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    SQL Report Analyst (SSRS, CA, SQL 2012)

    £30000 - £38500 Per Annum + 25 days holiday, pension, subsidised restaurant: C...

    Application Support Analyst (SQL, Incident Management, SLAs)

    £34000 - £37000 Per Annum + excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Lt...

    Embedded Software / Firmware Engineer

    £40000 - £45000 per annum + Pension, Holiday, Flexi-time: Progressive Recruitm...

    Developer - WinForms, C#

    £280 - £320 per day: Progressive Recruitment: C#, WinForms, Desktop Developmen...

    Day In a Page

    Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

    Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

    The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

    Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

    Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
    German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

    Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

    Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
    BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

    BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

    The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
    Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

    Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

    Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
    How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

    Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

    Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
    Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

    Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

    Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
    10 best reed diffusers

    Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

    Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

    Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

    There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
    Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

    Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

    It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
    Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

    Screwing your way to the top?

    Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
    Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

    Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

    Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

    Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

    The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

    The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

    Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
    US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

    Meet the US Army's shooting star

    Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform