Angela Missoni prepping in the pandemic for next season
Keeping any business alive these days is no easy task, doubly so for a family business like Missoni, whose creative director Angela Missoni is the daughter of the founder.
As Italian lockdown began, Angela quit her airy apartment in Milan, which overlooks the Giardini Pubblici, and went back to home base: a villa in Sumirago, where the family first began manufacturing their beautiful sweaters back in 1969.
Her mother Rosita is close by, as are her two daughters, Margherita and Theresa, and their three grandsons; several other grand nephews; one grand niece and the rest of the clan. All hunkering down, but still very much working.
We caught up with Angela, the single most influential knitwear designer in fashion today, for her take on sheltering through the pandemic, preparing for the next season in September and what we might learn from this unique moment in world history.
“In Italy, I think we invented the idea of smart working before someone else gave it that name. We often have up to 60 people doing home working. And, right now, I have pattern cutters close to hand. After we came back to Sumirago, we spent two weeks working in plant and then, when the order came from the government, we closed it immediately,” said Angela.
She is right now working on the collection she plans to show in September during the Milan's next Fashion Week. Since, the Camera della Moda cancelled the menswear runway season scheduled for June, and like most houses, Missoni expects to present a co-ed show in the fall.
“We speak about the show every day. But it won’t be like before. We need something diverse in September. We expect to stage a show, even if only to 200 people. Frankly, I have no idea how many people will come to Milan. Maybe, we’ll make a video presentation in a theater. By definition, there will have to be social distancing. Look, many Japanese people have been wearing masks for quite a while when they come to Milan, so we’ll all have to get used to that,” she shrugged in a morning WhatsApp conversation.
The designer stressed that there is no shortage of ideas from her team during lockdown – many fresh proposals for future projects or new merchandising ideas have risen.
“We speak everyday in video conferencing. Matter of fact, I think I have installed about five different methods from Tim to Zoom and others. Whatever works,” she laughed.
Missoni’s pre-collection for fall – introduced before its last show in late February – sold extremely well, Angela explained. However, once the real dangers of Covid-19 became apparent, no retailers came back to Milan in late March to confirm their orders, and Missoni rapidly began scaling back production.
Does she see a major change in fashion change after we get through the pandemic?
“Look, when I looked in my crystal ball,” chuckles Angela, making a circling gesture with her hands, “I see that this idea of investing to distinguish yourself by dressing a certain way will not change at all. However, in my view, there will be a strong new sensibility in the new generation about the idea of rediscovering and using what was in your wardrobe. Longstanding values will become more important, which in my view is what we have done in Missoni. So, I am optimistic in the sense that Missoni has a role in the future. It’s a product that gives a sense of guarantee and security and protection,” she concluded.
The house has also been busy in other departments.
M Missoni, under the direction of daughter Margherita, last week announced a link-up with AwaytoMars - known as “the world’s first 100% user-created fashion brand.” AwaytoMars has opened its co-creation platform to allow designers to submit ideas inspired by three themes – hand-picked by Margherita – from the fashion label's archives.
Back in February, Missoni also acquired 100% of T&J Vestor, gaining control over the Italian home textile brand that had licensed Missoni Home.
Like others, Angela first realized how serious this all was from images from China back in January.
“From the moment Wuhan closed down, we knew it was going to be a punch for our industry. Even if we didn't think the result would be so bad in Italy,” she sighed.
Ironically, 2020 was the year when Missoni was planning to open its first boutiques in China, a key goal for the house in the fall. But everything is on hold now. In 2018, private equity firm Fondo Strategico Italiano acquired a 41-percent stake in Missoni, with ambitious plans for the future, including an eventual stock market listing in 2023.
Does fashion, an industry of incessant travel, bear some blame for the pandemic?
“I don’t know about that. But if you look at Lombardy – the region that is so badly hit – and you ask how come Italy has fared worse than other countries? Well, Italy is country made of thousands of small businesses and factories. And, all of them are working for China. Plus, all of them have some member of staff who travels to China. So, maybe it’s that simple fact, so much travel and back and forth,” she believes.
How, one wondered, has the pandemic affected her creative ideas?
“The ideas are always in your head. Personally speaking, they don’t come to me from going out or foreign travel. Today, we are all exposed to lots of ideas via our connection to the web. It’s not like turning magazine or book pages in the past. Can you imagine even ten years ago what this isolation would have been like without the Internet!” she noted.
Angela doubts that Covid-19’s impact will be short-lived, and expects little tourism in Milan until next year. In the past decade, the city has become a major new tourist destination – with over four million visitors annually. And in a bigger sense, she expects the industry to change too.
“There is something out of synch in our industry. Ultimately, it's crazy that most people sell most of their collections before they show their clothes on a runway! Plus, the clothes are only ever in a store for a very short time at any season – a couple of months at most. For huge brands with multiple stores, where three quarters of their revenues are their own retail businesses, then a show has a function in terms of image and marketing. But for people like us, based on 75% to 80% on wholesale, the system makes far less sense. I am not sure what the next step is, but something has to change,” she concluded.
The designer was fulsome in her praise for Carlo Capasa, the president of the Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana, Italian fashion’s governing body. Notably his recent call for more government support, noting that roughly 40% of the world’s luxury production is made in Italy.
“In the end, creativity is what will save us, per fortuna. If we can survive, we can continue to create.
But, we need responses from the government, financial support for fashion brands. So, far, we haven’t received anything. And, we expect some help from Europe, but none of this has arrived.”
Has this time meant greater connection to your community in social media?
“I’d say it is more like social scarcity – I lack the structure. I know we need to be more present, but
I am a designer and company president and when I am this table to from 9 to 7 I seem very busy,” she laughed.
Does she see influencer influence waning, as their oxygen, dressing for very public events, has dried up?
“They are not so pertinent now maybe because they don’t have so much to say other than just, ‘this is how I look’,” she sniffs.
Coming out of the pandemic, Angela sees a reinforcement of certain values.
“We will keep the values of this time, this rediscovery of family. When you spend your whole day with your kids that reminds of their importance – so it’s a beautiful opportunity. And these young kids will note that difference, this sense of closeness to them. It’s a moment when one witnesses the springtime together, and that is a real privilege.”
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