It seemed like an impossible feat. A duo of artisanal knitters from a small town in northern Italy conquering the impossible-to-break-into American fashion market. But for Tai and Rosita Missoni, this is what unfolded, with no small part due to the help and friendship of Diana Vreeland.
In the 2011 film, The Eye Has To Travel, a documentary chronicling the life of the inimitable American Vogue editor, one gets a picture of the type of tastemaker Vreeland was. Bold in her disposition, she was drawn to beauty that strayed from the precedent. When it came to her own projects, she preferred models that looked otherworldly, exotic locations the readers had never before seen and photographers that would push boundaries. By understanding the type of person she was, one can see why she would so fervently champion the work of Ottavio and Rosita Missoni in America. The clothes they were producing at the time had little in common with the type of knitwear editors and buyers were used to seeing. The lightweight, body-hugging knits and passionate colours perfectly encapsulated the feelings of late 1960s. To her, this was something worthy of the pages of Vogue. It has been said that on their first meeting at the Grand Hotel in Rome in 1968, Vreeland abandoned the need for a model by test-driving the pieces herself. It was at this meeting that she produced her oft-quoted line about Missoni: “Who said that there are only seven colours in the rainbow? There are tones!” when she first glimpsed the brightly coloured dresses.
The meeting would go down in history as a catalyst for Missoni. Vreeland would go on the introduce them to Neiman Marcus and other influential buyers. Their first in-store boutique opened in Bloomingdales in 1970, cementing their place in the ever-important American market. Years later, when the Missonis were interviewed for the documentary, their gratitude was clear. “For us,” Rosita exclaims, “Diana was America.”