Ottavio Missoni, called Tai by his friends and family, was born in 1921 in Dubrovnik. His father Vittorio was an Italian sea captain and his mother Teresa was the Countess of Capocesto and Ragosniza. During The Second World War Tai was a soldier in Africa and was captured by the English in 1942; he spent the ensuing four years as a prisoner of war in Egypt.
After his release Missoni returned to Italy and the following year he began a knitwear venture with his friend Giorgio Oberweger. Thai had been an international track runner before WWII and the pair produced wool tracksuits for athletes to wear during practice. Their designs were adopted as the uniforms for the Italian Olympic team in 1948. Tai participated in the 1948 Olympics and it was here that he met his future wife.
Rosita Jelmini was born in 1931 into an Italian family of shawl and embroidered fabric producers. In June 1948 Rosita graduated with a degree in modern languages and travelled to London to perfect her English. She met Tai Missoni after he qualified for the 400m hurdle race. Through the ensuing years Tai continued to gain success in track competitions while Rosita began to take a creative role in her family’s shawl business. The pair became engaged in 1951 and two years later were married in Golasecca, they settled in Gallarate and took up the helm of the knitwear workshop started by Tai after the war.
In 1955 the Missonis began working with the Biki boutique in Milan, collaborating with Louis Hildago with whom they would also make popular collections for La Rinascente. It was at this boutique that the brand Missoni was launched.
By the late sixties Missoni had become famous for its knit dresses, Missoni coats and jumpers and the company was credited with the resurgence in popularity of knits.
The early seventies saw the Missonis reach a pinnacle of popularity and influence in the fashion world. Their deliberate allegiance to Milan portended the city’s move to influential fashion centre and also helped to create Milan fashion week. Tai took the opportunity to become more involved in other projects ranging from opera costumes to fabric and tapestry design.
By the early nineties Rosita had lost interest in fashion, after working in the industry for almost forty years. Control of Missoni was handed over to their daughter Angela.
Missoni clothingis known primarily for its innovative use of knits and patterns. Most notable among these is the universally recognisable Missoni zigzag but the label also plays with stripes, geometrics and abstract florals. Missoni uses a myriad of colours in their fabrics but avoids any jarring notes by using similar tones. The company is also known for its intelligent use of a variety of different fabrics such as rayon, silk, cotton and wool and for its innovative knitting techniques.
Missoni clothing is known primarily for its innovative use of knits and patterns. Most notable among these is the universally recognisable Missoni zigzag but the label also plays with stripes, geometrics and abstract florals. Missoni uses a myriad of colours in their fabrics but avoids any jarring notes by using similar tones. The company is also known for its intelligent use of a variety of different fabrics such as rayon, silk, cotton and wool and for its innovative knitting techniques.
The Missonis brought a striking sense of imagination to their creations, separating and lifting them from the old-fashioned connotations of traditional hand knitted items and the often blandness of machine knitted products. Like many other post war Italian producers, the value in Missoni’s product was not in hand working but in the supremacy of design, mixing traditional Italian skills with modern technology. Missoni still has its own factory in Italy where they create their signature knits. It takes around 2-3 hours to make one meter of fabric which can contain over 20 different colours in each design.
Little of Missoni fashion relies on trends, rather it focuses on a sense of style and a certain Italian flair. A Missoni piece is perennial and is designed to be mixed with a particular season’s trends and colours whilst in itself remaining above sartorial drift. ‘Our philosophy since we went into business has been that a piece of clothing should be like a work of art. It should not be bought for a special occasion or because it's in fashion, but because a woman likes it…and feels she could wear it forever.’
Like a number of other Italian fashion houses, notably Prada, Missoni is very much a family run business with Tai and Rosita’s three children all having roles. Their daughter Angela is Creative Director and her own daughter Margherita is a part time model and unofficial muse of the Missoni collection as well as the face of the Missoni fragrances. Since taking over Angela has reinterpreted the brand’s image; working with Mario Testino she has developed a new advertising style and has increased brand awareness by promoting the label to a more youthful, urban market. Missoni elevated knitted clothing to such a high level that during the seventies and eighties their clothing was deemed a status symbol. Updating the brand by adding new fabrics such as denim and floral prints, Angela has brought Missoni to a whole new market without sacrificing the essence of classic Missoni clothes. She has also modernised Missoni archive pieces with tailoring and streamlined silhouettes.