She tried to avoid it. Instead of joining the family business, Angela Missoni—daughter of the husband-and-wife team who built Italy's multimillion-dollar Missoni fashion empire—opted to raise free-range chickens. "I thought that might be my direction," she says. It wasn't, so she started up a child-care center—but that too lost its luster.
Finally—inevitably—Missoni, 39, embraced her destiny. Since becoming her family corporation's creative director in 1997, she has shot to the top of the fashion world with sleek, saucy updates of her parents' signature wild-striped knits. Her form-hugging dresses and textured sweaters and jackets "are innovative and incredibly comfortable," says actress Mimi Rogers, who wore a se-quined Missoni pants ensemble to the L.A. premiere of her film Lost in Space. Stars such as Jennifer Lopez
, Nicole Kidman
and Sharon Stone are equally wrapped up in Missoni's designs, but her biggest fans are her mother and father. Says Rosita, 66, who handed over the artistic reins to her youngest child: "I didn't have the energy for it anymore. Now Angela has made the designs modern, and I feel rejuvenated." Ottavio (nicknamed Tai), 77, the company's chairman, agrees—although he continues to dabble in textile design. "I'm still given a few chores to do," he says with a smile.
While she has certainly tweaked the formula, Missoni has been careful not to trash a tradition beloved by the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger (who she says once told her he "founded the Santa Monica Missoni Fan Club") and Quincy Jones, whose entire family sported Missoni sweaters in their 1997 Christmas card. "What I'm doing is an evolution," Missoni says. "It's sexier, more metropolitan. I like to think a woman who wears Missoni has an attitude, is spontaneous and energetic." A woman, in short, not unlike herself.
Even as a child growing up in the building near Milan that served as both the family's home and factory, "Angela knew what she wanted," says Rosita. "She used to dress up in my clothes, she did wild combinations, she invented." Agrees Cristina Vanone, an old friend: "She has inherited the great creativity of her father and the character of steel of her mother."
Rosita and Tai, who met in London when he was a track and field finalist in the 1948 Olympics and she a fan, worked long hours while their children (Angela's brothers Vit-torio, 44, and Luca, 42, have joined her in the family business) played hide-and-seek among the factory workbaskets. By the time she graduated from high school, Angela was working part-time in her parents' business. "But I had to get away from that work so I could think," she says. At 22, she married Marco Maccapani, a special events director who has remained close to their children (Margherita, 15, Francesco, 13, and Teresa, 10) since the couple's divorce in 1991. Around that time, Missoni's father persuaded her to rejoin the fold. "He said that within Missoni there are 1,000 jobs, and I could do what I wanted," she recalls. According to her current beau, clothing manufacturer Bruno Ragazzi, 52, it has been a difficult choice. "She's a perfectionist," he says. "She tries to do it all."
At the moment that means overseeing renovations to a new Milan showroom and opening a Manhattan boutique as well as designing for the company's numerous lines. It also means spending much of her time at the factory, which sits on a hill in Sumirago, outside Milan, near her parents' home and her own airy, three-story house. She doesn't worry that her schedule will harm her children, who spend time at the factory, as she did. "A happy mother can make her children happy," Missoni says.
And maybe even pass on the family passion. Before a recent show, Missoni noticed that sequins on some dresses were the wrong hue. Young Francesco picked up a marker and colored each one. Says his proud mom: "He was really pleased to be out there, helping."
Sarah Delaney in Sumirago and Steven Cojocaru in Los Angeles