By the time you read this magazine, Margherita Maccapani Missoni will have already completed her second Burning Man. For those of you who aren’t familiar with this annual festival devoted to self-expression and rapturous hedonism, it’s held around Labor Day in the middle of the Black Rock Desert, 120 miles north of Reno, Nevada. The 27-year-old Ms. Missoni will have spent her Burning Man dressed up in head scarves, sheer tops, gypsy skirts, and goofy sunglasses, parading around the desert like a madwoman. She loves this kind of stuff. It’s precisely the sort of idiosyncrasy and self-demonstration that has defined the Missoni family for generations, and it’s the sort of theatricality that 11 members of the family channeled for their fall 2010 knitwear campaign. For that, they enlisted artist Kenneth Anger—he of such fabulous mind-altering works as 1972’s Lucifer Rising—to capture la famiglia in all their glory as they donned wigs and looks from the collection on their Northern Italian property last May. It is one of the most progressive fashion-meets-art collaborations in recent memory—and particularly moving because almost every member of the Missoni family was in on the fun.
As the eldest daughter of Angela Missoni, the current creative director of the 57-year-old family-owned fashion house, Margherita has always been as vibrant and as complex as the patterns created on the family looms. She and I first met nearly a decade ago when she was a student at Columbia University in New York. Since then she’s worked as an actress, the ambassador of the family biz, and, most recently, one of the company’s designers. Margherita is living a very full life, and I have felt lucky to join her on some of the stops. But not Burning Man. She is much more hardcore than I am.
DEREK BLASBERG: I know you’re a big fan of the Burning Man festival.
MARGHERITA MISSONI: Last year was my first time and it was the most incredible experience of my life. It was a vacation from planet Earth!
BLASBERG: Oh, do go on . . .
MISSONI: It’s not a festival in the sense of organized performances in front of an audience. At Burning Man, the audience is the show, the boundaries between stage and public overlap and melt. Every form of self-expression, every fantasy . . . everything has a place. It’s kind of a utopia, and everyone who sets foot in it is so impressed that they do their best to respect it and keep it alive.
BLASBERG: In my head it’s like this huge mass of bodies and madness. I can’t tell if it’s my idea of paradise or hell.
MISSONI: I’m not sure it’s your cup of tea. It’s almost 50,000 people and an extremely physical experience: You spend a week in the middle of the desert on top of a dried-up lake. It’s not a place where humans are meant to live. It’s terribly hot during the day, and at night it gets very cold. There are even sandstorms.
BLASBERG: So what’s the point?
MISSONI: To create something unbelievable for the sake of it, for the experience of that moment. And at the end, there shouldn’t be any sign that it happened—you won’t even find a single cigarette butt on the ground. Actually, I think the hardcore Burners are very secretive about their experiences and probably aren’t keen on people talking about it in magazines.
BLASBERG: Can you at least tell me about the Spice Burns? When you, Eugenie [Niarchos], and Tatiana [Santo Domingo] came back from Burning Man last year, you were in this make-believe rock band.
MISSONI: The festival lasts a week, but it feels like a year. And in that time, people bond in an extreme way. Last year the three of us came back to the real world, and we started functioning as three parts of a unity. At the festival, we started wearing matching outfits, and we kept doing it afterward. When people started questioning us about it, we said we were in a visual-art act called the Spice Burns.
BLASBERG: This will be my last question about Burning Man: What was the craziest thing you did while you were there?
MISSONI: I could never say, Derek! My grandmother might read this.
e had a 4 a.m. call time—some of the boys hadn’t even been to bed yet—and we underwent major hair and makeup transformations . . . The part of the film with my crazy dancing was done with no music! I had to dance like a madman in silence in front of my whole family.—Margherita Missoni
BLASBERG: Fine . . . You have your own apartment now, right?
MISSONI: Yes! And I have to say it’s a relief to have a place of my own after living out of suitcases for years. I finally have a little stability. My new role in the company also pushed me in that direction. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I’m comfortable enough with myself to admit that this is what I want to do.
BLASBERG: Officially you’ve been working for the company for years as an ambassador.
MISSONI: When I was 18 and started going out as a young person, it coincided with the time people started perceiving the change of direction that my mother had brought to the company. So it was natural that the outside world started associating me with the clothes. It was probably more the magazines that gave me that role before we ourselves even realized it.
BLASBERG: What are you doing for the company now, design-wise?
MISSONI: I’m designing the accessories—bags, shoes, jewelry, and glasses—and the line Missoni Mare. I’m enjoying it so much. I never had such a drive for anything else in my life. My grandmother told me that to be in fashion, one must be young and passionate about the work. At this moment, every aspect of my life is permeated by fashion—everything has a reference to my job. For me, Missoni represents my family, the company, fashion, and the Italian countryside. I guess that’s part of the reason why I doubt anyone else would have a stronger drive in the company than me.
BLASBERG: Let’s talk about the Kenneth Anger film. How did that happen?
MISSONI: In the previous campaign, Juergen Teller shot the Missoni family having a meal while we watched a football game. This time around, we wanted to maintain that same idea of family, but we didn’t want to restrict ourselves to a single concept—we wanted to avoid becoming caricatures. As a family, we are 100 percent the people portrayed in the Teller photographs, but we are so many other things as well. We are normal and we are not normal. We are also complete eccentrics, starting with my grandmother and her braided rattail. I think that’s what we wanted to show this time—the same people, but in a different light.
BLASBERG: I loved Teller’s campaign. Did you get to keep some of those pictures?
MISSONI: I don’t personally own any of the prints, but Juergen did send me a picture of myself nude, standing next to a lemon tree, that I agreed to pose for at around 2 a.m.
BLASBERG: Kenneth Anger is a much darker choice.
MISSONI: It was almost gothic. But our fall collection was different, too. There was much more black than people expected in a Missoni collection. We wanted to put that nuance in the campaign. Anger just seemed perfect to bring that sensibility to the images. He also has a taste for the overlapping and the layering of textures, which is big for us too.
BLASBERG: Was it fun to do the video?
MISSONI: Shooting was outrageous. It was hilarious. We had a 4 a.m. call time—some of the boys hadn’t even been to bed yet—and we underwent major hair and makeup transformations. There were a dozen crazy wigs on set that everyone started trying on. My uncle fell asleep under the hair dryer. The pink sunrise came up and colored the Alps in the background. It was quite a memorable day. The part of the film with my crazy dancing was done with no music! I had to dance like a madman in silence in front of my whole family. This is when my acting training came in handy.
BLASBERG: Yes, you’re an actress, too . . . I think your mom has a similar story. Didn’t she run a kindergarten for a while and then decide to work for the family when she was ready?
MISSONI: Maybe this is the Missoni way—try your own thing and then work for the family company. I think when you grow up living next to your grandparents and cousins and you’re 300 meters from the family offices and the setting of your after-school games is the fashion atelier, it can be hard to see yourself as an individual. It’s quite understandable that a young person might feel the need to prove themselves as a single entity first.
BLASBERG: Perhaps that’s why you like Burning Man so much.
MISSONI: Exactly! It’s my time to flee!
Photo: Behind the scenes during filming at the Missoni family’s property in Northern Italy. Photos: Courtesy of the Missoni family.
Derek Blasberg is the Editor at Large of Harper’s Bazaar and Style.com and the author of Classy: Exceptional Advice for the Extremely Modern Lady.