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Missoni Art Colour

The Making Of Missoni

Founded by Ottavio and Rosita Missoni in the north Italian city of Gallarate in 1953, very quickly the newlyweds had established a unique lexicon that still guides the Missoni brand to this day. Indeed, there can be no mistaking those knitted stripes - solid, zigzag, chevron - in their ever-more spectacular colour combinations; a sartorial burst of Italian sunshine.

Celebrating the brand - its heritage as well as its future - is Missoni Art Colour, an exhibition first shown at the MA*GA museum in Gallarate but now hosted by London's Fashion and Textile Museum. A veritable feast for the eyes, the exhibition sees a selection of looks from the Missoni archive, as well as previously unseen textile studies and patchworks of knitted fabrics, set against the backdrop of the contemporary artwork – including works by Gino Severini, Lucio Fontana and Sonia Delaunay - that inspired and continue to inspire the Missoni family. We caught up with Luca Missoni, Ottavio and Rosita’s son and co-curator of the exhibition, to find out more…

On what to expect of Missoni Art Colour…
“Practically, the exhibition showcases Modern and Futurist Art, from both Italy and the rest of Europe, displayed in this type of museum for the first time. It also includes some of my father’s artworks from the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, when there was a quite a strong movement in Italy, and it’s almost as though he became a part of that movement. My mother, meanwhile, was translating this into fashion, so it’s interesting to see the direct relationship between the contemporary art movement and the development of Missoni textiles.”

On deciding which pieces from the archive to show in the exhibition…
“The archive is very extensive! It’s been a focus of ours for about 10 years. We have many pieces, some from as far back as the early ‘60s, and even as far back as 1958. The pieces we chose for the exhibition, though, are not specifically related to any of the artworks - the fashion is not displayed chronologically – it is a body of work that demonstrates the dialogue between art and Missoni design, from its conception through to modern day in terms of content and language.”

On his favourite artworks in the exhibition…
“Most of the artworks come from the MA*GA museum or are on loan from other galleries in Italy but there are a few pieces from my parents’ private collection. In fact, there are a two pieces that my parents gave to each other as special anniversary presents, one of which is a Gino Severini ballerina.”

On bringing the show to London…
“London has a particular resonance because it’s where my parents met for the first time in 1948. My father was here for the Olympics and my mother was studying English and they met because she went to Wembley Stadium with her school to see the 400m heat that my father was running in. My mother’s roommate at the time was the daughter of the patron of the Italian track and field team, and so a weekend was organised for some of the athletes and students to enjoy a day out in Brighton together. They then had the chance to meet again because my father was running for an athlete’s scheme in Gallarate, which was about 10 miles from where my mother was living, and they were married in 1953.”

On the development of the signature Missoni knit…
“My parents set up shop in Gallarate in 1953, with my father bringing his knitting machines from Trieste. The wonderful thing about having your own atelier, not only to make the clothes but the textiles too, is that you can see the results right before your eyes; so it allows for a lot of trial and error, seeing what colours and patterns work well together. My father just used to keep trying different things until my mother liked it.”

On the importance of colour to Missoni…
“Colour has always been one of my mother’s passions; she’s always drawn a lot of inspiration from artists – particularly Sonia Delaunay. It’s a very emotive thing, and something that’s integral to Missoni.”

On the concept of ‘Made in Italy’…
“It was very much something that Missoni was a part of, in historic terms. It was almost like a movement in fashion history during the 1970s and we were at the centre of it. It’s something of which we continue to be very proud.”

On describing the Missoni aesthetic in three words…
“From an emotional point of view, I would have to say: passionate, modern and happy.”

Missoni Art Colour is at The Fashion and Textile Museum, London until Sunday 4th September.

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