Mr Ottavio Missoni Jr
The heir to the iconic fashion house bearing his name shows how best to wear the autumn collection
In the fast-moving world of style, where trends come and go and creative directors are ousted and replaced with nearly as much frequency as Premier League football managers, there’s something reassuring about the enduring success of a company such as Missoni. This tiny knitwear workshop founded by Italian Olympic athlete Mr Ottavio “Tai” Missoni and his wife Rosita in 1953 may have grown into a global, multimillion-dollar brand – but it has done so while remaining very much a family affair. This stability has endowed it with a remarkable consistency of vision; its signature zigzag patterns have become one of the most recognisable and consistent motifs in the industry.
Change comes to all things, though, and two events transpired last year to make sure that Missoni would not be exempt. The first, an unexpected twist of fate, occurred in January 2013. Mr Vittorio Missoni, one of three siblings to have inherited the company when the founders stood down in 1996, was returning from holiday when the light aircraft in which he was travelling vanished just off the Venezuelan coast. He was 58 at the time of his disappearance. Then, just four months later, the family was dealt a second hammer-blow when the founder and patriarch himself died at the age of 92, just three weeks after his and Rosita’s 60th wedding anniversary. It was a year of tumult and tragedy, but Italy’s first family of fashion emerged from it as strong as they have ever been – and now, in the wake of their annus horribilis, a third generation of the family is ready to step into the limelight and continue its legacy. MR PORTER met one of them – the eldest son of Mr Vittorio Missoni and namesake of the company founder, Mr Ottavio Missoni Jr.
“Missoni is known as a family business. We’re all involved, even if only in ambassadorial roles,” says the 29 year old, who works as a sales director for the US market. (By “we” he refers to himself, his two brothers and six cousins.) “We advise our elders, too. We’d never tell them what to do, you understand – but they appreciate having us around because we have an intuitive understanding of the market.” Fluent and perceptive, the third-generation Missoni man clearly has a keen commercial brain – and appears especially wise to the challenges and opportunities presented by the rise of online shopping. “Men, especially younger guys, love to buy online,” he says. “These are the kind of people without the time or the inclination to shop in stores. Sites such as MR PORTER – they just bring everything closer.”
He appreciates the natural advantage that Missoni has in this arena, too. “The patterns and the colours that we’re known for – they really stand out when you see them on a screen,” he explains. “We’re lucky. It’s so much easier to get excited about a colourful Missoni sweater than it is about a black suit.” For all his business acumen, though, it’s on his family that Mr Missoni Jr speaks most freely and passionately. “My grandfather always said that it was vital to work in the kind of place where people go for the weekend,” he says at one point, gesturing to the sleepy, leafy Lombardy countryside around his family home in Sumirago, just north of Milan. “That way, the calm in the air, the colours in the trees as the seasons change… it’s all reflected in the clothes.” It’s clear from his conversation – peppered with anecdotes and recollections that begin, “My grandfather used to say…” or “When I was a boy, my father…” – that Missoni, to him, is nothing without its heritage.
Family-owned businesses are no strange thing in Italy, where the tradition is deeply ingrained. Versace, Ferragamo and Zegna can all attest to this, while household names such as Lavazza and Alessi suggest that this is not something confined to the clothing industry. But what’s unique about Missoni is that it’s genuinely difficult to tell where the family ends and the brand begins; it’s almost as if a few strands of Missoni DNA somehow wound up in the wool, and now find themselves woven in multicoloured zigzags, stripes and geometric waves into the very fabric of the clothes.
In the Lombardy countryside, the leaves are just beginning to exhibit their first flush of autumnal colour. It seemed like the perfect time and place to try out a few of these clothes, so with the assistance of Mr Missoni Jr, the handsome heir to the Missoni household, we did just that.