Why Rosita Missoni won’t retire

At 79, the grandmother of Italian style is still very much in business, she tells Annie Deakin in an exclusive interview
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You will have to kick me away,’ laughs Rosita Missoni, 79, at the suggestion of retiring from her fashion and interior business. As Creative Director for Missoni Home, Rosita is showing no plans to slow down. In the past two months, the grandmother of nine has flown to Edinburgh to open a spa and to Oman and Brazil to look at her new hotel sites. Next up is Turkey.

Tired? ‘So long as I can sleep on the plane, I’m fine,’ she says. Old age won’t defeat this Grandma of Italian style who has been in the industry for five decades. The Missoni fashion legacy began in 1953 when Rosita and her husband Ottavio (Tai) opened a small shop selling bold, patterned knitwear north of Milan. The Missoni business is still a family affair; Rosita’s daughter Angela designs womenswear, her son Luca is head of menswear and her son Vittorio is Marketing Director. Even the next generation is involved with Rosita’s granddaughter Margherita as brand ambassador.

With the younger Missoni generations fully ensconced in the family firm, surely Rosita could give up her work? She thought as much when she retired 14 years ago - but it didn't take long for her to return to the business; ‘By the late Nineties, I had lost my passion for my work. I was still fashion coordinator but it had become a duty because my life did not correspond. As I got older, I tended to go out less, stayed at home more and wanted to care for my garden. My love for clothes had died.’

In 1997, Rosita handed the fashion company over to her daughter Angela; ‘I walked out and she came in. For a couple of months, I played grandma and took her children to school but then I decided that my life can’t be like this.’ Without the pressing needs of a business, she grew bored – ‘I was completely lost without my job, my deadlines and work responsibility. All of a sudden, I was free to do all my hobbies but I didn’t want to.’ Eager to channel her energy back into the family brand (without returning to the clothes side), Rosita had a re-think and re-emerged with a new passion: Missoni Home. ‘At the end of the Nineties, I felt that the home was becoming fashion. I never lost the passion for the home because it has always been part of my life.’

With the permission of her children, husband and siblings, Rosita took control of Missoni Home which had been producing furnishing fabrics since the Eighties. ‘It was a good collection with all the Missoni prints and geometric patterns,’ she remembers, ‘but I didn’t want to put it in my home.’ With Rosita at the helm of Missoni Home, the press and customers showed renewed interest in the stripy and geometric rugs, curtains and cushions. ‘Three years later, I realized it was a success when I saw copies at Maison Objet in Paris. I thought, ok, we are in the right and our home collection had become a trend. To be imitated was encouraging – part of me said oh no, we are being copied but it means there is interest. To be copied is an honour but you have to keep finding something new. It pushes you to turn the page.’

And so her next chapter began. Rosita, at this stage in her Seventies, found her ‘something new’ in the tourist industry. While her peers were putting their feet up in retirement, Rosita signed an agreement with the Rezidor Hotel Group to create Hotel Missoni, a lifestyle hotel chain in 2005. Hotel Missoni Edinburgh opened in June 2009 and last year won Europe’s New Leading Hotel of the Year. In November, Rosita returned to the windy city to open a ‘tiny, tiny’ spa following guests’ feedback. Later this year, Hotel Missoni Kuwait is due to open, followed by Hotel Missoni Jebel Sifah in Oman and Hotel Missoni Ilha de Cajaiba in Brazil. Rosita is waiting to see the mock-up rooms for her next venture – a hotel in Antalya, Turkey.

Unlike many family businesses – and despite her age - Rosita is very much an active leader in Missoni Home. ‘One of my hobbies is gardening. I pretend to be the hotel garden designer. At the Kuwait hotel, we have a big terrace with flowerbeds.' The hotel gardeners had planned to plant jasmine and bougainvillea but Rosita intervened, ‘With the temperature there, it would be crazy so instead, there will be a lot of cacti. I love the nice geometry and different shades of green of cacti.’

Rosita turns 80 this November but don’t expect the old girl to take it easy and retire. She is quick to deny the idea of retirement, ‘I enjoy what I do and because it is such a passion, I’m not ready to give up.’

Annie Deakin is interiors writer for sofa and interior design website mydeco.com.