Ottavio Missoni, Italian (1921 - 2013)

Ottavio Missoni

Missoni is an Italian fashion house based in Varese. It is famous for its unique knitwear, made from a variety of fabrics in colourful patterns. The company was founded by Ottavio ("Tai") and Rosita Missoni in 1953.

Tai Missoni was born in 1921 in Dubrovnik, then part of the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats, and Slovenes and formerly known as Ragusa. His father, Vittorio Missoni, was an Italian sea captain (and son of a Friulano magistrate transferred in the then Austrian- ruled Dalmatia) and his mother, Teresa de' Vidovich Countess di Capocesto e Ragosniza, was a dalmatian-Italian noblewoman. Before WWII he was an international athlete, but spent most of the war as a POW in Egypt. After the war he set up a workshop with his friend Giorgio Oberweger, making wool track-suits. His "Venjulia" tracksuits were adopted by the Italian team at the 1948 Olympics in London, and Tai himself qualified for the final of the 400m hurdle race. At Wembley he met Rosita Jelmini, daughter of a family of shawl makers in Golasecca in the province of Varese.

They married in April 1953, and set up a small knitwear workshop in Gallarate, not far from Rosita's home village. In 1958 they presented in Milan their first collection, called Milano-Simpathy, which was the first to bear the Missoni label. The business prospered, with the support of legendary editor Anna Piaggi, then at Arianna. On a trip to New York, Rosita met the French stylist Emmanuelle Khanh in 1965, which led to a collaboration and a radical new collection the following year. Their fame was assured in April 1967, when they were invited to show at the Pitti Palace in Florence. Rosita told the models to remove their bras, supposedly because they were the wrong colour and showed through the thin lamé blouses. The material became transparent under the lights and caused a sensation. The Missonis were not invited back the following year, but the business went from strength to strength, building a new factory in Sumirago in 1969. With their designs being championed in the US by Diana Vreeland, editor of Vogue magazine, they opened their first boutique there, inside Bloomingdales.

The early 1970s saw Missoni reach the peak of their influence in the fashion world. Tai Missoni then became more interested in other projects, everything from designing costumes for La Scala, to designing carpets and tapestries. Rosita has admitted that in the 1990s she lost interest in fashion, before handing over to her daughter Angela in 1998. Rosita now is responsible for overseeing the design of all home projects.

Ottavio Missoni was Sindaco (Mayor) of Libero Comune di Zara in Esilio (Free Commune of Zadar in Exile)

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