Today we’re selling Lella and Massimo Vignelli’s award-winning stackable dinnerware and mugs for Heller from 1964. To celebrate this design classic, we wanted to pay tribute to the lesser-known half of this legendary design duo.
Italian-born Lella Vignelli’s design philosophy is: “If you can design one thing, you can design everything.” And she has certainly proved it to be true. Vignelli has turned her hand to every kind of project, from furniture, interiors, showrooms and exhibitions to product design, silverware and clothing. Her rigorously clean and modern vision resonates through every product, and is instantly recognizable. She is best known for her partnership with her husband Massimo Vignelli, with whom she launched Unimark International in the late 1960s. However, even though the couple collaborated closely on most of their projects, Lella never quite achieved the level of fame that her husband did. The book Hall of Femmes: Lella Vignelli takes a close look at the relationship, and examines Lella Vignelli’s role in modern design. We chatted with editor Sarah Clyne Sundberg to find out more.
What was the purpose of this book?
The book on Lella Vignelli, which I edited, is part of a series of eight called Hall of Femmes, created by the Swedish designers Samira Bouabana and Angela Tillman Sperandio. A few years ago, the two of them realized there seemed to be a dearth of female superstars in the design world, which seemed odd since there certainly were plenty of female designers. Hence, they began working on the Hall of Femmes project to shine a light on great female designers, of which Lella Vignelli undoubtedly is one. I am currently in the process of editing another book in the same series, on Janet Froelich, which will be out in May. Apart from the books there is also the website.
What does the book tell us about Lella Vignelli that we didn’t know before?
It takes a closer look at the very close creative, business and romantic partnership she and her husband Massimo have had throughout their lives. We talked to Lella about navigating the business and design worlds as a woman at a time when that was not a common thing. The Vignellis also speak about their working relationship and how it was affected by the fact that in the early days Lella did not always get due recognition for her work.
What was the most important thing you learned about Lella Vignelli while working on the book?
Just witnessing her and Massimo together, was inspirational and humbling. I can’t quite imagine working so intensely together with someone who is also my domestic and romantic partner, let alone someone I’ve been with since I was 17. Seeing the love and respect Massimo had for her was very moving.
How would you describe her and her husband’s partnership?
It is very symbiotic and seamless. They met when they were 17 and 20 years old, so they really grew up and built an intellectual and creative platform together. Lella was the brain, the one with the business sense and a talent for study (she used to help Massimo with exams when he was in school). She got things done. Massimo was the visionary, the one who in their words was, “flying high, when Lella stood with both feet on the ground.”
What do you think is her most important contribution to the design world?
In abstract terms I have to say her clarity of vision and staunch modernist principles. She is unflinchingly timeless and anti-trend. In concrete terms, she has designed many relatively anonymous but highly recognizable objects, such as airport chairs and dinnerware.
Why is her name not as well known as her husband’s?
They always worked very closely together and it wasn’t always clear who did what. Often they themselves would list both their names, but many times the media would only credit Massimo.
How would you describe Lella Vignelli’s design sensibility?
Timelessly elegant, spare and modern. The highest quality with absolutely nothing unnecessary.
What are some of her most significant works?
She designed showrooms for Italian furniture company Poltrona Frau which played a big part in shaping their visual identity at present. In terms of objects, or furniture, some of her more iconic pieces are the Saratoga line of living room furniture for Poltronova and the Handkercheif chair for Knoll. My personal favorite is her work on St. Peter’s church in New York City.