How art shaped the Missoni brand

A new retrospective exhibition explores how art and fashion are closely intertwined in the identity of great Italian fashion house Missoni.

A brand is a complex being. How do you tell its story, and illuminate its identity? Missoni has decided to answer that with an art retrospective that delves deeply into the brand’s rich history, providing insightful glimpses into one of the world’s most iconic brands.  This is an exhibition all about roots, re-telling the story of a family-run business that started in a small basement in Gallarate, near Milan, where Missoni first opened in 1953.

This retrospective goes back to where it all started and is on show at the MA*GA, Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Gallarate in northern Italy, until 8 November 2015. Titled "Missoni, L’arte, Il colore", it charts Missoni’s meteoric rise to fashion powerhouse, tracking the references and influences that have come to define it as one of the most artistically charged brands on the global scene. The exhibition perfectly conveys the brand’s core values and the dualism that underpins the Missoni philosophy: craft, quality and authenticity effortlessly married with innovation, fantasy and creativity.
The show is an inevitable stage of light and colour, a scenography conceived to frame an intimate narrative showcasing works by Ottavio Missoni, founder of the company with his wife, Rosita, affectionately known as “Maestro del Colore” (master of colour). The show presents a selection of works from the family’s vast collection as well as loans from museums — including artists such as Sonia Delaunay, Gino Severini, Osvaldo Licini, Bruno Munari, Vasilij Kandinskij, Fausto Melotti and Lucio Fontana — in dialogue with key clothing pieces from the brand’s archive.
Rosita Missoni, matriarch of the Missoni family, opened the exhibition on 19 April.
The first section of the exhibition, titled "Roots", sheds light on the origins of Ottavio and Rosita Missoni’s research, their initial resources and sources of inspiration in the fields of visual arts and fashion. Pictured here are artworks by 20th-century artists, including "Iridescent Interpenetration" by Italian Futurist painter Giacomo Balla (above).
The artworks on show were typical of the avant-garde art movements springing up in Europe, which influenced and inspired the Missonis. These include the lyrical abstract art of Sonia Delaunay, Kandinsky and Klee, the dynamic Futurism of Balla and Severini, and geometric sculpture and abstract art such as "Ritmo" by painter Osvaldo Licini (above).
Artworks such as Josef Albers' famous "Homage to the Square" (above) series informed the Missonis' use of colour and pattern. They developed an expressive language based on the rhythmic composition of shapes and colours used with purity.
The "Dialogues" section of the exhibition documents the relationship between the Missonis and Italian visual culture between the 1950s and 80s. This abstract design is by Ottavio.
An extensive selection of works by both Ottavio and Italian artists are on show, some of which come from the MA*GA collection. The references and the persisting and varying motifs can be seen again in piece after piece, such as this graphic composition by Angelo Bozzola.
The parallels between Missoni's textured knitwear patterns and optical artworks such as Piero Dorazio's "Serpente" (above) are marked. Dorazio was among the great masters of Italian abstract art from the post Second World War period, who heavily influenced the fashion house's aesthetic.
The Missonis looked to the way artists such as Nino di Salvatore broke down visual perception into colour and pattern.
The "Tapestries" section of the exhibition displays a series of large eye-boggling pieces made with knitted patchwork by Ottavio. He chose tapestry as his sole technique for artistic expression from the 1970s onwards.
Study for a tapestry by Ottavio. The art form offered him a unique way to concentrate his unlimited and wide-ranging interests in material and colour in both fashion and in art.

For more on the exhibition, visit Missoni's coverage here.

Watch the Trailer with Rosita Missoni