Photos courtesy Nordstrom
Touring the Italian Style exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts with Ottavio Missoni Jr.—grandson and namesake of the founder of one of Italy’s most recognizable fashion brands—is akin to what I imagine it would be like to walk through the White House with Sasha and Malia. “I wore that sweater in a photo shoot eight years ago!” noted Missoni, director of U.S sales for his family's company, pointing to a 1974 Missoni sweater in a glass case. He snapped iPhone photos of other pieces less familiar, and posted to Instagram a quote on the museum wall by his grandfather, Ottavio Missoni.
From the Italian Style exhibit at Minneapolis Institute of Arts.
It’s been a tumultuous couple of years for the Missoni family—in January, 2013, a plane carrying Ottavio Jr.’s parents, Vittorio Missioni (who was CEO of the company) and Maurizia Castiglioni, went missing over Venezuela. The wreckage was found five months later. In the midst of the search, Ottavio Missoni—father, grandfather, and founder of the fashion house, died at the age of 92. Several family members remain in the business, but increasingly, Ottavio Missoni Jr, the oldest of three brothers, is becoming the face of the brand–and a better face, no brand could find: he stands 6 foot 6, with perfectly slicked dark hair, and a hint of stuble on an angular jaw made for magazines.
Missoni chats with guests at Nordstrom Mall of America.
Missoni lives in Italy but now travels to the U.S. every few months. He made his first trip to Minneapolis on behalf of Nordstrom, which flew in a small group of devoted Missoni customers (imagine making that list!) to tour the MIA exhibit with the fashion heir himself. Later in the day, Missoni greeted shoppers in the designer department at Nordstrom Mall of America. Before the event, the two of us found a couple of plush chairs near the fitting rooms and chatted about fashion, shopping, and being a Missoni.
Do you ever want to just wear solid colors?
You need to be self confident to wear pattern. When I was teenager, I always asked my father to buy me Gap, Tommy Hilfiger, Abercrombie & Fitch when he was in America. Now I wear mostly Missoni and some other Italian brands. I did buy three pair of jeans today at Nordstrom. I have no time to shop and I really needed jeans.
Favorite Missoni look?
I love knit jackets (gesturing to the one he’s wearing, in shades of blue and purple). They’re our best seller for men.
Was it always assumed you’d work in the family business?
I actually wanted to be a professional basketball player. But when I was 24, 25, I started getting involved with the company. I always studied to be in business, never in fashion. I don’t even know how to make a sketch.
Your grandfather didn't teach you?
I grew up playing with yarn and fabric, it always fascinated me . . . but I wanted to play basketball. (He counts Italian NBA player Marco Belinelli of the San Antonio spurs as a pal.)
Why do you think the Missoni brand is so enduring?
Heritage is something people want to believe in. I think that heritage was reflected well in the (MIA) exhibit. In our archives, we have thousands and thousands of sketches like the ones in the exhibit. Everything is done by hand. My grandfather drew with colored pencils or paint and then dyed yarn to match. We still do it this way, 60 years later.
Do you foresee more collaborations like the wildly successful one you did a couple of years ago with Target?
You can only do something like that once. We’re looking at opportunities outside the U.S.—China, and India.
Italian Style at MIA runs through January 4. Get tickets and details.
Missoni's impressions of Mall of America (and where he ate lunch!), here.