This one is a pattern I first used in 1969, I think,’ says Rosita Missoni, the twinkly-eyed, 84-year-old matriarch of the famous Italian fashion family.
She is talking me through Missoni Home’s brand-new collection at herMilan apartment, which has been kitted out in kaleidoscopic colours and patterns, beautifully showcasing the products in a real home – albeit one of spectacular proportions.
The fabric in question – an intricately embroidered floral called Oriental Garden – looks surprisingly fresh and contemporary, despite being inspired by a vintage shawl.
‘I was trying to create some sort of order from the chaos of my closet and I found the shawl that the design was based on,’ says Rosita gleefully. ‘I bought it 50 years ago and I had forgotten about it. I was so happy!’
An avid collector of vintage furniture and fashion, Rosita used to trawl antique shops and markets with the late legendary fashion editor Anna Piaggi on trips to London in the 1960s. While Anna searched for kooky clothes, Rosita hunted down pottery by the likes of Susie Cooper and Clarice Cliff. ‘For me they were treasures and they cost almost nothing,’ she says.
Rosita’s other main source of inspiration is the natural world. Her main home and Missoni’s factory are located in Sumirago, a small town 45 minutes from Milan, which sits at the foot of the Lombard Alps.
‘My husband said we should build our factory where we would like to spend our weekends and that was the best decision we made,’ she says. ‘Doing a creative job, having a fantastic view and a beautiful garden that’s full of flowers is wonderful. We had such a beautiful autumn last year. I said to my gardener, “Please don’t sweep up the leaves.” They made amazing “rugs” on the ground.’
Sumirago was also chosen for its proximity to the city of Gallarate, where Rosita’s family had a factory making bed and bath products, and they now manufacture all of Missoni Home’s wares, making it truly a family business.
‘When we married, we bought a small apartment in Gallarate and put four knitting machines in the basement. I started making little sweaters and dresses alongside the sportswear we were known for, and in 1958 we had our first big success with a collection of striped dresses for la Rinascente [department store] in Milan.’
They were so popular that the couple came out from the basement and hired a bigger space before building their own factory in 1964. Huge waves of success and fashion plaudits have come in the decades since, but the Missoni DNA – colourful, dynamic and playful – has remained resolutely the same.
In the late ’90s Rosita handed the reins of the women’s fashion collection over to her daughter Angela. After taking it easy for a couple of months, she decided that being a retiree wasn’t for her.
‘I thought, “There has to be more to life than this.” I didn’t want to be in fashion any more, but I was missing having a creative outlet. When you work you have a reason to get out of bed in the morning and this was the path that I was used to following. So I started thinking about what else I could do.’
Her home had ‘always been dressed in Missoni fabrics’, so Rosita decided to infuse the bed and bath collection with the energy of their fashion pieces. The first full Missoni Home collection, with cushions, throws, rugs and ottomans, as well as linens and towels, launched in 1997. Within a couple of years, Rosita started seeing copies – ‘so we knew we were doing something right.’
Missoni Home is now a global concern, and is consistently one of the biggest sellers on the homeware site Amara, which company founder Sam Hood puts down to the vibrancy and beauty of the prints.
‘Missoni Home is one of those brands our customers associate with timeless style. The designs are iconic and the various zig-zag patterns are consistently our bestselling designs,’ says Sam. ‘This season, the Sulawesi floral print is one of my favourites, though. Coloured petals against the monochrome flowers really jump off the fabric.’
We tend to think about Missoni’s output as surface pattern, but the company’s weaving know-how means that there’s a strong textural element and the fabrics have a pleasing tactility – whether rough or silky smooth.
Overprinted designs on the fabrics also add depth and movement and where some are robust enough to use outdoors, others are gossamer-light or woven from metallic threads. This type of innovation still clearly excites Rosita, who has no plans to retire any time soon.
‘They will have to throw me out of the factory! I do it with so much pleasure that I could do it for ever,’ she says. ‘Knitting gives you the possibility of thinking about a design and having it realised within a few hours, which for me is still fascinating. It’s a workshop where you can see your ideas come to life.’
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