Missoni crafts a new pattern for knitwear brand’s future

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Missoni crafts a new pattern for knitwear brand’s future

Missoni is back in the spotlight. Suddenly the brand’s signature zig zag design has a hot fashion vibe and feels sexy again.

The brand’s new energy was on display when four klieg lights shone on the glossy facade of Missoni’s new flagship store in Korea, located on the “fashion avenue” of Cheongdam-dong in southern Seoul. The opening reminded the city’s fashion elite that this venerable Italian knitwear company is going strong again in Korea after years of mishaps.
Vittorio Missoni, the company’s current chief executive, knows the change Seoul has undergone over the past two decades. “When I first came here 22 years ago, there was nothing in Gangnam. There’s been a lot of changes, with a lot more traffic,” said Mr. Missoni, who visited Seoul for the store opening. It was his biggest move in this country since he came to Korea in 1987 and signed an exclusive contract with Jedong Mulsan Inc. Starting with the first flagship store in Cheongdam-dong, Missoni is now available in 27 stores nationwide.
But, long before the Italian fashion brand was revamped, Missoni’s colorful knitwear had become a staple of Korean women, who have become the brand’s older, VIP customers today. Designed for petite, olive-skinned Italian women, the clothes worked wonders for fashionable Korean women, who never had to tell anyone who mattered that those distinctively graphic and delicious Italian colors were Missoni’s. Small-time merchants would risk fines to bring bags full of Missoni into Korea when the country restricted the importation of luxury fashion goods during the 1980s. Such exclusivity ―?and popularity ― led to a deluge of Missoni counterfeits as early as 1982, long before every other Louis Vuitton bag was assumed to be fake.
Elvira Osti of Fashion’s Group Korea, a long-standing public relations adviser for Missoni, remembers the 17-year legal dispute over the use of the Missoni brand name. “By the time we wanted to come to Korea, we found out someone had already registered the name. Eventually we bought back the name at a cost of $5 million ― it was a lot of money, if you consider it was 13 years ago in Korea,” she said.
In the new store Missoni has reinvented its bold look. Over two floors covering 330 square meters there is a vivid melange of Missoni graphics and colors where black-and-white flowers and zig zag upholstery clash with orange circles on the wallpaper. Next to the display of the current collection, the video footage of the latest runway show from Milan seems to shout that tomorrow happens right here, right now.

The trunk show of 34 outfits from the acclaimed Milan Collection in September surprised 100-plus guests at????, who remembered Missoni as their mother’s favorite. The 2007 spring and summer collection seeks to capture the image of graceful women, who know how to carry themselves with self-confidence in the era of stiff and flashy fashion, heavily borrowed from the 1960s and ’80s. The collection does carry the Missoni graphic patterns, but they were buried in the romantic silhouette and soft, sheer fabrics in muted pastel colors. The clothes cry out for a woman to express her individuality by combining the versatile Missoni items, such as a scarf cardigan, a baby doll dress or cuffed shorts into creative layers.
“If you see what my parents did in the ’60s and ’70s, it was very modern and sexy at the time. My sister Angela took the style and knowledge and made it more contemporary,” said the 52-year-old Vittorio, who has an air of majestic calm despite his thick thatch of wind-blown hair and loose-fitting cotton shirt.
The new-found image of Missoni today is led by the designer for women’s wear, Angela Missoni, 48, who is the youngest daughter of the Missoni founders, Ottavio and Rosita. Ottavio Missoni, 85, is retired, and Rosita Missoni, 74, is currently overseeing the production of Missoni home collectionIt appears spotlights will stay on for at least two more generations to come in the Missoni family. Joined by her young daughter, Margherita, who is the official muse of her family’s fashion house, Missoni’s second generation designer is at the full flood of her creativity, earning critical acclaim each season. “Margherita and her sister Teresa give assistance to my sister, not directly, but just by being around. My sister keeps herself switched on by listening to her young daughters talk about how young people live, talk, dress and criticize each other,” Mr. Missoni said.

Q&A with Vittorio Missoni
Q. Are you becoming more focused on Asia?
A.Asia is important. Every market is important and needs attention. Korea is the No. 2 market for sure in Asia, after Japan. Both Korea and Japan represent a big part of the Asian market. China is important but it will take a long time. When I came to Korea 22 years ago, there was not much here. The market was not so developed. I have seen the growth of Korea in every aspect; in technology, fashion and design. It has been startling

Missoni became a singularly recognized brand in Korea, especially since a criminal on the run was on TV wearing a Missoni top. Did you know about that?
No, I didn’t know about it. I sometimes saw similar stories in other countries. All those big gangsters treat themselves very well, and they can promote certain brands. The fact is, Missoni is Missoni. Whether you like it or not, you can recognize it. It is our strength, and we can create our image and trademark. Whether it’s a real Missoni or copy, we created it and it’s so easy to recognize.

Fashion is about style and business. What’s your role in making these two meet?
My role is to oversee the whole market. More importantly, we are a family company. We are not a public company and we don’t belong to large groups. It’s been our choice to stay as a family company. And I think it works. Although we cannot implement the kind of investment larger groups can, our strategy has kept the company healthy and wealthy and alive for 50 years and now we have young kids who are ready to enter the business.

