Ottavio Missoni

OTTAVIO MISSONI 1990-giuseppepino


Ottavio Missoni, photo by Giuseppe Pino, 1990



Ottavio Missoni  


1921  Ottavio Missoni, called Tai by friends and family, is born in Ragusa (Dubrovnik) on the Dalmatian coast. During his childhood he moves to Zara (Zadar).


1937  Sixteen-year-old Ottavio wins the 400-meter race at the Arena in Milan beating  Robinson, the American 800-yard world record holder, with a time of 48.8”. His time still stands as record for the best performance by a sixteen-year-old Italian.

Drafted by the Italian National Athletics Team for a France-Italy meet, young Ottavio beats his French opponents in Paris in the 400-meter race.


1939  Italian Absolute Champion, he runs the 400-meter distance with a time of 47″.8, the European record in the Junior category. In Vienna he wins the title of World University Champion.


1941  He is Italian Champion in the 400-meter hurdles.


1942  An Italian soldier during the Second World War, Ottavio is captured in North Africa by the English. He is imprisoned in Egypt until the end of 1946.


1947  In Trieste Ottavio begins a knitwear venture that produces wool track suits, the ‘Venjulia’. These track suits are later adopted as the official uniform of the Italian Athletics Team at the London Olympic Games in 1948.

He takes up competitive sports again, playing for the prestigious Società Ginnastica Gallaratese.


1948  In June, Rosita Jelmini graduates with a degree in modern language and travels to study in London. Ottavio participates in the London Olympics with the Italian National Athletics Team. The day he wins the race heats for the 400-meter hurdles, Rosita is there with some of her school friends. This victory at Wembley Stadium earns him a place in the finals. Rosita and Ottavio are introduced to each other a few days later in Piccadilly Circus, en route to a day trip to Brighton organized by the President of the ‘Gallaratese’ club, who happens to be the father of one of her classmates.


1950  He is fourth at the European Athletics Championships in Brussels in the 400-meter hurdles race.


1953  Ottavio and Rosita are married on the 18 April. Together they set up a small knitwear workshop, continuing  the venture Ottavio started in Trieste.


At the age of 32, after 17 years of activity, Ottavio is a member of the National Team for the last time, a record for track specialties: 27 times in the Italian Nationals with eight individual wins and seven in 4×400 relay races.

He competed with the National Team in 1937 at the age of just 16 and still holds this record as the youngest athlete ever to wear the light blue uniform of the Italian National Team for track.


Gianni Brera writes about him in an article for ‘La Repubblica‘:

“Ottavio Missoni appeared in the sky of our athletics as a radiant comet (…). At only 16 he surprisingly vanquished Americans and natives in the 400-meter dash at the Milan Arena, the oldest of  modern stadiums. He was a little brother of Apollo (…). Who ran with the harmonious ease of Mercury, the god of merchants and thieves. The ephebe behind whom the admiring Lombards ran that long-ago afternoon at the Milan Arena brought his own ectoplasm to the Olympic Games of 1948. Two were were missed because of the war. (…) His drama as an ex-serviceman was atrocious. Nevertheless, he miraculously managed to become his own doppelganger to witness  his ectoplasm making strides of effective rather than frivolous vigour: and, following those steps he came back to live and sports, when fate seemed to have humbles him forever.”


1955  Ottavio and Rosita are commissioned to produce knitwear garments by the Biki boutique in Milan. They successively begin manufacturing  small special collections for La Rinascente department store.


1958  At La Rinascente in Milan they present a small fashion collection  named Milano-Sympathy. These dresses display the “Missoni” label sewn inside for the first time.


1966  Their first fashion show is presented to the press at the  Teatro Gerolamo in Milan and is a big success. This collection marks a decisive break with traditional knitwear design.


1967  In April Ottavio and Rosita participate for the first time in the fashion shows at the Palazzo Pitti in Florence. At the last minute, Rosita realizes that the models are not wearing the right shade of what Marilyn Monroe called “intimates” and she sends them out on the runway wearing nothing under  blouses of the finest lamé knit that, in the piercing spotlights, become completely transparent. They are assailed with complaints by Pitti’s managers. While Yves Saint Laurent launches the Nude Look in Paris, Tai and Rosita are not invited back to the next Pitti presentation. They instead take the opportunity to present their summer collection in Milan at the Parco Solari swimming pool, described as  a “memorable and singular aquatic fashion show”, using inflatable armchairs and transparent floating furniture.


