Wanda Jelmini of Missoni Home on brand and beauty
Unique as it is, Missoni nonetheless exemplifies the qualities of so many family companies – innovative, creative, rich with character and enjoying a special nurturing environment for its collaborators and workers.
It was such a pleasure to interview Wanda Jelmini in person during Salone del Mobile in Milan this year. Missoni has always been one of my favourite homewares companies, so I eagerly stepped inside the Missoni Home showroom in Milan to see the quality and quirkiness of the products in their natural surroundings of Italy.
Wanda is part of the T&J Vestor family that manufactures Missoni Home, having worked as the Head Textiles Designer in the company for over 35 years. We sat down together in Milan to discuss the story of the Missoni Home collections, where she finds constant inspiration and her interest in maintaining the uniqueness of the Missoni brand.
Tell me how the Missoni business began?
It was Rosita Missoni (my aunt) that started the Missoni brand after meeting her husband Ottavio in London who was an Olympic athlete at the time. On returning to Milan they manufactured tracksuits (originally created by Ottavio for the Italian Olympic team in London). It was the knitting machines that Ottavio bought that inspired the making of Missoni. The zig-zag knit that we now distinctly recognise as Missoni was born out of the technology of these knitting machines. Rosita and Ottavio were working so hard on the Missoni brand but there was only the two of them, so, they decided to ask for help from the T&J Vestor family who gave them not only financial support but also the textile knowledge to really make Missoni what it is today.
What is your position at Missoni Home?
I (have been) working here in this family business for 35 years – but I am a wild one, so I have never just had this one job. In my younger years I was working three or four jobs at one time, it wouldn’t be enough for me, so at present I have two main jobs – this one and I consult for a men’s and women’s garment brand, which is completely different – and this helps me to bring in and out more information from what I am learning at all my different jobs. Which makes it very easy for me, I know which colours will be coming into a trend for interiors based on what has been seen in fashion, and what things will happen because I do have a tendency for fashion.
What was the first piece of textiles that really mattered to you?
You know the first piece of fabric that ever did that to me, was the textile piece I wove myself. It happened when I was with my Uncle Ottavio, on a knitting machine doing it myself. I was a child, and every Christmas he was giving us a knitted coat and when I talk about this, there is something that really touches me and brings up so many emotions – because it is a very beautiful memory – he was always bringing us these sweaters every year, and I remember because there was not yet Missoni Kids, he was just doing it for us and our sizes. But that particular Christmas he only took me to the knitting machine and he said ‘lets do the pull yourself’ – and I was weaving it myself and so that was the BEST and first piece of textiles that I was in love with and I kept it until it had holes everywhere and I would never stop wearing it. But if we talk about other textiles, I mean the one that I conceived first – again it was something I made myself and I took the yarn and I was trying on a small invented hand-loom to weave it myself, and so this is the one I kept stuck to a piece of wood to the wall. It fell apart and it is now only in my memory…
This year at Salone have you noticed any trends that speak to you?
Salone del Mobile is such an interesting event, it is such a huge thing with so many people who do not know what is going on… The town is booming with art, architecture and happenings – it is very much a cultural thing, it is no longer about design or furniture – it is a thing that is unique. You cannot really detect was is good and what is not – and Missoni is quite different, but all that I can say now is that there are so many brands that are looking alike. It is becoming flat. I have a short attention span, so I remember very few and the reality is that I feel like no matter what the brand, I cannot distinguish the brand differences anymore. What we are seeing in the design industry is that each brand used to have its own identity – and to have your own identity you need to be malleable, you need to keep evolving and to be liked by everybody – and this is the catch – to be appreciated by everybody should not be the goal, because it flattens the potential for creativity and newness.
What do you see as the point of difference and edge the Missoni has over these other brands?
Luckily for Missoni, what makes us stand out is our material research, our colour collections, it communicates a different story – it helps to narrow the results. We want to be a choice – a design decision that is something that people totally love and identify with.
The thing that we love our suppliers to know and something that Fiona (Spence) and the team at Spence and Lyda understand is that we here at Missoni are very peculiar, we can make a project completely different with our fabric upholstery – it is important that we are sharing our entire collection because each pattern can be interpreted in so many different ways and this is what makes our collections so different.
I have been working in this business for 35 years and I need to tell you that when you start playing with mixing Missoni it is addictive, you get addicted to Missoni – because when you first see it you are a little bit scared of how bold it is, but then you make your own choice, and I am always saying to designers and architects to take the risk – try, be brave and dare to do something different!
How do you prepare for guests if you are having them over?
If I have to prepare a dinner I have 10 different crockery sets because I want the options to suit my feelings and the food I am cooking, I need my napery and cutlery to have the right feeling too, I mix and match with heirlooms and bric-a-brac, that feels authentic to me to create a dining experience.
Would you say that you are a minimalist or maximalist?
My house is like a blank page, white walls and wooden block floor – and my couch is a thick leather couch because I want to change the props – I want to change all of my soft furnishings all the time – I want to feel the Sping, Summer, Autumn and Winter. So I have huge cushions that I can change the covers of, and it will completely change the entire feeling of the space. I have very simple iron curtain rods, and I change the curtains as well – to make it look completely different from one season to the next.
What is your number one tip when approaching interiors?
You have to have fun with your interiors, in my opinion when you are designing a space that you have to be able to have things that will always stay in the rooms and things that can be refreshed – I encourage everyone to play, play with the cushions, the curtains, the lampshades, the rugs – play with the objects that can come and go. Play with throws, play with towels, linen, bed linen and this makes so much difference.
What does living a beautiful life mean to you?
I have been interviewed in recent months by a writer for a new book they are working on, so I have thought about this question quite a lot… To me, life and objects, forms and materials talk to me. I know that I sound crazy but I really do feel that – my house is full of shapes, materials, colours and design that I am fascinated with. My house looks like an ‘Alice in Wonderland’, it is built up like an industrial warehouse, but I have dogs and cats and I am living in the middle of nowhere. I have an old house that has been restored and it is like a glass verandah with a winter garden, there are no walls for any paintings – and just natural light and objects that need space to express themselves and talk to me. I love to (go to) flea market(s) and to buy old 1940s, 50s, 60s design pieces that nobody knows and it gives me the inspiration that I need to do my job.
The Missoni Home collection is available exclusively through Spence&Lyda and a network of partners throughout Australia.
Photography: Julie Adams Photographer