Margherita Missoni had no chance in hell of being a minimalist. The granddaughter of Tai and Rosita, who founded the brand as a small Italian knitwear workshop back in 1953, and daughter of current creative director Angela, who solidified Missoni as the global fashion house we know today, Margherita tried to steer herself away, but kept finding herself return to the cacophony of colours, the plethora of patchworks, and of course, those zigzags.
Four years ago, Margherita left the family business to pursue her own career path - “I found it hard, decisions are made more emotionally than rationally when working with family” - but she was fighting against her DNA. She grew up in the very heart of the Missoni legacy. “We all lived pretty close to each other, and I was surrounded by my grandparents’ work, as well as the people who worked in the factory and atelier. It was the school of life for me, being exposed to people from different backgrounds with such different styles. But when I was working on my own, I had to stop myself from going too Missoni, because that’s my tendency - we all share the same aesthetic and style. The difference is, each one of us brings with us the time we’re living in: our own zeitgeist.”
And that’s exactly what she’s done with her first collection for M Missoni. Previously a brand license, the newly-revived, lower-priced M line is Missoni for a younger generation: a remixed, refreshed, revived Missoni for Margherita’s zeitgeist. “M is about making clothes for real people,” she tells me backstage ahead of her first collection presentation, having been appointed creative director last October. “If Missoni stands for fashion in the traditional sense, and is uncompromising in its aesthetic, then M is saturated with the needs of the people who wear them: the free-spirited, the irreverent, the playful. With M, I have flipped the well-known hit record and started to play the B-side.”
So how does one create something recognisably Missoni, while ensuring a fresh perspective? Go back to the very beginning. “Missoni was created with the objective of making an outfit that would take you effortlessly and elegantly from morning to evening,” Margherita explains. “That’s why they chose to specialise in knitwear and jerseys. But over the years, that concept was lost, because the brand’s communication moved towards the luxury end of high fashion. I thought the origin of our brand would resonate with an audience today.”
The M mission is to “remix, re-use, and respect” its mother brand, and Margherita is doing this by mining the house’s archives for yarns, fabrics, and logos and spinning them into something new. This plays out in a collection that is unmistakably Missoni, but for a new generation. Heritage Missoni Sport (a trademark back in the ‘80s that wouldn’t look out of place on a Hypebeast in 2019) pieces are reworked into windbreakers, oversized jersey hoodies and tracksuit trousers via embroidery and tie-dye; space dye (one of the brand’s most celebrated knit effects) is cut up and embedded into new knitwear, making each piece’s yarn unique; vintage perfume logos are reworked as prints, and Missoni Home furnishing fabrics now make up coats and jackets.
The fact that everything in the collection is taken from something from the archives - “the print that never made it, the yarns that were never used” - makes the M brand feel even more contemporary: in an over-saturated and environmentally-damaging industry, recycling is finally losing its unfashionable image and becoming a smart (and cool) part of a business in 2019. Does Margherita consider her label sustainable? “I don’t want to claim it is, I don’t feel confident in that yet, even though we have great sustainability initiatives. This is about recycling and appropriating ideas. It’s about sharing a side of the brand that isn’t well known, and communicating that to a younger audience so they’re aware of the brand’s history.”
We’re introduced to Margherita’s idea of this audience on day two of Milan Fashion Week. Having been appointed creative director nearly one year ago, she’s had plenty of time to plan the perfect debut presentation. “I saw an old campaign photo of models in Missoni on a tram, and the tram really symbolises Milan, so I ran with the concept.” Editors, having taken shelter from the Milanese sunshine with crisp lemonade, wedges of parmesan and fresh bread, are treated to performances by energetic dancers with faces painted with old Missoni chevron stripes. A bright pink tram pulls up to the venue, and we alight alongside a gaggle of diverse models wearing the collection. We take a tour of the city, and at each stop, the models get off the tram as a new cohort hops on.
“Everyone is street-cast and almost everyone is from Milan, with the exception of a few friends who work in fashion, (Tagwalk’s Alexandra Van Houtte and DJ Sita Abellan are amongst them)” Margherita says. There are women in their 70s in gold bralets and flared knitted trousers, men in crop tops and skirts, and Gen Zers in sweater vests layered over workwear shirts. “Many are just people I knew I wanted to dress, but M is for everyone, and what unites them all is their approach to life: a lightness, a playfulness, irony - all qualities that you must possess in order to feel good in this world.”
As Margherita’s gang of models dance and strut and party on the fuschia tram to an eclectic soundtrack of Floyd Cramer, Andrew Bird, and The Soup Dragons, that playfulness is palpable, and, along with that inherited knack for colour, perhaps just the antidote to all the darkness in the world right now.