Remembering Ottavio "Tai" Missoni
Today, we are saddened by the news that Missoni founder Ottavio (“Tai”) Missoni passed away at the age of 92. It was just a few short months ago that InStyle caught up with the Missoni family at their hilltop home in Northern Italy for our September 2012 issue, which is where we truly observed how the family operated as tightly as their multihued threads. Above, Tai sits front and center, surrounded by his children and grandchildren, including (from left) grandson Giacomo, son Vittorio, granddaughter Margherita, son Luca, daughter Angela, wife Rosita, grandson Ottavio Junior, and granddaughter Teresa. Remember Tai’s lasting legacy, the man who made zigzags synonymous with his Missoni name, by reading an excerpt from the story that gave us closer look into the fashion visionary's world.
Editor’s Note: The following is excerpted from “The Missonis at Home in Italy: It’s a Family Affair” by Hal Rubenstein, which originally appeared in InStyle’s September 2012 issue.
As if being happily entwined in marriage weren't enough, Ottavio (who goes by Tai) and Rosita Missoni decided in the 1950s to weave together their fashion skills and start a retail company. He made knitwear, while her family excelled at embroidery. Milan would have been the natural choice for their offices, but Tai had other ideas. "If I was going to make beautiful clothing," he recalls, "I wanted to work somewhere surrounded by beauty. Everyone said, 'Don't worry, you can be inspired when you go to the country on the weekends.' But I wanted to be inspired every day."
Tai and Rosita decided to establish the first Missoni factory in the hillside town of Sumirago, an hour northwest of Milan and not far from where Rosita was born. A few years later, Tai said to Rosita, "You are so happy here. Why don't we live here permanently as well?" And so they built a home within walking distance of the factory, in the shadow of Monte Rosa, a mountain that truly appears to be pink in the morning light. "You wake up, and the first thing you see is that landscape—it's so invigorating," says Rosita, whose captivating charm, energy, and acuity at 81 make you wonder if they aren't hiding a fountain of youth on the verdant, pastoral property. "You should see the sunsets here," she continues. "So incredibly colorful."
If any bond is tighter and more intricate than the multihued threads of a Missoni sweater, it is the clan's sense of family. "It's not that we didn't have friends when we were kids," recalls grandson Giacomo. "But I just enjoyed being with my brother and cousins so much that friends weren't that necessary." Adds Margherita, one of the third generation of Missonis and an integral part of the current design team, "Grandma made us believe this house was magical. I would write her letters covered in kisses, and she planted them beneath a gorgeous dog-wood tree. To this day, when it blooms in spring, I call it the Kissing Tree." Giacomo's brother Ottavio Junior echoes similar sentiments. "Grandma and Grandpa created this haven where we were always welcome and respected," he says. "Luckily, we were smart enough not to take it for granted."
Athletics were fundamental to the family's very origin. Rosita first spotted Tai while she was rooting for the Italian track team at the 1948 London Olympics. "Tai ran the 400-meter hurdles and won his heat," she recalls. "He was so handsome. A mutual friend set us up to meet in Piccadilly Circus under the statue of Eros." After they were married, Tai introduced the spirit of the games to the rest of the Missonis. "Every summer we would hold a family Olympics," Giacomo says. "But it was never about winning. What he wanted us to do was never be afraid to take chances. And he wanted us to always remember to cheer each other on."
Though they've outgrown such competition, Rosita, who now heads Missoni's home and hotel division, makes sure that living in the shadow of Monte Rosa stays as vibrant, challenging, and colorful as the family's iconic name implies. "To always remain curious is the most important thing in life," she says. "That, and making sure someone you love is no farther away than the next room."