You might scoff but that old scooter your dad rides on Sundays is actually a style icon that has influenced generations of designers, musicians, and aspiring cool people. Genuinely, back in the 60’s, they were the thing to have. A dapper suit, crisply pressed. Dark sunglasses. Snappy hair cut. Lambretta. Animosity towards motorbike riders. It’s all part of the Mod look. That was a thing, look it up.
How did the Lambretta get its Look?
When Fernando Innocenti was picking through the rubble of his freshly bombed steel tube factory at the end of World War II, he decided not to rebuild a steel tube plant, he decided he would make scooters. When the British and American commandos dropped on Italy during the Allied invasion, they had some cool looking Cushman scooters dropped with them. This helped them get around enemy positions, evade capture, and get to where the action was quickly. When the killing was done, the scooters remained. Locals picked them up and started using them, enjoying their convenience and versatility. Cheap cars were non-existent and Italy’s factories were rubble, so it was all they had.
The market was flooded with American scooters, but Innocenti knew he could do better. He employed General Corradino D’Ascanio, the guy responsible for the modern helicopter, to help him design a scooter that men and women could drive, were cheap, easy to make, and durable. D’Ascanio hated motorcycles but took on the job, making his designs as unmotorbike like as possible. The front shield was added to keep legs dry and to allow women wearing skirts and dresses to ride them.
An egalitarian motoring revolution started. Innocenti and D’Ascanio had a fight and the general took his designs to a rival and made the Vespa, which beat them to market by a year. However, Innocenti brought out his Lambretta and after some problems with production, they finally started selling. Because they were practical and cheap, people picked them up and used them. The Italians pride themselves in their sartorial elegance; the Lambretta oozed it.
By the late 1950’s, Lambrettas were selling like hotcakes across the world. Cheap cars were still a few years off but in London they were starting to make inroads. Post-war austerity was over, teenagers had cash and wanted to rebel. A particularly style conscious (in other words, vain) group of English jazz-listening youths took up the Lambretta and the Vespa, not initially because they looked so cool (though of course that helped), but because the front shield kept their expensive suits dry.
This practical consideration was to have a lasting impact. Soon, the Mods were spreading and evolving. Bands like The Who and the Small Faces took on the Mod look and with it came the Lambretta. Paint a RAD roundel on it, weld on some shiny chrome wing mirrors, and you had yourself something that looked fantastic as you beetled up to the club in your finest pinstripe and parka.
As Lambretta Falls Apart, a Legend is Born
The Who were one of the biggest bands on the planet. Literally millions of kids grew up with their posters on their bedroom walls and their records in their collections. The Mod look was copied around the world. People wanted Lambrettas. It was a way of saying you were with this group, not that one. You wouldn’t be seen dead on a motorbike. But soon it was all over. Mod was dead by 1967. By the early 1970’s, so was Lambretta.
The memory remained, however. Those kids had seen the Lambretta and they remembered. When their time came to be young and angry, some of them brought back the Mod look in the late 70’s and 80’s. A new generation of bands were aping the look of those cool cats from 20 years ago and making it look as fresh as ever. That’s all the Mods ever wanted: to look fresh. And they did. The Lambretta was cool again, its timeless curves and aesthetic appealed again and again to people who wanted more than just a way of getting around.
Then Oasis Happens
Britpop. 1990’s. Britain is once again exporting music and style they stole from the rest of the world back to the rest of the world and making it look like they invented it. Oasis and Blur were the two biggest bands and a fresh generation of annoyed teenagers had idols who drove Lambrettas. The look was different to the Mod look, they were scruffy and wore jeans, but their Lammys were buffed to a sparkle. After a brief lull, the Lambretta was back.
Not for long. Fashions change faster and faster and hip hop happened. It is hard to imagine Eminem looking anything but ironic on a Lambretta. Besides, Lambrettas cost a packet by this point, only someone with disposable income could pick one up and take care of it properly. Which meant all the middle aged people who had wanted one as a kid. Lambrettas do still look great but there needs to be another youthful generation picking them up for them to be back in style.