Here Come the Mods

Students at Parsons School of Design team up with Piaggio to produce a new line of accessories for the Vespa scooter.

If you missed out on the Vespa’s 1950s incarnation as a sleek functional objet that came to symbolize postwar Modernism (think Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn in Roman Holiday) or its 1960s and ’70s version as a fetish of British youth culture (think mohair suits, bennies, and gang wars between Mods and Rockers), here’s your chance to personify the scooter boy of the twenty-first century. Picture yourself cruising the East Village, organic coffee in the glove box, Beat Pod blaring 50 Cent, your dachshund behind you in a Vespet carrier.

The iconic Vespa returned to the American market in 2000, nearly 15 years since Piaggio had stopped selling the scooters here. A new age naturally demanded new accessories, and after the reintroduction of the classic PX model last year, creative director Evelyn Kim asked the Parsons Design Lab—a program that links students with companies for real-world experience—to conceive a line of Vespa accessories for the iPod generation.

“Vespa is a very endearing object to Italians,” Kim says. “Everybody knows and loves it. But because they know it so well, it’s difficult for them to think outside the box, so we used U.S. students as incubators of new ideas.”

Working in multidisciplinary groups of five, the students researched Vespa’s cultural history, observed current trends, and developed concepts for products that would easily complement the bikes and appeal to American consumers. Three are expected to go into production by the end of next year. Product-design student Eddie Chiu learned from a dealer that most New York Vespa buyers are now 28 and older, which inspired him to digitally model a reclining seat that converts the bikes into lounge chairs. Soner Onen, a design-technology student, came up with the concept for Vespet, a carrier for four-legged creatures with a grille in front, a window in back, and padding inside in case of bumps.

Another team conceived the Beat Pod, a kind of MP3 player adapted for today’s scooter boys and girls with wearable speakers to play digital tunes out loud. “We were looking at hip-hop and East Village hipsters,” says Moselle Spiller, an industrial- and product-design student, “and we got inspired by the 1970s and ’80s boom box, when everyone played music out in the street and who you were was out there. We feel that today people are isolated in their little iPod worlds, so the Beat Pods are an attempt to bring people and music back out into the street.”

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