The husband-and-wife partnership of Ottavio Missoni and Rosita Missoni has revolutionized the development of fashionable knitwear. Born in Rugosa (now Dubrovnik) in 1921, Ottavio grew up as an Italian track champion. In 1947, he and his friend Giorgio Oberweger produced the “Venjulia” wool athletic suit, which became the official uniform of the Italian athletics team at the 1948 London Olympic Games. He met Rosita Jelmini that year in London, while he was on the Olympic team and she was a student. Rosita was born in 1932 in the village of Golasecca. As a young girl, she selected fabrics and designs at the textile mill established by her maternal grandparents, the Torrani family. In 1953, Ottavio and Rosita were married and began their joint knitwear venture, called Maglifico Jolly, in Gallarate where they could benefit from the Torranis’ knowledge and machinery.
In 1955, Milan’s Biki boutique and La Rinascente commissioned garments. Rinascente’s collection of spring 1958, named “Milano-Sympathy,” was the first to include the Missoni label. In the early 1960s, the Missonis began experimenting with the colorful zigzag and striped patterns that would become their signature. They used machines built for shawls and bedspreads to produce sweaters and dresses in energizing jacquard patterns. Ottavio plotted the patterns, which took their inspiration from such influences as Guatemalan textiles or abstract art. Meanwhile Rosita developed the shape of the garments. Research into color and materials has always guided their creative process more than the fashionable silhouette.
In 1966 Ottavio and Rosita’s first fashion show of these unusually colored knit separates, held at the Teatro Gerolamo in Milan, received praise in the press and the encouragement of Anna Piaggi. In 1967 Rosita sent braless models down the runway at the Pitti Palace in Florence; the resulting controversy saw the following year’s collection presented elsewhere at Milan’s Solari swimming pool. The collection caught the attention of American Vogue editor in chief Diana Vreeland. In 1969, Ottavio and Rosita built a new factory in Sumirago.
The Missonis introduced their famous patchwork inserts in their après-ski collection in 1971. The decade also witnessed the winning of the Neiman Marcus Fashion Award in 1973, the opening of the first Milan boutique in 1976, and a retrospective exhibited at the Rotonda della Besana in Milan in 1978 that traveled to the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1979. Missoni diversified with the introduction of menswear in 1971 and the launch of Missoni Home in 1983.
The couple’s achievements in fashion and art have earned them great honors, including the Premio Pitti Immagine prize in 1994. In 1998, their daughter Angela assumed complete creative control of the brand, including the men’s and women’s collections and their eleven licenses. In 1999, she launched the diffusion line, M Missoni, and added a woven collection. Missoni continues to expand as a lifestyle brand with furniture, fragrances, and hotels. Ottavio Missoni passed away in May 2013.
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