By Shane McGinley
Rosita Missoni spent years establishing her own fashion house but when she lost her passion she decided it was time to retire. She tells Arabian Business how branding some of the world’s most stylish hotels helped her regain her creative mojo
Like any must-have fashion collection, every good interview hangs on finding that one killer quote and adding colour and sparkle to make it shine. Luckily, both are something Rosita Missoni, matriarch of the eponymous Italian fashion house she established with her husband Ottavio, knows a lot about.
Having been in the design business for nearly 60 years, Missoni has long been a popular figure among the fashionable glitterati and was championed by everyone, including the legendary US Vogue editor Diana Vreeland. By the 1990s Rosita had made her fame and her fortune but it no longer excited her.
“To do fashion without passion it is punishment, it is terrible,” she says, delivering the classic standout quote. “[That is] the thing I had lost when I retired. I was tired. Tired in the sense that my life did not correspond anymore. When you work in fashion you have to live fashion. You have to meet editors, you have to go to the right places and meet the right people,” she continues.
“When I was in Paris or London I met the right people and I knew all the editors. When I was younger everything came spontaneously… When it becomes a task or a duty it means you have no more passion.”
Passion is something Missoni now has in abundance. She might be about to mark her 80th birthday this year but she is certainly in no hurry to settle down - her schedule is busier than most people half her age. So what was it that brought her back out of her self-imposed retirement in the 1990s and gave her back the enthusiasm for design? “When my daughter decided she felt she was mature enough to take the responsibility of the main fashion line and came in I was so happy. But the thing is I was lost when I retired. I was so used to having a life,” explains Missoni.
“I could take care of my garden or chickens but when you are used to having a scheduled life [with] dates and deadlines I was lost and kept going to the factory, which is a few steps from our house. This lasted a few months. I thought this does not correspond to my life.”
It was Missoni’s daughter Angela who suggested she indulge her creative spirit and manage the Missoni Home Collection, which was already successful but was ripe for expansion. “So we decided I was going to take care of the home collection. The reaction was so positive immediately,” she says proudly.
Within a few years of taking on the home collection, Missoni was travelling to some of the big interiors shows in Paris and Milan and seeing replicas of her work. “At Maison Objet [Europe’s premiere home furnishings show] we started seeing copies and that is the sign of success so I thought we are on the right path.”
Missoni’s success in the world of interiors soon prompted telephone calls from hotel operators around the world, all keen to cash in on the trend for big name fashion designers lending their names - and look - to exclusive hotels.
In November 2005, the fashion house signed a global licensing agreement with the Rezidor Hotel Group, the hotel operators behind the Radisson SAS and Park Inn brands. The partnership led to the creation of Hotel Missoni, a lifestyle hotel chain. The first Missoni hotel opened in Edinburgh in June 2009 while the second property in Kuwait opened on March 1 this year.
Another exclusive property in Oman is planned for 2013 and Turkey and Brazil will follow in 2014. Internet speculation has put the total number planned properties as high as 30, but Rezidor has only officially said it is planning properties in “the Middle East, trend cities and upcoming resorts.”
“It was a new business when we started talking about it six years ago,” remembers Missoni. “I said “oh my God, hotels, what?”... We would never have expected or sought to go into the hotel business but we were offered it and since one of my jobs is also to be creative director of the home collection I thought it would be a fantastic [opportunity to] showcase the home collection,” she says.
“Of course we thought about it for a couple of months before deciding that it could be a good opportunity. It took two more years to get to see the Hotel Missoni Edinburgh finished as the building they had chosen was an old government building and when they started to work inside they had to throw down a lot of the interiors and rebuild it.
“But it gave us time to reflect and to think about the mockup room next to our factory so we could have people visit there. We built Edinburgh and then Kuwait mockup rooms there together and people could visit both of them.”
In terms of design, the hotels are quite distinctive and reflective of the different cities in which they are located. Edinburgh is urban and very classical with a black and white pallet with a splash of colour on the walls and furnishings. While the Kuwait hotel - which is located in Salmiya district of the city - is awash with the bright Missoni template.
“This one is a much softer oriental hotel, mainly because of its position near the sea,” Missoni says of the Kuwait property. “All the bedrooms look out to the ocean. The influence of the light and the choice of colours and patterns have been important, absolutely.
“The other thing is I love gardens so as we don’t have real gardens I had a big garden built. I didn’t want to see trees suffer or cost a fortune to water but I thought cacti are magnificent so we will have a garden of cacti.”
The pool at the property is also typically Missoni with each of the lanes featuring the trademark Missoni strips. “For me, a hotel has to greet you with a sense of hospitality and pleasantness and has to look Missoni first of all but in the lobby we were inspired by the Bedouin tents and the souqs.”
