Weaving Jagged Magic
THE PAIN OF BEREAVEMENT HAS STRENGTHENED THE MISSONI DYNASTY’S PASSION FOR FASHION AND FAMILY. Madeleine Ross MEETS TWO OF THE ITALIAN BRAND’S FRESHEST FACES AS THEY TAKE ON ASIA
Last year was a period of heartbreak and readjustment for the Missoni family. The 58-year-old CEO of the family’s eponymous fashion brand, Vittorio Missoni, the eldest son of founders Ottavio and Rosita, disappeared in January when a light aircraft carrying him and his wife disappeared off the coast of Venezuela. A few months later, while authorities were still searching for the wreckage, 92-year-old Ottavio died, leaving the family and the fashion house bereft of their two leading men.
The subsequent grieving process, as with any scrutinised by the media, was particularly painful—especially for Vittorio’s three children. But the siblings found solace in the strength of
family bonds, which remain as closely woven as Missoni’s signature knitwear more than 60 years after the brand’s genesis.
“We reacted as a family—all together,” says Ottavio Jr, the 30-year-old son of the late CEO, who works on all facets of the brand, from sales and marketing to store concept design and brand development. “Of course, every single person reacts in his own way and it takes time to face the problem. But having a family like this was very helpful; we spend a lot of time together.”
We meet Ottavio in Hong Kong with his 26-year-old cousin, Teresa Maccapani Missoni, daughter of the brand’s designer and creative director, Angela Missoni. Both are bright and natural, Ottavio self-assured but softly spoken and Teresa warm, spirited and sentimental, her rich, husky voice amplifying when the conversation turns to family. The fresh-faced heirs have come to the city to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the opening of Missoni’s first Hong Kong boutique—and to launch a second location on Central’s On Lan Street.
The cousins grew up immersed in the world of their grandparents’ brand, making merry
“WHEN I WAS A KID, IT WASN’T A JOB FOR ME. IT WAS LIKE A MAGIC WORLD”
among the multicoloured yarns and silken threads in the factories that have crafted its signature zigzagged textiles for six decades. While the brand has its headquarters in Milan, its fabrics are still made in the town of Varese, 65 kilometres north of the city.
“While we were playing, the people working there would teach us how to do things. That’s how we learned—as a game. When I was a kid, it wasn’t a job for me; it was like a magic world,” recalls Teresa, who knows every one of the factory’s 300 employees by name.
When asked what it was like growing up with a famous name, Teresa says she and
“IT’S ABOUT KEEPING THE FAMILY DNA BUT ALWAYS, ALWAYS PROGRESSING” her siblings were blissfully unaware of its significance for most of their youth. “We’re not a gossipy family and we’re very lucky that everyone loves us, which is really important. We don’t have enemies,” she says. “In Milan it’s kind of natural; everyone is in fashion, so it’s not so weird that you’re part of a fashion family. Everywhere you go, one way or another, everyone is part of a fashion family. It’s nice.”
The brand, which is still wholly owned by the family, is renowned for its colourful patterned knitwear. In 1962 the designers hit upon the celebrated zigzag motif and, by the ’70s, the label had arrived as a global fashion force, with Missoni widely credited for putting Milan on the map as one of the world’s fashion capitals.
Since then the brand has expanded into swimwear, fragrances and accessories, experimented with new materials and broadened its patterns to include stripes, geometrics and abstract florals. In recent years it has adopted a strikingly youthful edge and introduced Margherita Missoni, Angela’s first daughter, as the face of the brand.
For a fashion house with such a distinctive aesthetic, however, modernisation is a delicate balancing act. “My mother says her parents created the vocabulary and she’s updating the
lexicon,” says Teresa. “You have to remember where you come from and what has been done. Keep in mind your origins, but always renew. The world is changing; people are changing. It’s important to keep moving on and trying different things. It’s about keeping the family DNA but always, always progressing,” she says.
Progress is at the forefront of both ambassadors’ minds when we meet. Fashion giants such as Louis Vuitton and Gucci have been targeting Mainland China for years, now boasting multiple stores across the country. But Missoni has held back.
“Compared to other brands, we’ve been very slow to enter the Chinese market and the Asian market in general,” says Ottavio. “The reason for this is that we’re a family business and we don’t have the big group behind us to push the money. We need to be very detailed when we invest. We need to be sure of the risks we’re taking. We cannot do anything wrong, because we just have one chance.” Teresa adds, “It’s a big name, but it’s a small business compared to how big the name is.”
In this sense, the commitment to being family owned and operated is both a blessing and a constraint. There’s no question the cousins wouldn’t have it any other way, though.
“Our strength is that our customers want to buy us because they feel like part of our family,” says Teresa. “What we do makes them feel fashionable but also cosy, because they know it’s a special product that only we make and there is a strong sense of family.”
Since 2010, the brand has done a number of family-focused campaigns with fashion photographer Jürgen Teller. The advertisements feature candid and playful shots of the Missoni matriarchs, patriarchs and third-generation beauties relaxing at home. “Most of the comments on the campaign were, ‘I want to be part of this family,’” says Teresa. “Most of our best customers in the world, they feel this—when they buy, they feel part of this family. Our world is really magic. It’s something special, and we want customers to feel it and to share our way of living.”
Missoni is now looking for the right partner to take it into the world’s second-largest economy. “It’s time to bring the brand to another level,” says Ottavio. “We faced difficult moments last year. It was a hard time. But this made all of us want to work harder and make the people we have lost proud of what we are doing. This is the best way to honour what they did.”
STYLISH GENES FROM LEFT: TERESA MACCAPANI MISSONI AND OTTAVIO MISSONI JR; LOOKS FROM THE SPRING/ SUMMER 2014 COLLECTION; FOUNDERS OTTAVIO SR AND ROSITA; ANGELA MISSONI WITH DAUGHTERS TERESA AND MARGHERITA
LIFE IN COLOUR FROM TOP: TERESA AND OTTAVIO JR IN THEIR ELEMENTS STORE IN HONG KONG; VITTORIO’S THREE SONS IN THE 2010 ADVERTISING CAMPAIGN FOCUSED ON THE FAMILY; TERESA AND HER GRANDFATHER, OTTAVIO SR, ALSO FROM THE CAMPAIGN; A LOOK FROM THE SPRING/ SUMMER 2014 COLLECTION
STITCH IN TIME A LOOK FROM THE SPRING/ SUMMER 2014 COLLECTION EXEMPLIFIES THE LABEL’S EVOLUTION FROM ITS SIGNATURE ZIGZAGS FAMILY TIES THREE GENERATIONS OF MISSONIS POSE FOR A FAMILY PORTRAIT IN 1992, BEFORE THE LOSS OF OTTAVIO SR ( CENTRE RIGHT) AND VITTORIO ( TOP RIGHT)