Driving in (Italian) Style

‘The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945-2014’ exhibition does not only present beautiful Italian ready-to-wear and couture fashion designs and accessories, but also includes a staple of Italian vehicle design – the Vespa. This mint-green two-wheeler is featured in the room entitled ‘Hollywood on the Tiber’, presenting the spectacular outfits of the 50s and 60s, which were worn by Hollywood stars that came to Italy’s capital.

The Vespa in its custom made crate just after arriving in the galleries © Matthew Philips, Vespa 125, 1949 Model; Photo  © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

The Vespa was first manufactured by the Piaggio company, which was founded by Rinaldo Piaggio in 1884 in Genoa. The company started off as a luxury ship building company and later on manufactured airplanes and rail carriages amongst other vehicles. It was only in 1945 after the end of the war that the scooter production started – most likely as a consequence of the post-war need for cheap transport. After the second-world-war the Vespa was introduced to the market. By the 1950s the first Piaggio factory opened in Germany, and later on in the UK (Douglas of Bristol), thus spreading the manufacture of the Italian design.

In the 1950s and 60s Rome’s gorgeous cityscape and monuments increasingly became the backdrop for numerous fashion photo-shoots and films, and therefore American stars flocked to the city. One of the most popular films of the time shot in Rome in 1953 was ‘Roman Holiday’ featuring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck. The typically Italian scooter is included on the contemporary film posters, showing that the vehicle was seen as synonymous with Italy and its culture. Some scenes from ‘Roman Holiday’ are included in the exhibition; in one of the film’s most recognised scenes, the two lead actors drive a Vespa around the Coliseum. The Vespa that is included in the exhibition is similar to the model that was used in the film. It is one of the first fifty Vespa’s that were imported into Britain, and one of only three of these to have survived.

The Vespa arrived at the museum in a custom built crate that would ensure its safe travel. The crate can be seen in the images above and below, which also show the object’s installation process.

Removing the Vespa from its crate during installation © Matthew Philips, Vespa 125, 1949 Model; Photo  © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Placing the Vespa within the exhibition © Matthew Philips, Vespa 125, 1949 Model; Photo © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Now the Vespa is presented together with a colourful Pucci playsuit and can be seen until 27 July in the V&As ‘The Glamour of Italian Fashion 1945 – 2014’ exhibition.

With thanks to Matthew Philips www.surreyvintagesc.com