What greater accolade for a design than to be endorsed by Oasis brothers Liam and Noel Gallagher, especially 50 years after it was created? This has been the fate of the Vespa scooter, designed by aeronautical engineer Corradino d’Ascanio in 1946 based on a concept by Enrico Piaggio (see feature, page 13).
The Vespa has always had a high media profile. It made its screen debut in Gregory Peck’s 1953 movie Roman Holiday, and became synonymous with popular post-war Italian style. In the Sixties it found a new cult following in the Mods, who descended on Brighton each August Bank Holiday. And this month is starred in the backdrop to Oasis’ UK concerts. How many marketers would sell their grannies to have their product so favoured?
Fans have no doubt what makes the Vespa a winner, even after all this time. But its enduring popularity begs the question what makes a timeless design? Why, for example, was the Volkswagen Beetle such a hit with the Eighties Yuppies, though designed by Ferdinand Porsche way back in 1937, and why has Alec Issigonis’ Mini not swerved far from fashion in more than 30 years?
All were breakthroughs in their time and are strong on style but highly functional. All have a strong youthful image, and have brought freedom to successive generations. Above all, they’ve all remained available – and at a reasonable price.
Outside transport, you can say the same about the Zippo lighter, Alvar Aalto furniture and the Anglepoise lamp. These aren’t conspicuously linked to youth, but their freshness has made them everyday icons. Again they combine function and elegance, but how many other designs with these attributes have been cast aside?
Predicting what will become a classic is a lottery – would you have tipped the larva lamp to re-emerge as a collectable? But some of today’s products will endure. The Sony Walkman is an obvious choice, but I’d put Priestman Goode’s Cactus radiators, Swatch watches and Nike trainers high on my list. What’s on yours?