Where would we be without the style and romance of this simple two-wheeled vehicle, which gives us freedom, fun and friends? Once on its saddle, it’s the Vespa we can’t do without. This cool accessory, which takes its meaning from literally a wasp as it resembles its shape from above, was the result of Enrico Piaggio’s determination to create a low cost vehicle to zip people about – but keeping it fun and functional, without huge petrol costs.
As the war drew to a close, Enrico studied every possible solution to get people back in to work and crank up the wheels in his production plants in Italy, and soon enough after trials and tribulations, a cute miniature scooter was born, based on a small motorcycle made for parachutists. The prototype, known as the MP5, was nicknamed “Paperino,” Italian for Donald Duck, a nickname the workers gave this creation for its strange shape! It was this slightly goofy shape which then needed Corradino d’Ascanio’s input to redesign it, but Corradino was not entirely in tune with motorcycles, being rather an excellence in aeronautical design, and his sleek eye needed to tackle the uncomfortable and bulky profile, with wheels that were difficult to change after a puncture…even for the girls! Worse still, the drive chain made them dirty! Passion and perseverance, and his wide aeronautical experience, brought him all the answers we enjoy today.
To make the Vespa easier to ride for us all, he put the gear lever on the right handlebar, with its 1-2-3 markers we all know so well, and to make the unlucky tyre-changing easier, he designed not a fork, but a supporting arm which looks very like the undercarriage of an aircraft. The body got a make-over too, and he designed a profile which would protect the driver so that he would not get rained on, mud-splattered or disheveled when riding in his Italian designer, sharp-cut suit to an important date. Corradino d’Ascanio only needed a few days to refine his idea and prepare the first drawings of this new Vespa, which was first produced in Pontedera in April 1946, where today an extensive and fascinating museum celebrates his creation: Il Museo Piaggio.
And so the Vespa was born, and history was in the making…and we now stand back to consider the newest design the Vespa Quarantasei, which marks the celebration year. The lifestyle trends and styles over time have changed and adapted as fashions have moved on and developed around traditions and cultures, but Vespa and its styling in menswear is built on a quintessentially classic look and the collections we see from Italian designer Pal Zileri fully reflect the cool, iconic figures such as Gregory Peck in Vacanze Romane, Jude Law, Gassman and more, who all have individuality and great classic looks.
In every Pal Zileri collection, there is always a new garment for the Vespa driver, which is specifically designed as the Scooterista jacket, developed with a rainproof and windproof garment in mind, using advanced technological research involving the fusion of their signature fine wools and cottons onto a soft “rubber-content” lining, to ensure versatility in the garment for the outdoors, but elegant style in the cut and fit of the jackets. Selected in pinstripes, smart greys and navys, they are an all-rounder for summer weather and winter, the latter being padded with the softest down quilting for warmth but maximum lightness.
Vespa was an immediate success: produced in a rainbow of colours and with a strong designed identity, it achieved a market share of 20 per cent of the small, but growing scooter sector. 6,000 Vespas were sold in the first year, 2001, and over 7,000 in 2002. But the Vespa isn’t just an icon and a market phenomenon; it forms part of social history. In the “Dolce Vita” years, Vespa became a synonym for scooter, much like Hoover for a vacuum cleaner. Foreign journalists described Italy as “the country of the Vespa,” and Vespa gained a place in social history, marked by its presence in hundreds of films worldwide. The tale lives on today, cemented in the iconic movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck in Roman Holiday, which was the starting point catching the attention of many international actors and actresses, who chose to be seen on the world’s coolest scooter, starring in movies such as Quadrophenia, American Graffiti, The Talented Mr. Ripley and 102 Dalmatians, not to mention Dear Diary. In photo shoots, films and on set, the Vespa has been a travel companion for names like Raquel Welch, Ursula Andress, Geraldine Chaplin, Joan Collins, Jayne Mansfield, Virna Lisi, Milla Jovovich, Marcello Mastroianni, Charlton Heston, John Wayne, Henry Fonda, Gary Cooper, Anthony Perkins, Jean-Paul Belmondo, Nanni Moretti, Sting, Antonio Banderas, Matt Damon, Gérard Depardieu, Jude Law, Eddie Murphy, Owen Wilson, Pete Townsend, Nicole Kidman, Gwyneth Paltrow, Uma Thurman, Jamie Oliver and Jay Kay.
If you have not tried one, go take a ride on the back of a friend’s one…you’ll soon know what you’ve missed in life when you pull up on your own Vespa!
BMG Scooters – Vespa stockists in London
Phone: 020 8878 8121
New King’s Road
Phone: 020 7736 0770