With its new Justin Bieber collaboration, the ‘ultimate mood-enhancing mobility brand’ has had a battery-powered makeover.
V, E, S, P, A: five letters with the power to summon a tourist-brochure-perfect Italy. The shadows of cypress trees lengthening in the setting Tuscan sun; the winding roads of the Amalfi coast; the turquoise waters of Sardinia; a land of milk, honey, espresso, sprezzatura, pizza and Negroni. Vespa speaks of an Italy where the Vita is forever Dolce and where the national anthem is “Volare”. The two-wheeled distillation of what it is to be Italian, Vespa is surely the ultimate mood-enhancing mobility brand. Some names have a magic forged over generations of liminal messaging. Vespa is one of them. It was an early beneficiary of product placement from postwar PR pioneer Count Rudolfo Crespi, who helped shape modern notions of Italy as the locus classicus of relaxed elegance. It has been said that the 1953 Hepburn/Peck moment in Roman Holiday sold 100,000 scooters. And I would argue that it is still selling scooters 69 years later. Even the electric Vespa that I take for a spin around Mayfair, with its digital instrument panel and smartphone connectivity, still pulls off the conjuring trick, transforming Mount Street into Strada del Monte, if only for a few moments. Its noiseless operation is disconcerting. Such was my expectation of the familiar soundtrack combination of rattle and whoopee cushion when I pressed the starter button that when I heard nothing, I thought of ringing Vespa to see what I had done wrong.
So, looking nothing like Gregory Peck and unaccompanied by engine noise or glamorous pillion passenger, I wobbled along Mount Street in silence from Italian tailor Rubinacci to take an Italian espresso around the corner at Harry’s Bar. Acceleration could be brisker – the battery seems to weigh a ton, and wrestling the thing onto its stand was a mini workout (I think you have to be Italian to master that with apparent effortlessness). However... the smart silver battery-powered two-wheeler may have been made with 21st-century methods, material and preoccupations, but still has enough of the midcentury magic in its profile and detailing to make it more than just an ordinary electric scooter.