MILAN — “Twenty years is a very long period for any designer — short of miraculous,” Angela Missoni said with her contagious laugh. Sitting in the spacious living room of her house in Milan, the creative director of the family-owned Italian brand describes herself as “analytical” and admits to a compulsive obsession for details. For instance, she notices that the height of the back on identical chairs facing her is not the same.
“Am I the only one to see that? And am I the only one to see that the centerpiece on the table is not actually centered?” she wonders aloud.
This meticulous approach, her energy and keen eye, paired with a strong sense of duty and responsibility, have served the designer well over the past two decades — a milestone she will mark with a coed show on Sept. 23 followed by a dinner and a party. “The past is a stimulus to go forward, you won’t see any retrospective. The men’s and women’s collections shown together is the logical consequence to express the brand’s image and communication,” explained Missoni, wearing a white shirt, black pants and a turban, which emphasized her alert dark brown eyes.
Surprisingly, the designer conceded that she never thought she would work for the family’s company and that she was keen on studying psychology “to understand the human mind.” That said, she was “always part of the life of the company,” helping out during the seasonal sales periods, for example. “I was very independent, I wanted my own pocket money and I never wanted to rely on what I could have had. I knew I had to work, I never doubted that. Some of my school friends wanted to become someone’s wife and I thought that was so old-fashioned. I grew up in a family that was very open and modern, ahead of the times. I am the fourth generation of women entrepreneurs. My great-grandmother Teresa worked with my grandfather, she was an important figure in the company [the textile company owned by Rosita Missoni’s family, the Jelminis]. The same with my grandmother Diamante, she was very active.”
She started forming her own family early on. At age 23, she gave birth to Margherita, followed by Francesco two years later and Teresa, three years after. Missoni remembers her mother Rosita, who founded the fashion house in 1953 with her husband Ottavio, lamented missing spending time with her own children when they were growing up. “I didn’t want to have that same regret,” said Angela, whose siblings are Luca and the late Vittorio. But being a stay-at-home mom was not enough, so the designer invested in several different activities, including opening a children’s playground and library and breeding organic chickens.
“When I was pregnant with Teresa I went to my father and told him I wouldn’t work in the company and that I wanted to do a jewelry line. He told me that whatever project I wanted to do, I should consider the company as an umbrella.
“I had a good relationship with my mother but I understood I needed to stand on my own two legs, I needed to fuel my self-esteem,” said the designer. For this reason, she said she fully understands and supports her daughter Margherita’s desire to work on her own children’s line, separated from the Missoni business. “And today, everything is more complex,” she admitted of the industry’s demands. Angela’s first steps within the family’s company, as a coincidence, were also on the Missoni kids line, followed by jewelry and fragrances. Around 1991, she felt she wanted to do her own apparel line and started Team Angela Missoni with two friends.
Recalling those early days, Missoni said she was “bored” with what the signature line offered at that time. “It didn’t seem fit for me, that’s why I chose to design monochrome knits and silhouettes that I wanted to wear at that moment.” Team Angela Missoni was a one-woman show, and it gradually also added patterns, catching Rosita Missoni’s eye. “She was an enthusiastic supporter and she was also surprised by the collection and proud of me. She probably didn’t realize I could also manage a business. I was not a show off. I am a Capricorn, I never do anything until I know I am able to do it. At the end of the fourth show, my mother told me: ‘What you are doing is what I would like Missoni to be.’ You need to be young to have the strength to fight for what you believe in against the many commercial requests. My mother felt in a cage of zigzags [the brand’s staple pattern]. They were always asking her to repeat herself, which didn’t allow for the new [design] buds to flower.” Angela Missoni accepted her mother’s offer, working alongside her for two years and taking her first bow alone on the catwalk in October 1997.
Her first step was to clean up the brand, give it an identity and lighten up the weight of the pieces — something the increasingly sophisticated technology over the years has continued to help her achieve. She also reworked the graphic effects. “I have a mathematician’s mind,” she explained of rearranging them from historical stitches. “I remembered that my parents used prints and that my dad printed on fabrics.”
