Text Analysis Object as Image – The Italian Scooter

Object as Image – The Italian Scooter Dick Hebdige (1981)

The designer for the first Italian scooter was Corriando D’Ascanio for Piaggio. Piaggio was formally Piaggio Air.  During the War Piaggio Air had produced Italy’s only heavy bomber the P108 B.


D’Ascanio was an aeronautical engineer who had previously designed the first production helicopter for Agusta.

There are articles claiming that D’Ascanio first had his scooter design for Innocenti, but the two had a falling out, so D’Ascanio took his design to Piaggio and the Vespa was born.

The First Italian Scooters



Above First Image – Piaggio Vespa 1946 followed by Innocenti Lambretta 1947.

The first motor scooters were manufactured in Europe in the years after the First World War – there were records of scooters being sold earlier than this in the US.

The post-War period brought changes associated with development captialism, such as

  • Automation of the work process.
  • Increased specialisation and diversification – (spreading of risk over a wider product range).
  • Expansion of the white collar sector.
  • Control of distribution networks.
  • Marketing sharing between corporations.
  • Price fixing.
  • Imperialism, exploitation of 3rd world resources, domination of third world markets.
  • The movement of competition from the ‘field of price’ to the ‘field of sales promotion’.
  • Increased expenditure on research, design and market preparation.

All these developments were motivated by need of the modern corporation to dominate and control all the conditions and variables which affect investments.

In this context the massive expansion of advertising and marketing industries during this period can be most clearly understood.

In this period design became consolidated as a ‘scienfiic’ practice, the shape and look of things were to play an important part in aligning two potentially divergent interests, ‘production for profit’ and ‘consumption for pleasure’.

As I’ve already mentioned, the designer for the first Italian scooter was Corriando D’Ascanio for Piaggio. However, Innocenti followed in 1947 with the first Lambretta scooter.

The Vespa’s design was contempory, it was streamline and made a visual impact.  The Vespa’s design was made for comfort, convenience and vanity.  The covering of machines parts meant that the rider didn’t have to wear specialist protective clothing.

The name Vespa translated is in English to ‘Wasp’ for its buzzing sound and thin streamline body.

The Early Years – Consumption for Pleasure


Early advertising campaigns were particularly directed at consumer groups of the young and women. The new invention bought of the ideal scooterist, young, socially mobile, conscious of his or her appearance. Left image – Innocent Lambretta’s advert 1956

It was also an ideal frame for skirt wearing women as the ideal choice of dress in the 1940’s was a skirt, though some female factory workers did wear trousers, but switched back to the skirt when they ‘clocked-off’ or were out in public.  The scooter was a comfortable, nicely design little vehicle for people who didn’t care too much about the mechanics of it.

By 1950, Piaggio and Innocenti had between them opened up a completely new market for cheap motorised transportation.  The Lambretta’s range was Piaggio’s biggests threat to in terms of international sales and trade recognition.  The Lambretta was marketed in Britain as the sports car on two wheels, elegance and comfort were strong selling points.  It had a variety of accessories which were available, such as windscreens, panniers, bumpers, radios and a glove compartment – giving a luxurious image.

To the consuvespa.jpgmerist the Vespa offered the contemporary design, the engine was hidden behind the metal cowling, removing the mechanical parts from viewer depicted the object as a lifestyle choice, the aesthetic gave dematerialisaton of the object.

Scooters were presented to the public as clean, social applicances, unlike the rugged looked of the traditional motorcycle designs.  Piaggio sold around 2500 Vespas in 1947, but the year after that, they sold more than ten thousand and by 1950 sales had rocketed to 60,000 a year.  Left image – Piaggio Vespa 1946.


In 1952 movie stars Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck rode a Vespa in the hit film Roman Holiday.  Hepburn and Peck helped to make the Vespa even cooler and 100,000 more Vespas were sold as a result.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 20.42.41.pngRight Image – Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.

The worldwide Vespa club membership soon soared to 50,000 and more, and the Italian scooters future looked to be set in stone. With the invested interested in transforming the market, in aesthetising products and ‘educating’ consumers emerged a set of cultural values.


1950’s, 1960’s and 1970’s – Consumption for Desire
The object is denoted as Italy – the home of male narcissism, connoting a sign of good taste and the look of the future.

As scooters became more popular by 1963 there were 22 different firms selling scooters in Britain, more and more events took place.  Innocenti specific developed the 200cc Lambretta to meet the demands for the Isle of Man Scooter Rally, by late 1950’s it had become quite an important event in Europe.

During the mid 60’s the British media spread the knowledge that the Italian Scooters were an identity markers for The Mods.

The Mods were groups of youths who dressed in suits and military parka coats who were dressed to impress and show off their scooters.




They were also connected with vandalism and riots, particular against the rockers who rode motorbikes, one of the biggest headlined riots was the ‘Battle of Brighton’ in 1964.


Later in 1979 the film Quadrophenia came out which was a remake of the Mods culture and Battle of Brighton.


Quadrophenia was also ‘The Who’ sixth studio album, which had a great influence on the mod revival in the 1980’s.

1980’s and 1990’s – The Mod Revival and Britpop

Above images from left to right – Damon Albarn from Blur, Oasis band members.  Cover albums – Saint Etienne, Massive Attack, Portishead, The Jam, The Who, The Charlatans, Oasis, Blur and The Chords.

The relationship between user and the object – The Italian Scooter, changed overtime with the disappearance of service stations, the recessions, small Japanese motorcycles, crash helmets and scooters India.

The network of relations had shifted, owners were seen as amateur mechanics, due to the lack of garages, scooterist were forced to carry out maintenance on their own bikes.

The mods revival was kind of a music genre, bands drove the scene’s growth from a subculture to main stream.  Bands like The Who and The Jam, with this continuing into the 90’s Britpop years.  Many Britpop bands played round the edges of mod – Blur, Charlatans and later Oasis.

Other bands created a hybrid sound of soul, funk, pop and jazz that appealed to a mod crowd increasingly diverse musical tastes – the likes of Portishead, Massive Attack and Saint Etienne.

Mods tended to find bands that appeal to their music tastes, whether that is beat, psych, pop, soul, reggae or funk-inspired.

2000’s and Today – Celebrity Culture

With the general obsession with celebrity culture, the iconic little Italian scooter has moved with it’s new generation of networks.

Here are some celebrities photographed with Italian Scooters.  The Vespa’s current range has a special edition 946 Emporio Armani.  Like the other Italian brand Fiat, which has special edition of the Fiat 500 Abarth Gucci.

The motor industries are marketing themselves on the designer fashion brands, like some of the celebrities market themselves too.

The Vespas range has extended to merchandising in fashion, merchandising of gadgets and even a perfume range.

Lambretta is focussing on sales within the fashion industries, such as footwear and watches.  There are no scooters for sale at present in the Lambretta range, but the iconic name is still selling strong in these other areas.

The iconic scooter is pictured in so many advertising campaigns and is it still selling strong over its 70 year history.


Above image is an example of a Pizza Express advert found on a tube station on 9 April 2016.  This is just an example of how the Italian scooter still serves as an iconic design in today’s advertising.

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