Historically, stripes have never gotten a great rap. Once only the domain of prisoners and sailors, they have always served a primarily utilitarian purpose. What other sartorial designs are so easily spotted flung over the edge of a ship bobbing in the ocean, or scaling the armoured fence of a prison yard? The print is evocative, recognisable and easily readable, which is why it was so readily embraced by fashion designers in the 20th century. It was first picked up by Coco Chanel, who found herself fascinated with the uniform of the sailors in Brittany and incorporated it into her 1917 collection.
When Ottavio and Rosita came along in the 60s, their version of the classic stripe would blow the sailors and their fans right out of the water. The knitting machines the Missonis owned – originally purchased to make tracksuits – only allowed them to create either single blocks of colour or stripe patterns. So, of course, the Missoni’s made stripes, and they made them unlike anything the world had ever witnessed. Riotous, multicolour bands were sent down the runways in layered, joyous cascades of fabric. A far cry from the sombre navy Breton shirts the Parisians were putting out at the start of the century. Though Ottavio and Rosita quickly graduated to using more complex machines, they continued to reuse the classic stripe pattern in their designs, playing with the scale and palette but always keeping the energy in tact. In the years following stripes became etched into the DNA of the brand, forever to be associated with Missoni, even as their empire expanded both technically and aesthetically.
The most indicative anecdote that speaks to Missoni stripes’ impression on contemporary fashion and popular culture is the oft-quoted line from the most legendary fashion editor of the last century, American Vogue’s Diana Vreeland. When she first laid eyes on their collection in 1968, she zeroed in on a rainbow-striped dress and exclaimed: “Who said that there are only seven colours in the rainbow? There are tones!” Vreeland would go on to champion Missoni in America, solidifying the stripes place in fashion history.