Ottavio Missoni dies: The end of the (family) era?

The news today that Ottavio Missoni, known as Tai and co-founder of the fashion/knitwear brand that bears his surname, has died aged 92, has sent the fashion world into mourning for a number of reasons — some personal, and some to do with the end of an idea about fashion itself.

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First, of course, as a way of honouring the achievements of Mr Missoni who, along with his wife Rosita (the two are pictured left), built the company into the recognisable label it is today and helped spread the word about Italian skill and creativity to the world.

Second, because the Missoni family has seen more than its share of tragedy recently after CEO and Ottavio’s son Vittorio Missoni’s plane went missing in January while he was returning from holiday.

And finally, because more than any other Italian brand, the Missonis symbolised the idea that has become one of the cornerstones upon which Italian luxury mythology is built: that of the family-run company. It embodied the idea both literally – when Mr Missoni stepped back, he passed the company reins on to his three children, with Angela as designer, Luca as creative director, and Vittorio as CEO; since then Angela’s daughter Margherita has also joined, in charge of accessories, and Rosita remains head of homewares – and popularly: their ad campaigns have focused on the family, often depicting them together in their homes. As a result, Mr Missoni’s death may well come to symbolise of the end of an era, not just for the Missoni family, but for the Age of the Family company.

After all, it has been coming for some time: Pucci, Fendi, Gucci, Bulgari, Brioni – all are owned by big Groups now. Prada is public, as is Ferragamo. Moncler is owned by a private equity company. It has become increasingly clear that for luxury brands to compete on a global stage, investment is needed that requires outside funding; the question is just where you get it. The hold outs have been Versace and Missoni, though Versace has mused, quite openly, about the possibility of an IPO. There’s also Zegna, of course, which is still run by the founding family and is arguably the most powerful still-independent Italian family company, but they have been much less public about their personal relations; it isn’t necessarily woven into the fabric of their message (and yes, that metaphor was intended). Ditto Armani, where Giorgio Armani’s nieces and nephew are involved, but little known.

That leaves Missoni. The double blow of Mr Missoni’s death and his son’s disappearence is bound to spark yet more speculation about the fate of the house the family built in the Brave New World of luxury globalisation. Would looking for outside support honor his legacy or dilute it? I guess that is now the question.