Ottavio ‘Tai’ Missoni and his wife Rosita have expanded the Missoni brand from its humble beginnings making woollen tracksuits for the Italian Olympic team into the worldwide knitwear hit that it is today. The Missonis are famous for being one of fashion’s closest families and the Missoni empire is run according to family values, with three generations working together. Now led by Ottavio and Rosita’s daughter Angela, Missoni is undoubtedly one of the most recognisable fashion houses in the world, due in no small part to its unique, zigzagging chevron patterns.
Although the brand was founded in 1953 the Missoni family did not create the iconic zigzag until 1962. The famous design came about when the family discovered Raschel knitting machines. Using a technique known as fiammata (the Italian for flames), the Raschel machine creates a knitted fabric with colourful zigzag lines that resemble embroidery, using thousands of tiny, colourful threads to produce the intricate weave.
Rosita Missoni and her family are under no illusion as to how much the Missoni brand has depended on the Raschel machine. She told Scotland on Sunday: ‘We could only do stripes and then we started doing horizontal and vertical and little by little added more complicated stitches, plaids and jacquards…Then we found the Raschel machines that do the zigzag, and that was that.’
By the 70s the Missoni zigzag was at the height of its fame and was much coveted by the fashion crowd. Anna Piaggi and Diana Vreeland were two of its biggest fans, while fashion glossies from around the world fought to put the kaleidoscopic colours of Missoni’s hippy-chic prints on their pages. The brand continued to develop, introducing space-dyed patterns, boiled knits and adjustable drawstrings, but the zigzag remained the most sought-after Missoni design.
The brand continues to go from strength to strength and now offers accessories, swimwear, homeware and fragrances, all adorned with the classic Missoni zigzagging chevrons. Numerous collaborations with names such as Bugaboo, Havaianas and American retailer Target have made the pattern accessible to the wider market, the latter range such a popular seller that it crashed the Target website. The brand even has a series of Missoni hotels, with the interior decorated in – you guessed it – colourful Missoni zigzags.
Margherita Missoni, Ottavio’s granddaughter, recently announced that she is hoping to launch a Missoni line at a lower price point. There is still a huge demand for the zigzag, but what exactly is it about the chevron shapes that makes it such a success? The answer lies in the fact that very little of what Missoni does relies on fashion trends. Rather than experiment with a new look each season, Missoni focuses on its signature style, a mix of bright fun colours, zigzagging chevrons and inherent Italian flair. Designed to be more a work of art than disposable fashion, a Missoni piece is an investment not just for a season, but for a lifetime.