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On With the Show, Missoni

MILAN — Ottavio Missoni shies away from the idea that his fashion work is museum material. Yet a new exhibit here makes an interesting case that Missoni’s use of zigzags, stripes, patchworks and mélanges is more closely associated...

MILAN — Ottavio Missoni shies away from the idea that his fashion work is museum material. Yet a new exhibit here makes an interesting case that Missoni’s use of zigzags, stripes, patchworks and mélanges is more closely associated than would be expected with the work of painters who marked a turnaround in art by their use of color.

Curators of the fashion museum in Ciliverghe di Mazzano, outside Brescia, Italy, have juxtaposed a selection of Missoni’s designs with 16th-century portraits from Tiziano, Tintoretto and Paris Bordon, all of whom based their works on color contrasts and limited use of contours. These artists can be loosely considered precursors to 19th-century Impressionists.

“I’m pleased, but the comparison makes me smile,” Missoni said. “I love art, but I’m not a connoisseur. I always think it’s amazing what you can do with the same colors — just as in music, with the same seven notes, think of all the different tunes and melodies.”

The exhibition, “Missoni and Titian: Color and Light from the Venetian Renaissance to 20th-Century Fashion,” opened last month and runs through Feb. 27 in Ciliverghe di Mazzano, an hour’s drive from Milan. Some of the paintings are being shown in public for the first time and are themselves a crash course in 16th-century fashion, with models posing in period costumes of elaborate embroidered velvet dresses, wearing their best jewels, strings of pearls and family rings.

The director of the museum, Massimiliano Capella, said this is only the first of a series of such exhibitions where art and fashion will be shown together. He plans to stage similar juxtapositions every year.

“I wanted to start with Ottavio Missoni because he is a fashion designer who is also the artist and painter par excellence,” Capella said. “There has been sort of a shame and reserve to showing paintings together with fashion. Artworks usually belong to museums, and although there are fashion exhibitions held in museums, art pieces are generally not placed together with clothes.”

The Missoni exhibition is based on chromatic associations and comparisons rather than thematic links or a grouping of designs.

Luca Missoni, the youngest son of Ottavio, helped install the exhibit. He said the portraits and the 15 clothing items dating from 1964 to 1994 and worn by faceless mannequins positioned close to the artworks, were chosen according to the range of colors.

This story first appeared in the November 19, 2004 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

“These are in harmony with the portraits,” he said. “There is the Rosso [red] Tiziano and Rosso Missoni.”

A checkered mantel from 1973 brings out the different hues of brown, red and ocher in the painting behind it.

Luca Missoni said that, when his father and mother, Rosita, in the late Sixties created the brand’s “put-together” style — for example, a combination of striped skirt and checkered jacket with a patchwork scarf — this daring look stemmed from the use of strong colors.

“Green was green and there was nothing vague or indefinite about the hues, much in the same way these Venetian artists worked in the 16th century,” he said.

Capella noted that the value of those colors also lies in the way they were combined in an ombré look, much in the same way the Venetian artists worked.

Luca Missoni, who is in charge of the collection’s men’s wear and coordinates exhibitions around the world and manages the company’s archive and history, also set up tapestries and wall rugs, graphic designs, xerographies and panels with original fabric samples his father created.

“His working methods and processes are not dissimilar to artistic creations, made by using yarns or fibers,” Capella said.