The Missoni business was solid at the time, but the brand had veered away from the groundbreaking label it was when launched. “It was not setting trends, it was not really fashion,” said the designer. Missoni argued that the brand had become synonymous with knitwear and was too sportswear-oriented. She went back to her mother’s original dresses and rearranged the prints, re-introduced evening wear, Lurex threads, and a Seventies’ inspiration. “There was resistance within the company and from my brothers — never my parents. I was told the collections were not Missoni enough, because there weren’t 25 variations of colors on a knit. ‘Why change when it’s selling well?’ That’s what a lot of people would say to me.” She recalled that her first collections were immediately well received, especially in the U.S. and the U.K., “always a fertile territory for new trends,” she said. “Missoni was already more than four decades old. It had a story. I had to redefine it to make room for those buds to flourish.”
It has not all been smooth sailing and Missoni said she puts herself to the test often. “Last time, it was two years ago. I realized that the weight of the family tragedies had distracted me, I had settled and I was letting things go. Twenty years is an enormity, I asked myself, do I still have something to say? I realized that I was being repetitive, so I set my foot down, and realized I had to make it or break it.” The designer and her close-knit family were struck by tragedy in 2013, when the airplane Vittorio Missoni was traveling on from Los Roques to Caracas, Venezuela, went missing in January that year. In May that year, their father, known as Tai, died at 92.
Angela Missoni knows now she took on a lot of added responsibilities as Vittorio was the business-minded sibling, in charge of the commercial growth of the company, while Luca is focused on the brand’s art projects and archives. General manager Emilio Carbonera Giani has helped her for the past two years, and Missoni said she feels “supported, although it’s a job that never ends. My ambition is to put everything in place, to have a more structured company without living in a constant emergency, to have a long-term vision.” She said she is working on improving the group’s distribution and strengthening its accessories business. Consolidated sales in 2016 totaled 63.4 million euros. Of this figure, licenses corresponded to 10.9 million euros. The company counts five boutiques in Italy and six outside the country, as well as two outlets in Italy. Exports account for 74 percent of sales.
Although not all actively involved in the company, every member of the third generation of the family is “very close” to it, she said, from Giacomo, who deals with merchandising, to Ottavio, president of Missoni USA, among others. They invariably all attend the brand’s shows and they can’t be missed — attractive, polite and clustered around Rosita. “They realize how important it is to be there and to communicate how real the company is, how much the family stands behind it,” said the designer, who reiterated her desire to keep the firm private and not take on investors.
The family has been photographed for a number of ad campaigns, by Oliviero Toscani in 1992 and by Juergen Teller for spring 2010, when the family posed candidly at Rosita and Tai’s home. “This was a real turnaround, we showed that it was possible to go in a different direction,” she said. Missoni realized that, with a small budget, she could get much more publicity with a good, high-quality campaign, and that it would have a much bigger resonance. In 2012, she secured her friend, director Pedro Almodóvar, to front the brand’s new advertising campaign, falling into place with the strong Spanish inspiration of her spring collection. She also credits her ability to find new talents to launch innovative advertising campaigns that have people talk about the brand.
One thing Missoni is proud of is that the brand has a loyal customer, that it’s “more about the spirit and not the age,” and that her designs “can be translated in a different way from mother to sisters and friends and that they feel modern.”
For the 20th anniversary, the designer has also created a capsule collection of two limited-edition sweaters and a tank top. It includes monochrome variations, edged in space-dye knits and embroidered with Twenties’ motifs, daisies or garlands of leaves, with a playful undercurrent and hark to the relationship with nature of the designer, who continues to live outside Milan in Brunello, near the company’s headquarters in Sumirago, with a view of the Alps.
The capsule will be available online and in Missoni flagship stores from Sept. 22.