Missoni Fashion House Seen Overcoming Heir Disappearance

Missoni SpA’s strong management and niche positioning should help the Italian fashion company carry on should the worst be confirmed about scion Vittorio Missoni, whose plane disappeared last week, analysts said.

Search efforts restarted this morning off the coast of Venezuela and there is no decision as to when they will be called off, local authorities said today. The plane, which went missing Jan. 4, was carrying Missoni, 58, the executive responsible for marketing at the eponymous maker of zig-zag patterned knitwear, as well as his partner and four others.

“As tragic and unfortunate as this is, Missoni will find a way to appoint a new head, while operations should go on largely on a business-as-usual manner” should Vittorio not be found alive, said Luca Solca, the head of luxury-goods research at Exane BNP Paribas. “Missoni’s brand image is huge, but its size is small, which should make it feasible to manage a transition.”

Founded in the 1950s by Vittorio’s parents Ottavio and Rosita, Missoni is run by Vittorio, his brother Luca and their sister Angela. Alberto Piantoni was appointed chief executive officer in 2011.

Missoni’s 2011 collaboration with Target Corp. won headlines when the website of the second-largest U.S. discount retailer failed to function because of higher-than-expected demand for the brand’s maxi dresses and home furnishings at a fraction of their typical cost.

Elder Statesman

The fashion house, whose designs have been worn by pop stars Madonna and Jennifer Lopez, has also formed partnerships with companies including stroller maker Bugaboo and Valentino Fashion Group, licensee of the lower-priced M Missoni line that was introduced in 1998 to broaden the brand’s customer base.

Vittorio, having led Missoni’s retail expansion and diversification into hotels, is an elder statesman of the family, said Armando Branchini, founder of Milan-based luxury consultant Intercorporate. Yet, the company has brought in top managers like Piantoni and the third generation of Missonis is already working in the business, said Branchini.

“Even in the worst-case scenario, the company will go on,” said Branchini. “There is no doubt about this.”

Fashion houses have been rocked with tragedy in recent decades, including the 1997 murder of Gianni Versace, the founder and designer for the firm of the same name. Versace’s siblings took over the company after his death, with his sister Donatella heading up the designs.

Family Hopeful

Alexander McQueen, designer of a line with the same name that is owned by PPR SA, took his own life in 2010. His label, worn by the Duchess of Cambridge at her wedding to Prince William, is now designed by Sarah Burton. Burton was an assistant to McQueen for more than a decade before his death.

For Missoni, “I don’t think this tragedy will affect the business because the company is very solid,” said Alberto Checchinato, a luxury-goods analyst at Fidentiis Equities. “The symbol of the company is Ottavio and he is still alive, so I expect that the patriarch Ottavio will keep the family cohesive” should there be a need to name a successor.

Missoni’s plane left the archipelago of Los Roques for the Caracas airport at 11:29 a.m. local time on Jan. 4. The craft was last reported 10 nautical miles (18 kilometers) from Los Roques, he said. The government isn’t investigating the possibility of a kidnapping, said Jorge Galindo, a spokesman for the Venezuelan Interior Ministry.

“We are full of hope and faith in the work that the authorities have done so far,” Angela Missoni said today in a statement, adding that her brother Luca and CEO Piantoni have traveled to Venezuela. “We won’t give up.”

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