WWD.com/globe-news/fashion/thoroughly-modern-missoni-1895668/

MILAN — When Angela Missoni set out to design the collection that would mark her return to men’s—she took over from her brother, Luca, this past fall—she quickly discovered she didn’t need to go far for ideas. Inspiration was right at home.

As she posted the words “refined contemporary, anti-conformist, ironic, sensual, relaxed” on her storyboard, she realized she wasn’t just conjuring up an idealized version of the Missoni man. She was also describing her own father, Ottavio, who with her mother, Rosita, founded Missoni more than 50 years ago.

Angela then scoured the archive for vintage photos of her dad. What she found were cool, candid black-and-white snapshots of the statuesque Italian, and she immediately tacked them next to those six adjectives.

“As soon as I finished putting those words down, I had this flash,” Angela says, with tempered exasperation.

It’s early evening, just a few days before Christmas, and Angela, audibly tired, has been tied to last-minute fittings and obligatory company festivities at Missoni’s offices in Sumirago, about an hour northwest of Milan.

“I understood that the man I was describing was very close to my father,” she says, “but he was also a mix of all the men who have been a part of my life.”

Those other men include her longtime partner, Bruno Ragazzi, who, according to Missoni, instilled in her a true passion for all things sartorial and classic; and her 22-year-old son, Francesco, who—more in line with the family’s knitwear heritage—prefers sweaters to suits. But between the two, Angela found a common denominator: comfort.

“I enjoy seeing the love my partner has for sartorial details, yet he always makes his suits two sizes bigger because he loves to be comfortable. My father created a company that at first only made sweaters because he had this necessity to be comfortable,” she says, adding with a laugh, “My son almost always wears a specific kind of sweater because it’s warm and comfortable.”

Listen to Angela talk about her dad, her partner and her son and you immediately sense the joie de vivre widely associated with the voluptuous brunette. Her words are like images; her laugh, a kind of spirited soundtrack.

“The Missoni guy always has a need to feel at ease,” she says.

Ease doesn’t mean lack of style or structure. Missoni may be famous for knits that zig and zag, but Angela is determined to demonstrate that she and the collection represent much more than a one-yarn outing.

Just as Angela strikes a balance between Missoni’s legacy and fashion currency in her women’s collection, so is she ready to put contemporary elements into her men’s wear show on Jan. 12, the opening day of Milan Fashion Week.

Angela had designed the men’s collection in the late ’90s until her brother, Luca, took over for a stint that ended with the current spring collection. The fall ’08 collection is not a new foray but rather a reaffirmation of Angela’s point of view regarding men’s fashion.

“Come runway, guests will really note the importance of tailored clothing,” she says. “There’s a real sartorial concept to the collection but with a softness to the fabric. Clothing will no longer be just an accessory to knitwear.”

Several looks previewed exclusively by DNR have a fresh allure that reflects an aesthetic as modern as it is Missoni. Bright, slim-cut suits framed kaleidoscope knits. Handsome outerwear complemented rather than competed with layered patterns.

Angela could have easily fallen into the trap of reissuing looks that made the company famous. But while the collection still brims with Missoni’s signature knits, the mosaic-like patterns are subtler, scaled down. “I kind of did a cleaning of knitwear,” she explains.

Micro-designs and muted finishes further enhance the slightly blurred surface of many pieces. “More than anything else I got rid of all that I knew and imagined,” Angela says. “As I moved forward I realized that I wanted a contemporary, fashionable man with a very masculine sex appeal.”

And sex appeal is something the designer understands. Since she stepped in as the creative force, the brand has evolved from a knitwear label to a top fashion house. With its women’s wear, Missoni has scored many celebrity gets—such as Demi Moore in a slinky knit dress—and now the company is angling to get top male actors on board as well. Missoni will host a party for up-and-comer Jack Huston following its show on Saturday night.

“I don’t believe in an eccentric man—anti-conformist, yes, but he has to have a certain refinement about him,” Angela says. “This man loves details and holds on to clothes as though they were objects of affection. What I want to do is create pieces that men are happy to say they’ve had for years.”

With that vision, the company is hoping to build a much bigger men’s wear business. Currently, men’s represents about 20 percent of Missoni sales, which reached 75 million euros in 2006, or just under $100 million at average rates. Massimo Gasparini, Missoni’s new chief executive officer, said he expected 2007 sales to climb 7 percent—with men’s as a growth driver.

“Missoni is known as both a men’s and women’s brand and as such makes its value double,” Gasparini says, adding, “I have great expectations for men’s wear.”

So does Angela. She may be overseeing three collections while guiding a restructuring at the company, but she’s ready for more. “I haven’t gone crazy yet,” she says with a smile.

“It’s a huge stimulus to see things I’ve dreamed about for a long time become a reality,” she adds, referring to both the design and business changes. “The work has spurred me on even more.”