1969  In April Ottavio and Rosita have their seminal meeting with Diana Vreeland, director of Vogue USA, at the Grand Hotel in Rome. Vreeland’s famous statement at the time was “ Who says colours are seven? … there are tones!”. She invites them to a presentation in New York with the most influential department stores, becoming their fairy godmother and tutelary name overseas.

They begin building their new factory in Sumirago, Varese, on a hill between woods and country fields, and  in plain view of the Monte Rosa, the mountain Rosita could always see from her native village of Golasecca. According to Ottavio, they preferred “to work in a place considered ideal for spending the weekend.  If anything, we can spend our weekends in the city”.


1970  Ottavio and Rosita again break all bounds and, in Florence, present a hugely successful collection, opening up the path for a new graphic interpretation in both women’s and  menswear. This marks the rise of the new style  Americans would baptize the “Put–together” look. Ottavio and Rosita Missoni become “the Missonis”.


1971  For the cover of the February issue of L’Uomo Vogue, Oliviero Toscani photographs an exclusive Missoni patchwork sweater designed by Ottavio. In March in Cortina the Missonis present  their “après-ski” women’s collection: a total look of solid-colour knitted outfits with multi-coloured patchwork inserts. The press starts comparing Ottavio’s chromatic compositions to contemporary works of art.


1973  In Dallas, in September, the Missonis receive the “Neiman Marcus Fashion Award”. The Missoni patchwork sweater becomes part of the permanent collection of the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum in New York.


1975  In September Renato Cardazzo exhibits Ottavio’s multi-coloured sketches and studies with knitted swatches and samples at his “Al Naviglio” Gallery in Venice, in a solo show displaying the pieces as artworks. Ferruccio Landi writes a critical study in an article titled: “Missoni, a Work of Art, Pullover Size”.


1976  Ottavio is proclaimed, along with Gianni Agnelli, Prince Charles and Robert Redford, one of the most elegant men in the world.


1978  The Missonis celebrate their 25 years of work in a spectacular retrospective exhibition at  the Rotonda della Besana in Milan. Later this year the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, in a special event, hosts the retrospective and exhibits fashion for the first time in its prestigious halls.


1979  In October they officially present the  Men’s Collection in Florence.


1981  In Milan a solo exhibition of Ottavio’s patchwork tapestries is presented at the “Al Naviglio” Gallery, which art critic Guido Ballo baptizes “Nuovi Arazzi” and in May they are shown in a solo exhibition at the Art Museum of the University of California in Berkley.


1983  The Missonis make their debut as costume designers at  Teatro alla Scala in Milan  for  Donizetti’s opera  Lucia di Lammermoor. In November Ottavio receives the “San Giusto d’Oro” award from the town of Trieste.


1989  In January Ottavio’s exhibition “Emotion of Material” travels to the Sarajevo Galleria Collegium Artisticum and in March to the Civic Museum of Belgrade.


1990  For the opening celebrations  of the World Soccer Championship “Italia ’90”, at San Siro stadium in Milan, the Missonis are invited to interpret the African Continent, designing the costumes for the parade.


1991  Ottavio’s tapestries are shown for the first time in Japan at the Yurakucho Asahi Gallery of Tokyo.


1993  Ottavio and Rosita celebrate their 40th anniversary of marriage and work.

On June 2nd the President of the Italian Republic confers upon Ottavio the title of  “Cavaliere al merito del Lavoro”, an Italian decoration given to exemplary figures in industry.


1994  Pitti Immagine and the town of Florence award Ottavio and Rosita the “Premio Pitti Immagine” with the following declaration: “Forty years ago Ottavio and Rosita began an original and creative research in knitwear: stripes, colours, imagination and invention. A unique style was born bringing  new fancy and art to dressing ….” For this occasion Pitti Immagine stages the ‘Missonologia’ exhibition, held at the Ridotto del Teatro della Pergola in Florence. In October the exhibition is expanded and installed at the Museum Società per le Belle Arti ed Esposizione Permanente of Milan.


1997  In London the Royal Society for the Encouragement of the Arts (RSA) chooses Rosita and Ottavio Missoni to receive the title of “Honorary Royal Designer for Industry” (HONRDI).