In each of the hotels there is a touch of the Missoni style blended literally into the fabric of the property. For example, the doormen at the Edinburgh property wear specially made kilts with the Missoni stripped design incorporated. Equally, at the Kuwait property, Missoni says she is going to design special clothing that incorporates local traditional dress with the Missoni colour palette.
Missoni says working on the hotels has really reawakened her passion for design, and it is obvious from her enthusiasm that she is very pleased with how the end products have turned out.
With the Kuwait property she says she wanted it to be a really relaxing environment. “It is just more of a resort feeling, more relaxed. Here you can let yourself go and enjoy the light and the sea. Every bedroom and the restaurant overlook the sea and the views are breathtaking.”
One of the links between the great Italian fashion houses and the Middle East is the fact they are predominantly family run and handed down through the generations - something Missoni does not see changing any time soon.
Despite Missoni’s worldwide success, the firm is still very much a family-owned and run operation. The couple’s three children play a vital role in the day to day running of the business.
While son Vittorio works in marketing, daughter Luca manages some of the menswear collections. The couple’s other daughter Angela is creative director for the men’s and women’s collections. Luca’s daughter Margherita - an actress and model in the US - also plays her own role as the face of the company’s perfume collection and a global brand ambassador.
“We are very happy we can keep it. I think, for us, we kept it like that as it was our way of life and we keep our business quite controlled,” says Missoni.
“We could have expanded but it was never our intention. We have had the privilege of succeeding in something which was also our hobby. For my husband and I to work with fabrics and patterns has become our hobby and has always been, so that is quite fantastic, but to do it the way we like it has to stay in our hands. Or else it would lose its essence or its soul.”
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Rosita Missoni is not the first Italian designer to lend her name and design skills to a real estate project in the Middle East. A whole host of Gulf developers and investors have made the trip to Italy to sign up big name fashion houses. We take a closer look at some of the designer collaborations.
In 2004, Italian designer Giorgio Armani and Dubai’s Emaar Hotels and Resorts signed a partnership to develop a string of Armani-branded hotels around the world.
The first hotel was opened in the base of the Burj Khalifa in Dubai in April last year and the second in Milan is scheduled for mid-2011. While the company was forced to deny in February that it’s next property was going to be located in Russia, executives admitted late last year a third property was in the design phase.
“It’s only being designed now,” Mark Dardenne, CEO of Emaar Hotels and Resorts, said in October and named Paris, New York and Marrakesh as potential locations for the property. “These hotels you build them up over the years. I think, eventually, some people will come to Dubai just to stay at the hotel. It is bringing something new to Dubai and that has been very positive,” he added.
Earlier this year, it was announced that the Palazzo Versace Dubai, the AED2.3bn ($626m) hotel and residences branded by the Italian fashion house, has sold 80 percent of its units.
The Dubai Creek hotel - which is being established through a joint venture with the UAE’s Emirates International Holdings and Australian-based Sunland Group Limited - will be the second Versace-branded hotel and follows the launch of the first property on Australia’s Gold Coast in 2000. The iconic Italian design house plans to build up to thirteen resorts around the world.
Roberto Cavalli opened his first ever club at Dubai’s Fairmont Hotel in 2008. Following on from the huge success of the club the Italian designer signed a deal last December with the Lebanon-based lifestyle investment firm Pragma Group to launch twenty Cavalli Clubs and Cavalli Cafes in emerging markets around the world. The cost of investment in the new properties was estimated to be around $150m and will be built over the next five years.
The joint venture also plans to open a club in Beirut, as well as café outlets in Saudi Arabia, Doha, Bahrain and Cairo.
Sometimes the union of Italian designers and Gulf real estate developers doesn’t run as smoothly as they would like. Such is the case of Elisabetta Gucci.
Last summer, luxury hotelier Elisabetta Gucci, daughter of iconic Italian fashion designer Paolo Gucci, announced she was planning to open 40 hotels over the next fifteen years in the Middle East, Far East and South America. But the owners of the fashion house, the French luxury conglomerate PPR, had different ideas.
PPR filed a case against the hotelier claiming the use of Elisabetta Gucci’s name “has caused customer confusion and has been harmful to Gucci’s business.” The ruling by a Florence court “will hopefully act as a significant deterrent for those who intend to unlawfully license or commercially exploit the Gucci trademarks,” said the owners. The Italian court then ordered Gucci and her backers to “immediately cease any use of the mark at issue as well as of the domain name ‘Elisabetta Gucci’ for any business or advertising purpose” and a penalty was imposed for any violation.For all the latest lifestyle news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.