Furniture Design: How did it change?
We had no responsibility in the beginning,” Rosita Missoni remembers, her tone leaving it uncertain whether she thinks those times better than these. She is watching her husband Tai, who is at the other end of the long dining table in their home on the family compound at Sumirago, Italy, playing with the couple’s first grandchild, Marguerite.
“Much of the business is being taken over by machines,” she continues, as if musing about the passing of the horse-drawn cart. But, regaining her focus, “the creative part of it is still in our hands.”
Over the past 30 years, Tai and Rosita Missoni–Italian fashion’s George and Martha Washington–have seen their knitwear business grow from five workers and three hand looms to a $30-million-a-year business. Now, they have responsibility.
Creativity is still in our hands
In the beginning it was something else altogether. The Missoni story reads like the most hopelessly romantic Harlequin novel. Ottovio (Tai, for short and for always) was born the son of a sea captain and a Dalmatian countess. He fought in the great battle of El Alamein during World War II, and was captured and kept in an internment camp until the end of the war. Ever the athlete, Tai placed first in Italy in the 400 meters hurdles race and went on to the London Olympics of 1948, where he placed as a finalist. It was during the games that Tai met Rosita, an Italian studying in London. They were married five years later.
Somewhere in all of this hazy romanticism, they began to produce knitwear. Tai Missoni had begun his fashion career producing wool track suits and athletic uniforms, and he even outfitted the Italian light athletes, football and basketball squads for the London Olympics. With his marriage to Rosita, the focus changed to women’s knitwear.
But all that was in the beginning. And even though Tai and Rosita may look backwards with fondness at those early years, they are calculatedly taking their company into the computer age. Video and computer technology are next.
As a harbinger of things to come, their spring/summer women’s collection shown in Milan in October treated press and retailers to a look at the future: From behind a backdrop with the Missoni name carved out, a bank of 50 video monitors projected blowups of the fabric being shown on the runway.
Luca, the couple’s 27-year-old son, is the Missoni’s master of computer wizardry. “Years ago, it took at least three days to try a design,” Luca explains, warming up his terminals and video monitors in one of the factory’s design studios. “Now we can program a design into the computer, and the tape can be read by the looms. You get instant design and it is easy to make a modification.”
Luca demonstrates with a pattern from the current collection, changing colors and even drawing new patterns simultaneously on top of the old. Luca becomes totally immersed in his gadgetry and mumbles to himself, “maybe it’s better with more blue.”