One Hundred Years of Sir Ottavio Tai Missoni, founder of an artistic movement where the design, and the strength of chromatic choices prevail over the lines. Where zigzag, striped, slub dyed and wavy motifs are the essential elements of thought.
Text by: Domenico Costantini
Born in Ragusa of Dalmatia, on 11 February 1921: in these days Ottavio ‘Tai’ Missoni would have turned one hundred years old. National champion in athletics, promising young sportsman, whose a lucky and alchemical encounter transforms into one of the major protagonists of the prêt-à-porter world. The young couple, Ottavio Missoni and Rosita Jelmini created the company, which is still a family- run business. In 1966, the Missonis presented their first complete collection of knitwear designed with the collaboration of Emmanuelle Khanh at the Teatro Gerolamo in Milan. Part of this collection was evening dresses in lurex knit printed with abstract motifs. The following year they made their debut on the historic catwalk of Palazzo Pitti, presenting an unplanned nude look that caused a scandal. Rosita Missoni in fact, after realizing that the bras were see through on many models, ordered them to take them off for the show, not taking into account that the lights of the show would create an effect of transparency.
In 1969, an encounter with Diana Vreeland, director of Vogue America at the time, opened the doors of US department stores to the Missonis to the point that the following year Bloomingdale’s opened a Missoni boutique in the New York office. The great success of what remained one of the main design features of the Missoni style dates back to the same year, which the Americans baptized with the name of put-together: an overlapping of colours, dots and patterns that are only apparently random. Ottavio was a wonderful colorist – says his wife Rosita -. This is when the unstoppable rise of the Missoni family began, who in a very short time became synonymous with creations in which the design and the strength of the colours constitute the brand’s goal.
In 1978, they celebrated twenty-five years of career with a retrospective held first in Milan, at the roundabout in via Besana, and then at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York. In 1994, Pitti Immagine organized the ‘Missonology’ exhibition, a large thematic retrospective with more than 100 items on display from their archive, which was held at the Ridotto del Teatro della Pergola. In October, the ‘Missonology’ exhibition was expanded and set up in the spaces of the Museo della Permanente in Milan. In December 1995, the Japanese Nagoya Fashion Association staged a re-edition of ‘Missonology’ at the Nagoya City Museum. In 1997, Ottavio and Rosita entrusted the management of the company to their three children: Angela, Vittorio and Luca. To celebrate fifty years of activity, in 2003 the Missonis organized a great parade at the Life Ball in Vienna, one of the most important charitable events in Europe in favour of AIDS Life.
Year 2013, the annus horribilis: on January 4th, Vittorio, the couple’s eldest son, disappears, aboard a plane flying between the archipelago of Los Roques and Caracas, in Venezuela and on May 9th at the age of ninety-two Ottavio dies. Two tragic events that suddenly cast a dark and painful shadow on the brightness of their history, however, destined to continue even today.
The zigzag, striped, slub knit, wavy designs, made in unusual colours such as tamarind and ochre, wisteria and periwinkle – must be narrated as a cultural movement, a pictorial current and Ottavio Missoni as the main exponent of this artistic manifesto.