Ottavio Missoni, who together with his wife founded the eponymous Italian fashion house famous for its geometrical patterns and colourful knitwear, has died aged 92.
Missoni, nicknamed Tai, was born in what is now Dubrovnik, in the Kingdom of Yugoslavia, the son of a sea captain and an Austrian countess. He was a student world athletics champion but when war broke out he found himself an infantryman, and was held a British prisoner of war for four years after fighting at El Alamein.
After the war he was an Italian athletics champion and finished sixth in the 400 metres hurdles in the 1948 Olympic Games in London. He also designed the team’s outfits.
While in England, he met his future wife Rosita Jelmini, whose family had a small scarf and fabric business in the town of Golasecca, near Varese. Ottavio fell for her and when she invited him to her 17th birthday party a few months later he showed up with a card on which he had drawn a picture of the two of them surrounded by children and grandchildren. It was, he said, a picture of them in 2048.
Reality wasn’t too different. The couple married in 1953 and soon founded the Missoni knitwear company.
The firm’s first collection was presented in Milan in 1958, but it wasn’t until the 1970s that Missoni became one of the world’s best-known fashion brands and a synonym for Italian excellence. It became known for its colourful patterns, often based on Aztec or modernist designs, and some of its creations are permanently shown at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In the 1990s, Ottavio and Rosita left the day-to-day management of the family business to their three children, Vittorio, Angela and Luca, who went on to expand the brand internationally, adding a hotel chain and perfume collection.
Today, the company is still managed by the family, with second-gens Angela and Luca working as creative director and design director respectively. A number of grandchildren are also involved in the business.
Earlier this year, the family was hit by tragedy when the Missonis’ eldest son Vittorio, who served as the company’s general director, disappeared off the coast of Venezuela in January, after the small plane he was travelling on with his wife and two other people vanished. His body has never been found.
Ottavio died “peacefully” on 9 May at his home in Sumirago, near Varese, the company said in a statement, a week after being admitted to the hospital for heart failure and respiratory problems.