When Angela Missoni was pregnant with her third child, Theresa (now 23), she told her father Tai she couldn’t go on working for the fashion dynasty he’d founded. ‘I said to my father I’d vomit if I saw another dress and that I didn’t want to work in fashion one moment more. And he said, maybe it’s the pregnancy making you sick, not the dresses?’ Until that moment, Angela had been working for ‘pocket money’ for her mother, Rosita, who was then creative director, at the factory near their home in Varese outside Milan. ‘I often went to my father for advice. He knew how strong my mother was, and understood I needed to start designing alone, to understand Missoni on my own terms.’ Missoni, her father reassured her, was ‘a big hat’, as though she could pull from it some magic of her own creation.
She took up the challenge, starting with accessories, then launching Missoni childrenswear and her eponymous knitwear collection. This year, Missoni celebrates its 60th anniversary.
‘And after five or six seasons with my own designs, my mother told me I was taking Missoni in the direction she wanted it to go, and that she loved my designs,’ Angela says proudly, when I meet her in the Cadogan hotel in Knightsbridge. She took over from Rosita as creative director in 1998, her runway collection bringing a fresh injection of energy to the label that had embodied bohemian lux since Tai and Rosita first set up a knitwear workshop in 1953. Tai sadly died last month, at the great age of 92. It was the second loss to the family in a short time, after her brother Vittorio and his wife were in a plane crash off the coast of Venezuela at the start of the year, and are, tragically, presumed dead.
The allure of Missoni has always been one of barefoot Mediterranean glamour, and while that derives from the clothes, of course, they arguably play second fiddle to the magnetism of the family itself. This wasn’t an accident, because when Tai invented that famous textured zigzag, he deliberately created a business that would allow him and Rosita to exercise their talents for art and fashion respectively, but without compromising their family life. Tai Missoni was, says Angela, ‘an artist first of all’, so building a factory within walking distance of their home meant there was a seamless division between work and family. ‘My father turned down orders so he could keep life pleasant. I remember him saying to my mother, why do you want to work more, to earn more money, if you don’t have time to spend it? That was a unique vision. That sense of Missoni as something real and relaxed is important.’
As a child, Angela did her homework beside her parents as they designed in the factory, watching dresses being created, and a generation later her own children — Margherita, Francesco and Teresa — were to do the same. ‘It’s how we are. We’re all involved with the business.’ Rosita lives nearby, and Angela is five minutes away, in a house with a view of the Alps. Teresa and her husband are building a house in Varese. ‘All my children have been away, but now they are coming back,’ she says. Angela still works with her mother, who is now in charge of the home collection; and right up to his death her father continued to help her design fabrics — he called it his ‘homework’.
Living and working together, the Missonis might seem like the archetypical Italian family, but they’ve always been unconventional, from the moment Rosita caused outrage by making her models go bra-less when they showed at the Pitti Palace in 1967. They weren’t invited back, but earned a place in fashion history. Her parents, Angela tells me, were not just designers but ‘inventors of a style, which is very rare in fashion, and especially one that has lasted’, and they invented Italian pret-à-porter and the Milano collezione. ‘My father was logical and didn’t want to go to Florence to show,’ explains Angela. Their colour-drenched, multi-textured clothes heralded a new era of stylish informality. ‘Clothes and textiles were in my DNA. We were around fashion and shoots all the time,’ says Angela. ‘Besides it was safer for my mother to take me on a shoot to New York or Paris or London than leave me alone as a teenager!’
Angela’s momentary disenchantment with this world, when pregnant with Teresa, is important, because it’s characteristic of a woman who clearly lives life on her own terms. ‘First of all I want to be an independent woman,’ she says, referring to the fact that she cuts her own hair, but it could just as well be her philosophy for life. Her marriage, at 23, to Marco Maccapania ended after seven years, but produced her children, and for two decades she’s enjoyed a devoted relationship with textile entrepreneur Bruno Regazzi, whom she had first met aged 14. Bruno, who has three grown-up children, keeps his own house on Lake Como. ‘We carry our toothbrushes between the houses, so then I can buy as much art as I like for my house.’
And she likes to keep her family close, by which she means ‘all the closest people in my life’. Maccapania’s mother still spends Christmas with her. ‘My mother-in-law — I call her that as I only married once — she wouldn’t think it was Christmas if she didn’t come to my parents’ house.’
As a young mother in her early twenties, before she really got to grips with fashion, Angela ran a children’s playschool in Varese and kept an organic chicken farm. ‘That was 30 years ago. It would have been good business if I’d kept that going, no?’ she jokes. But being born a Missoni, she says, has given her a ‘genetic sensibility’ for fashion. Dressed in black and gold zigzags, a mane of dark hair swept over her shoulders, she looks utterly at home on Sloane Street, surrounded by the trappings of high fashion — the handbags in Perspex boxes guarded by bouncers in the silent stores along the street.
She’s also a natural ambassador for this relaxed family brand, warm and deeply feminine, and it’s easy to picture her as the bosomy Italian mamma on holiday with her children in Sardinia every summer. ‘We always have a birthday party for Teresa for about 100 people, and I do everything.’ Organise caterers and florists, I venture? She looks shocked. ‘No! Actually cooking all the dishes and setting flowers on the tables. I like to prove to myself that I can organise it all.’
Angela is now 54, just five years younger than Rosita was when she handed the creative reins over to her. In her eldest daughter, Margherita, Angela has a natural heir, one who has brought Missoni to a younger audience. ‘I pushed for Margherita to take on the role of ambassador. She’s working under my supervision, and I’ve given her Accessories.’
Until she hands over completely, she says her biggest challenge is to modernise the production side of the company. ‘My aim is to leave a company to the next generation that is modern,’ she tells me. ‘It’s a big responsibility. But our private life, it is very, very important too. You go home from work, but home is a priority, and always to try to be happy. To try to be happy — that is through your personal life, not through your success.’
Photo: Olycom SPA/Rex features