Cut from the same cloth: the pioneering fashion family inspired by art’s great innovators

In the majestic setting of Milan’s Palazzo Clerici, three generations of women from the Missoni fashion dynasty choose their favourite lots — Boetti, Kandinsky and De Chirico among them — from Christie’s upcoming 20th/21st Century online auctions

Margherita Missoni, Angela Missoni and Rosita Missoni at Christie's in Milan

Margherita, Angela and Rosita Missoni at Palazzo Clerici in Milan. Photo: Martina Giammaria

Rosita Missoni is standing before a rather unusual Giorgio de Chirico in the Sala del Tiepolo in Milan’s Palazzo Clerici. A departure from the artist’s metaphysical town squares, Paese (La certosa)  is a landscape painted in subtle, swirling hues. ‘It’s very soft and dreamlike,’ says Rosita of the 1931-32 canvas. ‘It also chimes with my love of nature.’

The 91-year-old co-founder of Missoni, the Italian fashion house known for its jubilant colours and zig-zag knits, has lived surrounded by nature for more than 50 years. ‘My garden is full of colour,’ she says. ‘Tai and I wanted space and we found it here.’

Rosita is referring to her late husband, Ottavio Missoni, and the two-storey villa they built in 1971 in Sumirago, a small town at the foot of Italy’s Lombard Alps, some 30 miles northwest of Milan. It was here, just a stone’s throw from the Missoni factory, that the couple raised their three children, Vittorio, Luca and Angela.

‘Even in the Seventies, she was decorating the house with the fabrics used for Missoni clothes,’ recalls Angela, 63, who was the creative director of Missoni until last year (she is still the company’s president). ‘That’s kind of how the Home collection was born.’

Missoni Home, for which Rosita continues to serve as creative director, offers everything from textiles and rugs to furniture and lighting in the brand’s signature colours and patchwork prints. ‘Taking on Missoni Home in the mid-Nineties gave my mother a second creative life,’ says Angela. ‘She’s always loved to decorate the house and create spaces where everyone feels good when they enter.’

Today Rosita’s Lombardy home is filled with all kinds of objects and paintings, accumulated over a lifetime. ‘If I fall in love with something I buy it,’ she says with a twinkle in her eye. In addition to copious flowers, trinkets and layered, patterned fabrics, there are artworks by De Chirico, Sonia Delaunay, Jacques-Henri Lartigue and Alighiero Boetti, among others.

‘Boetti’s use of colour is very modern,’ she says, gesturing to the artist’s Sciogliersi come neve al sole (Melting Like Snow in the Sun), offered in Christie’s 20th/21st Century: Milan Online Sale Part I (25 May-8 June). ‘I like the geometry and the fact that it’s embroidered.’

Born in the Italian industrial city of Turin in 1940, Boetti came to prominence as part of the Arte Povera movement in the late 1960s. He is perhaps best known today, however, for his colourful Arazzi, Mappe and other tapestry series, made by embroiderers in Afghanistan.

Boetti’s play with materials, it transpires, also appeals to Margherita Maccapani Missoni, Angela’s 39-year-old eldest child and the former creative director of Missoni’s diffusion line, M Missoni.

‘I grew up with Boetti at home, and love the fact that he blurred the line between arts and crafts,’ she says, while handling the artist’s Segno e disegno (Sign and Drawing), circa 1979. ‘I like that this one is black and white, which is something I’m less used to seeing with Boetti, and that there’s a big “O” in the middle.’

Talk turns to the Bulgarian-born artist Christo and his large-scale, site-specific installations and buildings wrapped in fabric. ‘I’ve spent much of my life working with fabrics,’ says Rosita. ‘So I really like it when artists create something unexpected out of material.’

Included in the online sale is a preparatory study (below) for Wrapped Roman Wall (1973-74), a project that saw Christo and his wife and collaborator Jeanne-Claude wrap an 820-foot-long section of Rome’s Aurelian Walls in polypropylene and rope. For Rosita, it offers a fascinating glimpse into Christo’s creative process, notably his experimentation with scale and proportion.

Christo (1935-2020), The Wall (Project for a Wrapped Roman Wall — ‘Porta Pinciana’ delle Mura Aureliane, Via Vittorio Veneto and Villa Borghese), 1974. Pencil, charcoal, fabric, paper collage, thread and staples on cardboard, under Plexiglas. 56.4 x 71.6 cm. Sold for €81,900 on 8 June 2022 at Christie’s Online

The same could be said for Le bal (The Dance) by Leonor Fini, the ferociously independent Argentinian-Italian Surrealist best known for her powerful and eroticised depictions of women.

‘As well as being an amazing painter, she designed costumes and sets,’ says Margherita, gesturing to the 1948 Fini sketch mounted on an easel in Sala del Tiepolo. ‘I’m drawn to the contrast between the realistic — by which I mean the grace of the figurines and their perfect proportions — and the surreal: the figure in the background is an owl-woman. I love how Fini is now having a moment.’

