I don’t always get the chance to go to all the fashion exhibitions I would like, but ‘Missoni Art Colour’ at The Fashion and Textiles Museum was one I had been looking forward to.
Founded in 1953 by Ottavio and Rosita Missoni in their basement, the brand has gone on to become one of fashion’s household names. So that now the name Missoni conjures up images of vivid colour, delicate yarn and of course their signature stripes.
However, this exhibition isn’t a retrospective, more an exploration of a lesser-known aspect of their designs, namely their relationship with contemporary art. I for one, wasn’t fully aware of just how influenced the Missoni’s were by the fine art of the time.
I was struck when I walked into the first gallery to find not a single item of clothing! Instead there were paintings from leading 20th century artists such as Sonia Delaunay, Giacomo Balla and Gino Serverini, which illustrate the influence of the Ophism and Futurism movements on their early designs.
The relationship between the work of these artists on form and colour and the Missoni designs was immediately apparent. The previously unseen paintings by Ottavio Missoni, an artist himself, which show more directly his personal interest in pure colours and composition of shape was a revelation.
And as someone who has always been keen in the sketchbooks and working drawings of artists and designers I also enjoyed seeing early sketches for Missoni fabric designs, which are shown alongside works from Dadamaino and Bruno Munari’s stringed sculptures. The use of colour and signs became more conceptual during the 1970s, and this provides fresh interpretation to Ottavio’s sketches which you can see below.
You really get a sense of how knitted yarn was the Missoni’s medium through which to explore their fascination with colour and form.
They created a kind of language, of colours and shapes, which although has been developed and translated to some degree, has remained central to their work.
One of the highlights of the exhibition is the incredible selection of Ottavio Missoni’s patchwork wall hangings from the 1970’s. You can see clearly in these works, with geometric patterns and vivid colours, elements of the Missoni style.
These are hung alongside a quote from Ottavio which I particularly liked:
‘Both “colour” and “material” are the elements essential to my craft. As for my patchworks, they are a natural extension of my work, of the pleasure I get from playing with these little pieces of multicolour knit fabrics where each single one deserves particular attention since it has a story and a life of its own.’
However, the main feature of the exhibition is a striking pyramid of mannequins modelling 60 years of Missoni designs.
It is a great opportunity to see up-close the intricacy of their knitwear and development of their style.
What really compliments the outfits, is an atmospheric music, composed by Pietro Pirelli which is played in the background. The sounds of the Missoni factory machines are combined with a polysensory instrument Pirelli created
To me, it seemed the music reflected the importance of rhythm and symphony in Missoni’s work. A symphony of thread and colours characterise Missoni’s designs and the rhythmical sounds of the machines reflect that.
The creative use of colour, yarn, rhythm and pattern in machine knits continues to define Missoni. This exhibition explores in depth, the influences that have helped shape this signature style and through doing so, adds a new layer of understanding to one of fashion’s most iconic brands.