Designer Angela Missoni marks 20 years at the top: no politics, just a celebration

Creative director who refined the family-owned Italian firm’s artisanal knits is known for her passion for human rights and women’s issues, but this week it’s party time, with a show celebrating two decades of modernising

PUBLISHED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 7:01pm
UPDATED : Monday, 18 September, 2017, 8:44pm

Angela Missoni doesn’t think she’s political, but she will stand up for her beliefs. She is passionate about supporting women, whether nurturing talent within her family, helping women-focused charities, or making a plea for human rights as she did in a speech after her Milan catwalk show in February.

On each seat for the autumn/winter collection were pink pussy hats (a significant feature of the Women’s Marches around the world on January 21) in Missoni’s signature zigzag knit. After the finale, and surrounded by her family, Missoni took to the microphone: “In a time of uncertainty, there is a bond between us that can keep us strong and safe: the bond that unites those that respect the human rights of all. Let’s show the world that the fashion community is united and fearless.”

It was a statement of solidarity with the post-Trump presidential inauguration marches that brought people together to defend human rights and other issues such as women’s rights and racial equality.

“When I saw the women’s marches I felt I wanted to be part of that; I had to do this for my mother and my daughters, to find the moment and the place to be united, and I felt very reassured that everyone in the fashion community felt the same,” says Missoni, who this week will celebrate her 20th anniversary as the creative director of one of the few remaining family-owned fashion businesses in Italy.

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Her mother Rosita Missoni (co-founder of the knitwear brand in the 1950s with her late husband Ottavio) and daughter Margherita have described her as “a rebel”. She begs to differ: “I’ve always been very strong in defending my ideas. I follow my feelings and stand for certain principles and that is why I stood up in February.” The designer is a friend and supporter of Italian politician Emma Bonino, who was instrumental in paving the way for divorce and abortion in the Catholic country, and has stood as a candidate for the Italian presidency.

The Missoni spring/summer 2018 show on Saturday will be about celebration and not politics. During her 20-year tenure, Missoni has modernised the knitwear house, taking a brand that was popular in the 1960s and ’70s for its artisanal knits, and refining the look. She returned to Missoni’s roots and its use of colour, and made the knits lighter and airier, the silhouette more linear. She introduced alluring evening wear and tailoring, as well as a swimwear line.

“I love the life of the atelier. I love to shape dresses and put on a show, but I also really love the business part, too.” As well as creative director, she is president of the company, with her brother Luca and one of her nephews on the main board – her older brother Vittorio was killed in a light aircraft accident off the Venezuelan coast in 2013.

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While luxury empires are snapping up fashion brands, the Missonis remain resolutely independent. Working on her next five-year plan, Missoni says they are looking at where they may need investment. “I am not worrying about asking for financial help if we need it, but it doesn’t mean I am going to sell the company.”

So, Missoni is going to stay independent?

“Let’s say we still have fun running the company, that’s very important. I know the girls (her daughters Margherita and Teresa) have a passion for fashion and that all the kids love the company,” she says.

However, she is very conscious of the competition, and the collective power that brands within the fashion empires have over digital and print media and, more positively, how the digital world has encouraged people to be curious.

As a small brand, developing business in China has presented its financial challenges. Missoni has a flagship store in Hong Kong and last month launched a dedicated Chinese online flagship e-commerce site. This month, men’s and children’s wear are added, as well as WeChat and Weibo platforms.

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The heart and soul of the business is the relationship between parents and children, with Missoni as the matriarch. Nevertheless, feeling the weight of expectation when she was young, she staged a muted rebellion. She had three children before she was 28 and launched a collection under her own name, in solid dark shades rather than the colourful Missoni palette.

“After two or three seasons I started adding print and colour and then my mum came to me and asked me to design the main line. She thought that what I was doing was how she would like Missoni to be today. She said you have to do fashion when you are young and passionate and have the strength to handle the commercial side of the business.”

Missoni realised that her mother felt trapped, “So I gave her the opportunity to fulfil another passion, designing a home collection.” Meanwhile her daughters have their own design businesses: Margherita has Margherita Kids and Teresa, who has a small baby, designs a plus size collection for an American company. Their brother Francesco has finalised a Missoni cookbook (a family passion) to be published next year.

Her father once described her as “courageous” a description that she is happy with, but she says she inherited from him curiosity and a sense of freedom. “I am not afraid of change,”she says.