MILAN (Reuters) - Ottavio Missoni, founder of the global family fashion empire that spawned the no-bra look and revolutionized textile patterns with its trademark bold stripes and zig-zag patterns, died on Thursday aged 92.
A company spokeswoman said Missoni, commonly known by his nickname “Tai,” died during the night in the northern town of Sumirago, at the family home next to the company’s factory. He had been recently hospitalized for heart problems.
“When I think of Missoni, I like to paraphrase a song by Mina: ‘colors, colors, colors’,” Milan Mayor Giuliano Pisapia in one of many tributes.
Pisapia, likening Missoni’s designs to a rainbow, praised his cheerful disposition and said the company had made a major contribution to raising the global profile of all things made in Italy.
Missoni, who was born of Italian parents in what is now Dubrovnik, Croatia, founded the company with his wife Rosita, whom he met while competing in the 1948 London Olympics, where he ran the 400 meters hurdles.
His promising early athletic career was interrupted by World War II. Ottavio, fighting on the Italian side in the Battle of El Alamein, was captured by the British and held as a prisoner of war for four years in Egypt.
“He likes to poke fun (at the English), saying that he was a guest of His Majesty the King of Britain,” Rosita said during an interview with Reuters last May, in which Ottavio also took part.
“I started running again with the little that was left in me because naturally, after four years as a prisoner of war I was not in top physical form, but I must have had something left in me and I won the Italian (4 X 400) title and was chosen to go to the Olympics,” he said.
The pair married in 1953 and made track suits in a small workshop near Rosita’s home village, and later presented their first knitwear collection in Milan in 1958, just at the beginning of what came to be known as Italy’s economic miracle.
“We started making a profit after 10 years of activity and that day I felt like the richest man in the world,” Ottavio said.
Their designs caught the attention of a fashion world that was turning away from high fashion towards “ready-to-wear” styles and they made a high-profile collaboration in 1965 with designer Emmanuelle Kahn.
“We tried to break the rules...we lived in very favorable times because it was the beginning of what then came to be called Pret-a-Porter,” Rosita said.
The Missonis tore up the rule book in 1967 with what become known as the “battle of the bras”.
Rosita had told models to remove their bras before sending them onto the runway at a major show in Florence so that the colors of the bras would not show through the knitwear.
But the bright lights at the shows made the outfits transparent. The Missonis were not invited back but the incident became a cause celebre and soon afterwards Missoni appeared on the covers of international fashion magazines including Vogue, Elle and Marie Claire.
The brand is now a dynasty that designs everything from sweaters to sheets to hotels.
The founders’ children and several grandchildren took over managing the company in 1996, aiming to relaunch the brand and attract a larger, younger market as rivals Gucci and Burberry have done.
The family’s oldest son, company head of marketing Vittorio, is believed to have died in January when a small plane that was also carrying his wife and four others disappeared off the coast of Venezuela while they were on holiday.
Today, the company Ottavio and Rosita founded on a shoestring employs about 250 people and in 2011 had revenue of more than 150 million euros ($197.60 million).
($1 = 0.7591 euros)
Writing by Isla Binnie; Editing by Philip Pullella and Raissa Kasolowsky