WITH THEIR ZIG ZAGS AND STRIPES MISSONI HOME TAKES THE STRAIGHT AND NARROW PATH TO SUCCESS
There are two big surprises about Missoni Home, the homeware division of the eponymous knitwear dynasty. Firstly, although it has only become a directional, uber brand in the past few years, it has been going for 20: and secondly, it is far, far cheaper than the fashion range. This is good news for fans, because Missoni Home encompasses everything from bedlinen and upholstery fabrics to bathrobes, towels, poufs and cushions, all of which come in the zigzags, stripes, clashing colours and pastels that define Missoni. So if you can't afford a £1000 Missoni dress, you can probably stretch to a cushion for £35 or a bathrobe for under £100. In fact, so successful has Missoni Home been that last autumn it opened a concession in London's Selfridges, became available at select House of Fraser stores and launched its first-ever ontrend tableware.
It wasn't always like this. When it launched in 1982, Missoni Home consisted of tapestries, patchwork prints and near – chintz wallpapers and fabrics. The label, always prone to having hippy moments, went ethnic – there are lots of group photos of the family at this time sporting stripy jumpers, scarves and bobble hats. It was a far cry from the 1960s and 70s, when Missoni was sharp and sexy and seduced a new generation of bohemians who coveted its 'put-together look'. Rosita Jelmini and Ottavio (Tai) Missoni – who married in 1953 and thenceforth have spent their careers building the fashion brand – brought a striking new dimension to knitwear. When they met Tai was an Olympic athlete designing tracksuits, while Rosita's father owned a textile mill. Their first catwalk collection, launched in 1967, already featured their trademark electrifying colours, bold designs and innovative juxtapositions of yarns, weaves and weights. It prompted Diana Vreeland, infamous editor of American Vogue, to declare: 'Look! Who says there are only colours? There are also shades!'
Six years ago, Rosita and Tai, who are 73 and 83 respectively, handed the fashion division over to their daughter Angela. She has created every collection – with input from Rosita – and ensured Missoni loses none of its red-carpet cachet. And now the third generation is waiting in the wings: Margherita, Angela's glamorous 20-year-old daughter and muse, personifies Missoni with her natural beauty, boho credentials and inherent chic. There is speculation that she is being groomed to one day take over from mother.
Rosita, meanwhile, has turned her attentions to homeware, a division she now runs with her niece-turned-artdirector Wanda Jelmini. Wanda started working in the family business 24 years ago when she was 19 and was trained by her father, Rosita's brother.
'He lived and breathed fabric from morning 'til night,' she says; 'he and his brother took over the mill from their greatgrandfather and they were the ones who urged Rosita to do furnishing fabrics. The idea came about one day when they went to visit her and saw her knits draped over the sofa and across the floor and noticed how good they looked. So why not apply the silk jersey patterns to tougher surfaces and weave the knits? Soon after, a collection of rugs, bed linen and upholstery fabric was born and the Missoni siblings had come full circle. 'Rosita's arrival made all the difference,' says Wanda. 'We started making big changes.' The duo produces one collection a year and in typical Missoni spirit they speak every day – an oft-repeated pun about the family is that they are famously close-knit. They display none of the dysfunction of, say, the Versace clan, and each generation seems to spawn a savvy new talent. Wanda decides on which textures will work best and then consults Rosita who is 'not at all technical.'
Although Missoni Home is created in the same exhuberant spirit as the fashion, the prints are never exactly the same. 'Either the colourways are different, or we distort the pattern somehow,' says Wanda. The 2005 collection features reworkings of the classic Missoni zigzags on towels, bathrobes and bed linen and new poufs, beanbags, futons and floor cushions covered with a bright patchwork of patterns and overlapping blocks of colour. 'The starting point for the 2005 collection was the fashion season's colourways, then we thought about which colours we wanted. Each pattern evolves on its own. We realised too that the black and white patterns were missing and they're important because they're an everlasting story for Missoni. The idea of patchworking has always been behind our spirit too, but this year is the first time we have done it on objects.'
Exploring new textures is also part of the plan. Last year they covered cushions in printed cotton tulle. 'That was a nice game. We are experimenting with other netting,
The tableware, which so far comes in three ranges, has also been a huge success. Thomas Goode, the Mayfair establishment that supplies ceramics and glassware to rock stars and royalty, has seen Missoni flying off the shelves. Although it is the last part of the fashion / homeware/ceramic triumvirate to be realised, it is in some ways the hardest to put together. Says Wanda: 'Designing tableware is about finding a pattern which is nicer on a dish than a fabric, and every product has its own form.' With its bright colours, graphic patterns and modern florals, it is a natural extension to the brand, with all its vigour and quality. Although these days Rosita prefers to spend her time walking in the forests of her native Lombardy in northeast Italy, it seems that, after 52 years in the business, Missoni has not lost its Midas touch.
This piece was taken from Selvedge issue 04, written by Emma O'Kelly