1999  In May both Ottavio and Rosita receive the Honorary Doctorate of the Central Saint Martin College of Art and Design in London and the Honorary Doctorate Degree of Humane Letters from the Academy of Art College in San Francisco.


2003  The Missoni business is 50 years old. In a piece for the International Herald Tribune, Suzy Menkes writes: “The best-beloved Missonis are how Italian fashion would like to see itself: one big happy local family of hands-on wizards”.

AEROS, an innovative show of acrobatic dance for which Luca Missoni has designed the costumes, debuts in January in Berkeley (California).


2004  In October the “Missoni and Titian” exhibition opens at the Fashion and Costume Museum in Brescia. The exhibition witnesses “the influence of 16th-century painting and the tonalism of the Venetian lagoon on the chromatic choices of a great contemporary fashion designer: Ottavio Missoni.”


2005  In February for the World Expo in Aichi (Japan) Luca Missoni creates the installation entitled “Harmony of Diversities” to represent the region of Friuli-Venezia Giulia at the Italian Pavilion.


2006  In February the “Caleidoscopio Missoni” exhibition opens at the Musei Provinciali di Gorizia. The exhibition is completed by a special catalogue that, for the first time, brings together the complete artistic work of Ottavio Missoni.


2009  The “Taller Missoni. El Arte del Tejido en Movimiento” exhibition opens in February at the Italian Cultural Institute in Madrid with the collaboration of the Istituto Europeo di Design and Museo del Traje. 

In June the first Missoni Hotel opens in Edinburgh (Scotland).

At the end of June in London the “Workshop Missoni. Daring to be Different” exhibition opens at The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art.


2011  Ottavio turns 90.

The “Un Mito in Pista” exhibition is held at the Palazzo Giureconsulti in Milan.

In October in San Marino the Assembly of Italian Dalmatians in the World awards Ottavio the Premio Tommaseo for his contribution to their culture.

To celebrate Ottavio’s 90th birthday, Rizzoli published the book entitled Ottavio Missoni: una vita sul filo di lana. Co-author Paolo Scandaletti defined it “the autobiography of one of the best-known and loved figures of the Italian Style around the world. With a sense of irony, Ottavio examines his adventure as the eternal youth who has managed to go through the twentieth century without taking himself too seriously, to dictate the rules of fashion while remaining ‘Tai’ to everyone and above all – as he says – not working too much.”


2012  Ottavio is celebrated in the “Ottavio Missoni. The Genius of Colour” exhibition, staged at the Vetrinjski dvor Mansion in the Slovenian city of Maribor.










With the death of Ottavio Missoni our country has lost one of the leading representatives of excellence in Italian fashion around the world.

From Trieste, where he was forced to seek shelter after the war and the painful experience of being a prisoner, Missoni embarked on a singular path affirming his genius, transforming his love of life into an unmistakable style, a model of sophisticated originality and beauty, and making the most of ideas, energies and talents in his approach to business.

I would like to offer you, dear Rosita, and Ottavio’s entire family my heartfelt condolences, remembering the times I had the chance to meet a person as brilliant as Ottavio Missoni.



Giorgio Napolitano

Rome, May 2013



ottavio missoni alpini

 Piacenza, May 12th maggio 2013, Assembly of the Alpine troops (photo by Pietro Maré)












Ottavio Missoni was a winner by nature and vocation.

Even now, in the face of death, which levels and appeases everything, he was not a loser. Because until the very end, he smiled at life. He fought like a lion despite everything, from his lost Zara to the disappearance of his son Vittorio.

Four days ago, his voice was that of a boy on the eve of a race. He has finished that last race, and it’s as if he had won it too. Because the message he has left us is a hymn to life, courage, imagination, creativity.

Dalmatian as he was Italian and Italian as he was Dalmatian, around the world he held high the banner of the name of Italy and our people, indomitable, cheerful, ironic, but never nihilistic. His were solid values: a sense of duty, personal honour and love for his country. Never a sign of intolerance. Boundless generosity. An open heart that stopped beating in a body afflicted by the recent terrible events.

But his spirit never gave in. Well done, Tai! Help us live like you and die like you.



Lucio Toth

Rome, May 2013




La Storia siamo noi (2013)

Che tempo che fa (2011)

Interview remembering the Dalmatian Exodus Memorial Day (2011)

Sottovoce (Rai 1)

La Sfida (Capital)