Leonor Fini (1907-1996), Le bal (The Dance), circa 1948. Gouache and ink on paper. 28.4 x 24 cm. Sold for €6,930 on 16 June 2022 at Christie’s Online

Last year Fini’s Autoportrait au scorpion (1938) sold for $2.3 million, setting a new world record for the artist at auction, while this year she’s the subject of a new solo show, Leonor Fini: Italian Fury  (until 25 June 2022), curated by Francesco Vezzoli at Tommaso Calabro in Milan. She also has work in Surrealism and Magic: Enchanted Modernity at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice (until 26 September 2022), and in Cecilia Alemani’s critically acclaimed exhibition, The Milk of Dreams (until 27 November 2022), at the Venice Biennale.

Angela is equally taken by the Fini drawing. ‘In a way, I’m surprised that my mother didn’t choose it too, because Fini is kind of an idol in the world of interior design,’ she says. ‘She had such a strong vision, which is still amazingly fascinating.’

If Fini is renowned for her trailblazing approach to design, so too is Missoni. ‘My parents were innovators and absolutely revolutionary at the time,’ says Angela, explaining how Rosita and Ottavio developed a unique weaving process — using specially adapted Raschel machines — that allowed them to cut and use knits to create any shape of garment. ‘When I took over Missoni, I was always thinking about what I could do to stay ahead.’

Angela credits her eye for creative excellence in part to her mother and in part to her insatiable curiosity. Like Rosita’s, her home is filled with an eclectic mix of pieces, from ceramic deer to crystal vases, that work together in harmony.

‘I have a sensibility which I’ve inherited from my mother and which I think my daughter has inherited from me,’ she says, smiling at Margherita. ‘It’s all about balancing colours, shapes, proportions and materials spontaneously.’

It’s a skill Angela has refined over time by going to flea markets, junk shops and auctions. ‘I’m never looking for anything in particular,’ she says. ‘I just expect to be surprised.’

Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944), Dessin pour Allégresse (Drawing for Cheerfulness), 1939. India ink on paper. 15.5 x 21.6 cm

The geometric and colourful works of Italian Futurists such as Giacomo Balla, Getulio Alviani and Gino Severini have long been a source of inspiration, as has the pioneering vision of Enrico Castellani, who rose to fame with his monochromatic reliefs in the early 1960s. (He made these by driving nails into the underlying frames of his canvases at varying depths, then painting on top in a single colour.)

‘The fact that he was able to create shades without the use of pure colour has always fascinated me,’ says Angela, admiring Castellani’s 1995 work Superficie bianca. ‘It was very progressive at the time.’

Wassily Kandinsky is another artist to have captured her imagination. ‘He was born in the late 19th century, but the forms here look so fresh,’ she says, gesturing to Dessin pour Allégresse  from 1939. ‘It looks as though it could have been made yesterday.’

Rosita Missoni, Angela Missoni and Margherita Missoni at Christie's Milan

Rosita, Angela and Margherita on the staircase at Palazzo Clerici in Milan. Photo: Martina Giammaria

As a third-generation Missoni, Margherita was immersed in the world of fashion and interiors from an early age. ‘Growing up, I spent a lot of time with both my mother and my grandmother at flea markets,’ she recalls. ‘I learnt to look at what they were looking at or what they were choosing. It was a great education.’

Spirited family get-togethers were also influential. ‘My grandparents used to host big Sunday lunches with friends who worked as stylists, hairdressers, designers, journalists and architects,’ she adds. ‘Being exposed to that kind of creative variety was instrumental in shaping the person that I am today.’

When it comes to her own interiors, Margherita strongly believes in blending antique and contemporary elements. ‘I’m a great supporter of pre-loved, pre-used items, whether it’s clothing, jewellery or art,’ she says. ‘They just need to speak to me on different levels.’

Alberto Savinio, La Foret dans l'appartement, painted in 1930

Alberto Savinio (1891-1952), La forêt dans l’appartement (The Forest in the Apartment), 1930. Oil on canvas. 81 x 65 cm. Sold for €113,400 on 8 June 2022 at Christie’s Online

Alberto Savinio’s La forêt dans l’appartement (1930) is one such work. ‘I grew up knowing Savinio because my grandparents have a painting by him at home,’ she says. ‘I always overheard them saying that it was the most beautiful painting they had.’ 

But she’s also drawn to his striking use of colour. ‘I love how the blues, pinks and greens emerge from this dark, brooding background,’ she says. ‘The composition makes no sense, but that’s what lures you in.’

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The Missonis’ love of colour is as clear-cut as their tight-knit family bond. ‘We still spend a lot of weekends together at home, or going to markets,’ Margherita says. ‘And now we take my children, too, which they love.’ 

As for working with her family, she says with a laugh: ‘It was a great experience, but I’d much rather go to flea markets and auctions with them.’

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