It is hard to believe that Rosita Missoni turns 88 this year. Her eyes still sparkle, the cropped silvery-white hair switches into a cheeky little pigtail at the nape of her neck, and she has an electric energy about her. She slips down effortlessly to sit on a low Missoni couch for our interview. And if she tends to reminisce about times long gone, who can blame her - hers is a colourful past, both in terms of the vibrant Missoni knits she created, as well as her journey through the world of ready-to-wear fashion.
Kunaal Seolekar, on the other hand, is at the opposite end of the spectrum, a young talent with a whole exciting world of opportunities ahead of him. Yet looking at them both together, you can see the spark that unites them, the creative energy that no matter your age or stage in life, burns bright within. Seolekar’s experience as an actor holds him in good stead, as he lightly accompanies Missoni along her time travelling journey, from the start of her career to where she stands today.
Kunaal Seolekar (KS): You have had quite a journey with the Missoni brand. Can you tell me more about this transformation from fashion to home?
Rosita Missoni (RM): In the 90s, I felt that the home was becoming as important as fashion. With one important difference, for the home you can make things that can last, whereas fashion is something that lasts just a few months. Also, I did not have any more energy for fashion, and on the other side, my daughter Angela was ready to step in.
KS: Was it easy – just handing the ropes over?
RM: Absolutely, because I felt I had lost the antenna. When you do fashion, you have to go out and be with young people and my life did not correspond anymore to this. I also did not have the energy to fight against the commercial side, the people that always know after the fact what you should have done differently.
KS: We have read this beautiful story about your chance meeting with Emmanuelle Khanh that kick-started your design journey. Could you elaborate?
RM: I was in New York, staying at The Plaza, and I found a note in my room , “Emmanuelle Khanh would like to see you for a drink”. We were already doing quite well in Italy, but I was surprised she knew who we were. But the reality was (that) a friend of hers had left their camera in Paris, which I had carried to New York, so that was really how we met. We exchanged cards and she said, "When you are in Paris, come see us."
KS: And you did go and meet her in Paris, right; because you had a collaboration with her in the 60s?
RM: Pierre Cardin’s people got in touch and we went to Paris with our samples. I thought we would exchange ideas, but they wanted to choose 10 items from our collection and allow us to sell them with the Cardin label. I went back to the hotel disappointed, and then I remembered that I had Khanh’s number, so we met and in two hours decided to do a collection together.
KS: That is so inspiring, how one thing can become something else by chance. Do you have any advice for young designers like me, because we are all waiting for this one chance that can propel us into superstardom?
RM: You should follow you heart. If you have talent, certainly strive to express your talent, because if you do something that you like, you do not feel the heaviness of working. You work because it becomes your pleasure, and it is the best way. Keep doing what you like and believe in your own ideas.
KS: I am sure you must have had encounters when people have not liked what you have done or maybe some kind of failure; how do you move on from there?
RM: When I went to see the gentleman for Cardin, and he was not even interested in seeing our samples, it was disheartening. But even if it could have been a good business move to sign with them, it was just not us. You must resist to go with something that does not feel true and have faith that the right moment will come.
KS: Are all your homes an expression of Missoni? There must be a few products in your homes that are not designed by you.
RM: I am a collector of whatever moves me and so my homes are full of my discoveries. In my townhouse in Milan, I have a big wall hanging by El Anatsui. His first exhibition in Milan was at Rossana Orlandi’s and I was there while she was setting up. At the time my wall had enormous water stains from the terrace above, and I saw this very nice huge wall hanging that would cover the water damage perfectly. The artist was very happy to sell it to me even before the exhibition opened, so that is the way I do things sometimes.
KS: Do you have a favourite among your homes?
RM: I suppose the favourite is where I live all year round, facing the Alps - in our printed 'home' collection, there is a portrait of Monte Rosa, the second highest peak in the Alps, of which I take pictures nearly every morning. This time those colours are all around that story because I wanted to acknowledge this fabulous view, which inspires me every morning.
KS: One thing I admire most about Missoni is, you do not follow trends, you have a certain look that is consistent.
RM: There was a moment when we were a very strong trend, but then what I am proud of is (that) we became a style. Because people were talking about the Missoni style and after 40 years, we are still considered stylish.
One could learn a lot about longevity and staying true to one’s style through changing fashions from Missoni. So where would she go from here one wonders?
Rosita Missoni: “In 2019, I hope never to stop stirring up something new.”
(See more from the series 'Cross Border Conversations 8X8' )