Tancredi (1927-64), Untitled, Oil on canvas, 134 x 164 cm.
Spring/Summer Collection, 1968.
Coat, Autumn/Winter Collection 2002.
Gino Severini (1883-1966), Danseur Classique, c. 1957, Oil on canvas, 71 x 49 cm.
Ottavio Missoni, Design for tapestry, Markers on paper, 29 x 21 cm.
of Modern Italian Art
39a Canonbury Square
+ 44 (0)20 7704 9522
Daring to be Different
July 1-September 20, 2009
A pioneer of aesthetic and technical innovations that forever changed the face of knitwear, Missoni is one of the world’s most recognisable fashion brands, with a style marked by complex combinations of different shades, textures and patterns.
Missoni style has evolved out of a long-standing collaboration between husband and wife team Ottavio and Rosita Missoni. In the late 1940s, Ottavio Missoni established a workshop producing jersey tracksuits also sported by the Italian Athletic Team at the 1948 London Olympics, where Ottavio himself qualified for the final of the 400m hurdle race. While in London, he met Rosita Jelmini, granddaughter of a family of shawl and ladyswear manufacturers from Varese, in northern Italy. After marrying in 1953, they began making knitwear in a small workshop in the basement of their first home in Gallarate before moving, in the late 1960s, to the company’s present site in Sumirago with magnificent views of the Monte Rosa mountains. When Diana Vreeland, celebrated Editor-in-Chief of American Vogue, met the Missonis for the first time in 1969 she found their concept of fashion ‘"ngenious," commenting: "Who said there are only colours, there are shades too!" Following this encounter, Missoni collections, with characteristically bold use of zigzags, stripes and kaleidoscopic colours, began travelling the globe, attracting greater attention and gaining an international audience. Through the years, Ottavio and Rosita’s path has been followed by children Angela, Vittorio, and Luca, who today keep alive the spirit of the Missoni style all over the world.
Workshop Missoni: Daring to be Different, curated by Luca Missoni with the support of the Fondazione Ottavio e Rosita Missoni, is displayed in three galleries, each of which can be viewed independently. Rather than focusing on finished products, the exhibition takes the viewer ‘behind the scenes’ of Missoni, exploring technical working processes involved in producing their fabrics and clothing and revealing their sources of inspiration — including the fine arts.
Drawing on the Missoni collection of modern Italian art, the exhibition also explores less familiar aspects of their artistic activity, inspired both from the natural environment and from Europe’s Modernist era, epitomised by the work of Tancredi, Giacomo Balla and Gino Severini whose dynamic images of dancers reveal close parallels to the geometric patterns of Missoni fabric. The Futurist movement’s assertion that all aspects of life could be elevated from serving a merely functional role to being a vehicle for high artistic aspirations led to their own increasing interest in clothing during the 1920s and ‘30s. It has clear resonances with the aesthetic of Missoni which, in the words of fashion journalist Maria Pezzi (1979), has led to their creation of "museum pieces that can nevertheless be worn."
The work of Sonia Delaunay — a particularly important source of inspiration for Rosita — is also be represented in a number of beautiful works in tempera. The exhibition explores the couple’s ‘extra-curricular’ creative activities, such as Ottavio’s works of collage and patchwork created for their own ends, rather than destined for the catwalk, entitled Nuovi Arazzi (New Tapestries).
The Missoni working process is explored in a collection of drawings and sketches on squared paper by Ottavio for the creation of knitted fabric. Many reveal the origins of specific graphic elements and chromatic compositions stemming from the early 1970s that formed the basis of the unmistakable Missoni style. A personal view of the evolution of this style is included in the form of a collection of photographs and documents chronicling the life work of Ottavio and Rosita over the last five decades. Visitors are able to enjoy The Black and White of Colour, a 30-minute documentary profile produced by Maggie Norden, Director of Creative Media at London College of Fashion, University of the Arts London, which provides an overview of the history of the brand as well as interviews with Ottavio and Rosita at home amid their art collection, and other major figures from the world of fashion such as the Italian fashion writer and style icon Anna Piaggi, artist and fabric designer Kaffe Fassett, and Suzy Menkes, Fashion Editor of International Herald Tribune.
The exhibition also contains Casa di Moda (Fashion House), two video-based works of Ali Kazma, a Turkish artist, concerned with different aspects of the Missoni working process, from conception to realisation. An installation, capturing sounds and noises of the laboratory and Missoni knitting machines, recorded and written for the environmental installation Sinfonia Tessile (Textural Symphony) by composer Pietro Pirelli is also featured. Conceived with a fixed, unmoving camera focusing on a loom working a classic multicoloured stripe, and employees overseeing the process, the film was realized by Luca Missoni during a normal working day in the knitting department and provides a window on methods of production used by the company. Alongside this, large photographs show the laboratory interior, and cutting and sewing rooms, while other photographs document the landscape of the factory exterior, creating the illusion of being within the actual Missoni workshop.
The exhibition spaces are designed in the elegant, striking manner typical of Missoni, divided by columns composed of knitted fringes in vertical white and black stripes, where the visitor finds an ample selection of men’s and women’s garments worn by mannequins, as if on a catwalk. Two monumental mosaic-covered vase sculptures bearing well-known iconographical Missoni elements (stripes and zig-zags) wdominate the garden of Estorick Collection, set for the occasion with colourful Missoni Home outdoor furniture.
Giacomo Balla, Futurist Suit, c. 1918
Cloth, 150 x 60 cm.
Monumental vase covered with glass mosaic, height 300 cm.
Lurex evening dress, Autumn/Winter Collection 1967.