“Italy’s few commercial artists are self-instructed. The absence of a strong tradition and the lack of specialised schools explain the need for foreign contacts, already severely tested by the long years of isolation, when the production of the free nations was out of reach.” [Antonio Boggeri, ‘Advertising Art in Post-War Italy’, Graphis issue n° 18, 1947]
“Incredible as it may seem, there are in Italy no professional schools for advertising. […] Yet only thirty years ago there were precious few Italian firms which realized that advertising, to be a success, must be carefully planned and carried through on a large scale. […] After the war […] advertising became one of the pillars of reconstruction. […] Today the commercial artist […] usually works as a free-lance and mostly gives his productions a note of his own. […] For this reason I regard the commercial artist as having his own special importance: because his idea, his artistic interpretation of the commercial concept, helps to bring about the success of a product.” [Carlo Dinelli, ‘Commercial Art in Italy’, in Graphis issue n° 33, 1950]
In this context, the Palma d’Oro was introduced in 1950 and awarded by a jury consisting mainly of representatives from the advertising profession; in its early years, the prize always went to companies such as Olivetti, Barilla, and Pirelli, thanks to their graphic designers’ inventive solutions and refined taste.
The 1955 edition of the prize did not take place, because of the profound disagreement emerging in the advertising professional community about the criteria employed in the jury’s decision-making. In particular, what was put into question was the excessive importance given to “graphic forms and artistic values”, considered independent from any link with “advertising commercial goals” and with psychology, tastes, class provenience, cultural and social backgrounds of the audiences to whom the advertising message was addressed.
As a result of these polemics, in 1956 the rules of the prize were changed, thus giving more emphasis to the campaigns’ “effectiveness in terms of sales and notoriety obtained by the product or service advertised”.
In 1959 – within the 2nd National Advertising Week – the jury of the 9th National Advertising Award (“9° Premio Nazionale della Pubblicità”) assigned unanimously the Palma d’Oro to Necchi, a factory from Pavia at the forefront of “good design” for their sewing machines (the ‘Mirella’ model was so inspiring that it became one of the only sewing machines ever to be on permanent display at the MoMA in NY). Necchi, originally one of the most important foundries in Europe, had started the production of sewing machines in 1919. Twice winner of the Compasso d’Oro (the oldest and most authoritative world award for industrial design), in 1954 and in 1957, in 1960 it was able to produce a sewing machine every 24 seconds, counting on a network of 10,000 Necchi stores around the world.
In an interview with Rai (Italian radio and television), Vittorio Necchi declared: «In the motivation of the jury of the National Advertising Award for the Palma d’Oro, there is a sentence that more than any other is a source of profound satisfaction for me: “Necchi advertising is constantly inspired by the criterion of constituting a loyal and useful guide for the consumer“. I have always wanted our actions to be inspired by this criterion. We have never abandoned this style and this measure, convinced that reality, even in information, is the moral basis of the relationship between those who produce and those who consume. So I think any commercial competition should be conducted.»
In 1959 the advertising experts did not fail to praise Franco Grignani’s graphic work with the “Award to the advertising artist” (gold medal), as it had “never degenerated into abstractionisms that were inessential to the purpose of the advertisement or not perfectly accessible to its public of potential buyers”.
While commenting on Grignani’s graphics, attention was drawn also to the way in which the “form of the machine” was never isolated but almost constantly accompanied by the “human form” of a woman (in this regard, the historic artistic collaboration between Franco and his wife Jeanne is well known, especially for successful advertising campaigns such as the one for Necchi).
As Simona de Iulio and Carlo Vinti have recently underlined, actually – examining the advertising messages created by graphic designers who collaborated with in-house departments of large industries during the 1950s and 1960s – one can see that often it was the product itself which reigned supreme. The graphic designers’ creations tended to represent production more than consumption, and corporate attitudes more than consumer needs. In this particular case, it is evident that Necchi’s advertising management together with the prestigious contribution of Franco Grignani was able to “correct” that trend.
In November of the same year, to underline the recent significant acknowledgment, Franco and Jeanne Grignani received together – amid vivid cheers – the “Advertising Garter” award (premio “Giarrettiera pubblicitaria“), promoted by the Italian Advertising Artists Association (AIAP), for “the exemplary contribution made to advertising graphics, and the echo that his artistic activity has aroused also abroad”: the illustration of the award, signed by Pino Tovaglia, in fact alluded to the mechanisms of a sewing machine, with a real red cotton thread that wound between the signatures of members and admirers:
In this short ironic clip from 1962, Franco Grignani is presented as “the one who forces us to look at his posters”.
“La Settimana Incom” (Industria Corti Metraggi Milano) was an Italian newsreel, distributed weekly in cinemas from 1946 to 1965.
[featured pic from AIGA Eye on Design, courtesy of Team EOD – from Pubblicità in Italia, 1959–60]
[*] courtesy of Daniela Grignani
[a] Italian Ways
[b] from the magazine “La Pubblicità” issue n° 11, 1959
 AIAP / CDPG Centro di Documentazione sul Progetto Grafico, courtesy of Lorenzo Grazzani
[this post is not CC BY-NC 4.0 due to some adaptations from The Americanization of Italian Advertising during the 1950s and the 1960s]
[some infos also from “La Pubblicità”, n° 10 & 11, 1969]
[the Vittorio Necchi’s statement to Rai from the precious collaboration of Andrea Iucu – Necchi Pavia Italia]