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Sixty years old and still going strong: after a long and well-deserved career, the Fiat 500 (the original model had an engine size of 500cc) has officially joined the permanent collection of the MoMa in New York, the museum of modern art that more than any other museum in the world has the power to consecrate modern design, conferring lasting fame on it.
The fact that the Fiat 500 has joined the ranks of the MoMa on the occasion of its sixtieth birthday offers us the right opportunity to answer a question on industrial design which concerns two design icons Made in Italy.
The question is justified. The resemblance is uncanny, but this is not the only clue. Achille Castiglioni and his brother Pier Giacomo had a passion for a specific type of industrial design that could be described as functional and quirky, they relied on borrowing ideas from other things and re-assembling them into something completely new, useful and practical.
Paola Antonelli, the present curator of the Department of Architecture and Design of the MoMA and Achille Castiglioni’s first student, has often said that her teacher’s designs came for the most part from observation: another clue, doctor Watson.
The Fiat 500 was first designed in 1957 and it was an instant hit. Five years later in 1962, the lamp that the Castiglioni brothers designed for Flos reaches production. The timing could suggest a link between the car and the lamp and Paola Antonelli’s account could suggest that...
The product name first and foremost. Toio is a word puzzle, it’s the transposition of the word toy. A foreign name that takes us outside the confines of Made in Italy design. And it’s here, out of bounds, that we indeed find our answer: the Toio lamp is a headlight, but not the Fiat 500’s headlight.
It appears that Achille and Pier Giacomo themselves said that and Flos’ historical archive confirms it: it’s the headlight of an American vehicle. The inspiration came from across the pond. And Sergio Polano, in the biography titled Achille Castiglioni 1918-2002 published by Elects, puts it down on paper:
We must recognise that there is more than one car spare part at the MoMA. And therefore our answer is that: no, the Toio lamp by Achille and Pier Giacomo Castiglioni for Flos is not the Fiat 500’s headlight. And don’t you try screwing it on.