The Missoni brand is instantly recognizable for its signature wiggly, eye-dazzling zigzag knits—not just on its clothes, but also on bed linens and home fabrics. But this storied brand has expanded past textiles: There are Missoni fragrances; you can check into Hotel Missoni locations located from Turkey to Brazil; and you can even ride a Missoni bike.
But at its heart—despite the proliferation of product—what this brand is really about, is family. When you’re a Missoni, you are to-the-knitting-needle born. This is not a starchy, tailored bunch. To belong, you must be comfortable swathed in stretchy sweatering. The look varies from snuggly to sheer, earthy to near-neon, with mismatched mixtures of stripes, geometrics, and florals.
How the company got here is largely a family story. Ottavio “Tai” Missoni, the son of an Italian sea captain and a countess, was born in Dubrovnik, Croatia, in 1921. After World War II, he earned a place on the 1948 Italian Olympic track team. There he debuted his first wearable creation—the woolen tracksuits worn by the team. At the Games in London, he met future wife Rosita, who was from a family of shawl makers in Lombardy. The couple set up a knitwear shop near Rosita’s village in 1953. A few years after their first show (in Milan), the Missonis repurposed a machine used to knit shawls and created light, airy knit dresses. Wacky-hatted fashionista Anna Piaggi championed Missoni as possessing an “haute bohème” look.
In 1967, showing at Florence’s Pitti Palace, Rosita noticed that the models’ bras were the wrong color under their lamé blouses. She had them ditch the skivvies, not realizing that the runway lights rendered the tops completely transparent. Nowadays, anything goes—but back then, shocked exhibition directors compared the show to the notorious Crazy Horse cabaret. The Missonis were not invited back.
In addition to building a reputation, Tai and Rosita were building a family: children Vittorio, Luca, and Angela, all of whom grew up to become part of the family business.
The Missonis were revered by fashion’s boldface names. Fashion editor and icon Diana Vreeland became their fairy godmother in the U.S. In 1970, Marvin Traub opened the first U.S. Missoni boutique at Bloomingdale’s in New York. By 1973, when their first linens collection was sold, Missoni was in the collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the designers collaborated on costumes for an opera at Milan’s La Scala.
The third generation of the Missoni family is now involved in the brand. Angela’s daughter Margherita models and designs accessories for the company, as well as serving as unofficial muse and the face of the Target collection and the two perfumes.
In September, the Missoni for Target collection blew out the retailer’s website the day it launched, much to the consternation of bloggers and would-be shoppers. Aside from the zig-alicious bike (publicly Twitter-coveted by Jessica Alba), many pieces cost $40 or less, leading to a mad resale rush. One woman even listed her Target/Missoni boots on eBay for $31,000—though overstated, a true testament to Missoni’s unmistakable cachet.
(Photo by Contour/Getty Images)