Missoni is a world renowned name across the fashion and design industry and their iconic zigzag pattern is instantly recognisable. But how did it all begin – and when did they transcend from catwalks to interiors? We look into the fascinating and colourful history of the Missoni brand and how it began, before the founders Rosita & Ottavio even met, and how it has always had family at the very core…
The story starts in Golasecca, in the province of Varese, northern Italy, as this is where the headquarters and factories of T&J Vestor (Torrani & Jelmini) were founded and are still active today. It was here that Rosita Jelmini was born in 1931, the granddaughter to the Torrani owners of the embroidered fabric factory.
Being brought up in a creative family environment influenced Rosita’s drive and passion for fashion. The family firm of T&J Vestor sparked her imagination, and growing up in the midst of the different operations of dyeing, embroidering and pattern cutting that took place at the factory was an endless source of fascination for her. When balls of yarn were not completely immersed in the dye, a part remained white, or of another colour, producing the ‘flame’ effects for the embroidery of the shaded roses on the kimonos that the factory then produced, a spark of the creativity that was to come.
As the decades went by T&J Vestor went on to build up an impressive reputation for the superior quality of all of its products. Always focusing on excellence in everything they do they carved a niche for themselves, creating the very best in embroidered fabric. Meanwhile Ottavio Missoni (known as Tai) was establishing himself as a prodigy of Italian athletics on the opposite shore of the Adriatic. Amongst many odd jobs including acting for a photo novel he went on to make a living in Trieste by setting-up his first knitwear business with an old friend. The small factory they used had only three machines, and produced woollen athletic tracksuits amongst other things. They were inspired by the suggestion of someone they knew that a functional, warm garment which provided freedom of movement was vitally important for athletes.
Success, no matter what, is a question of competition, perhaps with one’s self, not always with others… When we began to work with knits, we had three machines: perhaps the anarchy of the situation, the fact that we were not tied down to preconceived notions, our love of research, in other words a combination of things led to positive results. Nevertheless I swear that our success was unexpected; more than anything it was word of mouth.
Ottavio Missoni (The World of Missoni)
The ‘Venjulia’ tracksuits that they created became the uniform of the Italian team for the London Olympic Games of 1948, in which Ottavio Missoni himself was a finalist. Watching on the sidelines was Rosita Jelmini, who was staying in London to study English. The father of one of her friends was the president of the Gallarate Athletic Club, of which Ottavio was a member. That was how they met, and the rest as they say is history.
Married five years later in 1953, the couple moved to Gallarate and continued to work in knitwear together. The tracksuits were joined by a small catalogue of women’s garments, both Rosita and Ottavio had strengths that combined together to create a thriving business, Rosita developed the shape of the range whilst Ottavio played the role of colourist and technician.
The Missoni brand began to grow, slowly building up their knitwear factory into the internationally renowned fashion house that it is today. Working hard throughout the ‘50s & ‘60s they built up a reputation in Europe and then their breakthrough in the American market came in 1969. Diana Vreeland, the fashion legend and then editor of American Vogue, enthused about the brand so much that copious press coverage and meetings with prestigious buyers followed.
In November 1973 The New York Times declared "Missoni’s knitted clothes have become international status symbols, like Vuitton bags and Gucci shoes." In 1978 the first men’s collection showed and the first Missoni fragrance was launched in 1982. The Missoni pattern was being applied to almost everything, from bikinis to candles, and commissions were undertaken to imbue Fiat and Mazda cars with the Missoni sensibility.
"Missoni stands out as the most important and influential name in knits today… The work of this Italy-based couple, with its electrifying colours, dramatic designs, juxtaposition of yarns, weaves and weights, have lent a new dimensions to knits the world over." The Guardian, Jackie Modlinger, September 1973 (The World of Missoni).
The Missoni Home label was officially launched in 1983 and has grown into one of the most successful fashion led luxury homeware brands available today. Credited as one of the first brands to take the catwalk**** to couch leap, Missoni have proven that fashion is as important for the home as it is for the runway. Rosita now sits at the helm of the Missoni Home label after handing over the reins of the family business to her children and grandchildren. She runs the home collections with a talented creative team that include her niece Wanda Jelmini (Creative Director at T& J Vestor) and nephew Giorgio Jelmini, who heads production and logistics at T&J Vestor as Operations Manager.
"Fashion is ephemeral and this is its great charm. Home is long-lasting like elegance." Rosita Missoni (AMARA Editorial 2015).
Producing designs to dress every area of the house from the bedroom to the bathroom, Missoni Home’s collection is much like the fashion line with bright and bold colours and patterns. The most successful and famous icons from the Missoni range have simply been transferred from fashion to the home, on suitable fabrics and in an ever expanding range of products. Each season new items are brought into the collection, but always with the same method of taking a motif-whether derived from a special knitting technique, such as space dyed or zigzag knits, or from one of the prints of the collections’ long career of hits- and transforming it, translating it, into the language of home styling. Missoni understand that home accessories have their own needs, in terms of technique, colour ranges and materials.
All textiles used in the Missoni Home by T&J Vestor collections are always of very high quality, as is the workmanship. The collections feature a wide array of artistic fabrics such as, tulles, distressed macramés, soft velvets, wool blends plus the knitwear elements and many more, there is also the high-performance fabrics used in a series of quality outdoor furnishing collections. T&J Vestor’s creative skill and allegiance to quality sourcing found in the local Italian artisans and suppliers ensure that the high quality furniture and accessories collection is forever expanding in the right direction.
Beautifully bright and full of a vibrancy that will always be associated with the Missoni brand, the continued metamorphosis of colour and pattern is seen in every part of the home collection, from the range of candles to the fine ceramics including a tableware line with exclusive partner Richard Ginori.
Throughout the decades of style Missoni have worked hard to ensure that their designs stay true to their ethos and keep at the forefront of fashion. From the original tracksuits and beachside kimonos, to the extensive home accessories range such as cushions & rugs, the designs themselves have become icons in their own right.