Are your young nieces and children interested in the business?
I have sons who are 22 and 18, and my brother Luca has children, and they are fascinated. For them, it’s a very nice job and it’s interesting to be in a nice world. At the moment, they like to come to the shows and see the fashion world..

Margherita and her sister Teresa give lots of assistance. When we launched a fragrance, Estee Lauder told me you should use Margherita to promote the brand ― when you have such a unique, advantageous opportunity in the family, why not? So she accepted, of course and her participation helped make the launch a great success because she is so beautiful.

What’s your secret for keeping your family together ― as the first son in the Missoni family?
My sister and brother, they always fight, it’s natural. The good thing is that they fight over this flower or that, or this black or that. On the other side, I think that the strength of the family is in education, which comes from our parents above all. There is a lot of respect between us and in what we do. Respect is very important. I treat people with lots of respect.
We can talk about business, but afterwards we go out to lunch or on weekends, it’s a family again, no more business. I allow my children to be very free, but they have to be told certain things. They need plenty of education ― how to live and academic knowledge. They can develop their self-discipline themselves. My parents told me, try to be very natural. You live in the fashion world, but you have to be natural and spontaneous. Apart from your job, try to stay out of the crowd and don’t be involved too much with the herd. And keep the value of family life at the forefront of your mind. I try to do that and I learned what my parents taught me from the way they lived ― their philosophy was everything is important, but nothing is so important that it should come before family.

Do you have a plan to operate Missoni directly in Korea?
Because we are a family business, we don’t have a large operation, and I think it’s kind of great that I get help from people. They are partners in our business, who are involved in our company and we treat them that way. Not that we don’t know the market, because they report to us, so we can keep an eye on it.. If it works, why change it? That doesn’t mean that we are static. For example, this store is something nice and new. It was something we needed and we wanted to make it refreshing and contemporary.

You’re known to collect vintage bikes. What do you have?
I own about 30 bikes, and I’m not really into cars. I’ve been collecting the ones I used to dream of owning when I was a teenager. The oldest ones are from the ’60s, Vespa and Benelli. My sons enjoy driving them around because they have now become trendy again.

Luxury magazines develop new markets

The latest entrant into the world of Korean luxury magazines is the monthly “Heren,” launched in September by JoongAng M&B, which publishes seven magazines including “In Style,” “Cosmopolitan” and “Yeoseong JoongAng.” Heren is distinguished by its market. The magazine’s focus is “to explore and improve the lifestyle of Korea’s high society, which has been hidden or undeveloped in the past,” according to Kim Won-tae, the chief executive of JoongAng M&B. Heren offers family-oriented themes, targeting individuals with high-incomes in the age group between 35 to 45. It is directly mailed to the homes of readers once they have signed up for a free membership..

In the Korean fashion industry, the 1990s was the era that launched these kinds of free advertising catalogues, where a small amount of editorial content jostled for space in a publication that was jam packed with glossy ads. It all began with a thin monthly magazine called “Noblesse” which published its first issue in September, 1990. At the time many dismissed the venture as simply a compendium of advertisements that would not last. Seventeen years later, Noblesse is now a 450-page tome with a 60,000 circulation and its critics are silent. The magazine’s format ― glossy lifestyle advertorials on high culture, distributed free of charge to target marketing zones ― is at the forefront of this lucrative sector in the Korean publishing industry. Droves of magazines have copied the “Noblesse” format, expanding a unique category that had never existed before in the Asian publishing industry. Now the magazine’s parent company, Noblesse International Inc., has ambitious plans to conquer the Chinese market as well. Its first Chinese edition was published in 2004 and the title is doing good business.
When asked about the creation of this successful formula, Do Jae-hee, the magazine’s executive director, remembers its humble origins. “Many people ask if we modelled ourself on any other magazine, now that we’re so big, but when it began it was simply what worked then for the situation in Korea ― a catalogue and we were the only one.”
Now, readers, who are considered the “target” in the local luxury market, have plenty of choices, as local publishers vie for their own share by offering slight variations. The magazine “Neighbor,” which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year, has more editorial content and is available in full-size and pocket-size editions every month.
Design House, known as Korea’s leading publisher of magazines, raced into the fast lane of Korean luxury magazines by launching its own product in 2001. Design House’s “Luxury” magazine is sent to residential homes in addition to free distribution in public places, such as upscale restaurants or hotels where target readers and consumers are likely to be found. The “Luxury” magazine’s chief editor, Kim Eun-ryoung, says the company may begin to sell it in bookstores in the near future, since the magazine’s paid subscription has been on the rise.
As the luxury magazine market continues to develop there are changes in style under way. Two relatively new magazines, “Style H” and “Avenuel,” are examples of recent success stories. They were designed for shoppers at Hyundai Department Store and Avenuel respectively. Launched when the downtown department store opened last year, the magazine “Avenuel” is a joint effort between the store and Hachette Ein’s Media, the publisher of Korean versions of U.S. or European magazines, including “Elle” and “Premiere.” With world-class visuals and strong editorial content, these super-sleek magazines can wield great power over readers with big money who want the latest in cutting-edge lifestyles. And that’s why advertisers want them.
When asked about the prospects of the luxury magazine in the future, Mr. Kim of JoongAng M&B was optimistic. “The luxury market in Korea is expanding. And, we’re planning to introduce ‘Heren’ in China and Southeast Asia in the near future.”

by Ines Cho
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