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The Italian job - Pearl Academy

Angela Missoni by AFP

Angela Missoni, creative director of women’s wear at Missoni says that , back home, family and business have always been one

“When I started people were asking, ‘What do you do?’ I used to say, ‘I’m fixing,’” grins Angela Missoni. “We are really organising ourselves because in an old company, you have many things that are old, right? You modernise a little because you get stuck in certain things. We are, at the moment, dealing with fixing production, distribution… everything.”

Angela was in India recently to attend the annual conference of the International Foundation of Fashion Technology Institutes (IFFTI) hosted in Jaipur by Pearl Academy of Fashion. Creative Director of Missoni’s women’s collections and co-owner of the company, Angela belongs to the second generation of the family that set up what’s probably Italy’s oldest fashion house. Missoni was set up in 1953 by her parents Ottavio and Rosita. There are a few companies that are older — Prada for instance — but as Angela points out, no one in Italy has exclusively, continuously, been in the realm of clothing for as long as Missoni, that too while maintaining the company as a complete family-run business. (While Angela heads women’s wear, brothers Vittorio and Luca are in charge of marketing and knitwear research respectively, besides being co-owners in the company.)

Missoni, which gears up to celebrate its 60th anniversary next year, has developed a fairly unrivalled niche in knitwear and colour and is one of most unabashedly Italian labels that showcase in Milan every season. It’s been growing; the company has diversified into hotels and home lines and, as part of the global trend towards the democratisation of fashion, launched a line for Target last September, which sold out a few hours after launch.

“We as a name and in popularity are much bigger than the real business of the firm. Sometimes I think ‘Oh my god! How lucky we are!’ There are all these big-muscled companies around, right?” goes Angela. Angela began assisting Rosita when she was 18. Matrimony followed and family became the focus for years. “Everything was really concentrated on maternity and children. I had my children when I was very young. Every pregnancy I was doing different projects, always related to the welfare of my children and my family. As the first project I opened a children’s playground. When I was pregnant with my son I did a project for an organic farm,” she recalls. “My son (Francesco) is 27 now, so I was very much ahead of the whole organic fad,” she laughs. When daughter Teresa was on her way Angela recalls going up to Ottavio and telling him that the company was not her thing anymore and other things were beginning to interest her. “I was living next door from the factory and my parents, and I was always a bit involved,” she explains. “What would you like to do?” her father asked her. “Design jewellery,” Angela replied. She recalls how his reply set her on course for good. “He said, ‘You know what, this company is like a big hat. If there’s anything you want to develop on your own, you can do it under this company. There’s no need for you to work with your mom every single day.’ That might have had helped me because though I had a very good relationship with my mother, he knew how strong my mother is. And because he was already working with her for many years, he probably realised that I needed to go on my own to get the confidence and have my own freedom.” Starting off with minor projects under Missoni, she soon started designing under her own label, ‘Angela Missoni’, based on solids, shapes and knitwear. “After the fourth season my mother came to me after the show and said, “I really liked the show. Have you ever really thought of doing the main line?” I said, “No,” and then she said, “I think you should, because what you’re doing today is what I would like Missoni to be today.”

That was 18 years ago. Angela started work on the main line, editing, “just pulling out the new things that were in the collection and working on advertising and redefining the image.” And after two or three seasons Angela took over with a Summer collection. “My mom was very happy. What made me proud was I gave a second life to my mom.”

With a company with a very clear-cut core — knitwear — doesn’t it sometimes become restrictive creatively? Doesn’t she feel a need to extend her playing field? “No, because whenever I need it, whenever I want it, I get it. I don’t feel limited with anything because, though people might now know, I was there when my parents were doing new things. I’m never scared of doing new things, be it a new print or a new design or new fabric.

When we came we had our main skills in knitwear, but that’s one thing at the factory. As a designer, whatever I need to make in my fashion show, in my collection, I make,” Angela replies. There’s an observation that Angela makes about the market in India. “What I realise is that (international) brands sell shoes and accessories here.

I haven’t seen a brand selling clothes. But I just think that we might have an opportunity, because the kind of clothes we make are closer to India, and the Indian market may be ready for Missoni,” she ponders. “Maybe one of the first brands that sells really clothes here.”

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