Greater Goods: Lella Vignelli Judaica Read More
In this series, explore the artists and artisan-made products that set the Jewish Museum Shop apart.
“If you do it right, it will last forever. It’s as simple as that.” — Lella Vignelli
“Elegant,” “clean,” and “timeless” are words frequently used to describe the work of the iconic designer Lella Vignelli (1934–2016) by design enthusiasts and experts alike. Born in Udine, Italy as Elena Valle, Vignelli earned her degree in architecture at the University of Venice’s School of Architecture; studying also as a special student at MIT’s Architecture School.
Vignelli’s formal training was in architecture, but her lifelong practice was in design. She created enduring identities for brands including Bloomingdale’s, American Airlines, and others, as a founding member of the Chicago-based firm Unimark International along with her husband, Massimo Vignelli (1931–2014), whom she married in 1957. She applied her precept, “if you can’t find it, design it,” across many forms; the pair created groundbreaking furniture, housewares, packaging, and exhibition design.
In the early 1970s, they were selected to design a new system of visuals for the New York City subway. Many of the resulting elements — including the brightly colored circles that identify the system’s train lines — are still in use nearly fifty years later. “If you do it right,” said Vignelli, in a 2007 article in New York Magazine, “it will last forever. It’s as simple as that.”
Paul Goldberger, architecture critic for The New York Times, wrote of the Vignellis’ work, “(it is) clean, and it is relatively spare, but it is not austere. It is luxurious without being plush … the best of the Vignelli designs bring together visual pleasure and ease of use, relate to the history of design yet give us the sense that we are seeing something beautiful made in a way we have never seen it before.”
Lella Vignelli continued to create beautiful objects throughout her career. Working with San Lorenzo, an Italian high-end silver studio based in Milan, she explored the aesthetic and utilitarian capabilities of the precious metal, designing luxury goods; among them, items for the home, jewelry, and ritual objects — including a menorah with swiveling arms. In 2003, Vignelli attended the Jewish Museum launch for Judaica created by the designer Adam Tihany. Inspired to develop her own line, she designed three pieces exclusively for the Museum. The commission included a kiddush cup, a set of candlesticks, and a Seder plate, all manufactured by San Lorenzo, by then a long-time partner. The suite of Judaica was introduced in 2008 and is part of the Museum’s permanent collection. All three pieces can also be purchased at the Shop.
The designs, which exemplify Vignelli’s signature style — elegant, sleek, and above all, thoughtful — are influenced by the pure lines of Modernism and the textures of 16th-century European costume. When set on the Sabbath or holiday table, their brightly polished contours reflect the participants around them, bringing friends and family together.
To explore more of the Jewish Museum Shop’s selection, create a gift registry, or send a gift e-card, visit Shop.TheJewishMuseum.org. Every purchase supports the Jewish Museum.