Vignelli Continued (pt. 2)

As I continue to compile my own personal sharing from my Master Workshop with Massimo Vignelli. I want to share the portion of an article from Design Observer.

A portion of the content hit very close to home. As a mother who struggles to decipher between my home and professional life (or my personal vs. professional goals). I often find myself wondering, where, if anywhere, can they meet in the middle? Thank you for sharing this perspective, Mrs. Vignelli.

Balance and Perseverance
How do I blend my personal and professional life? How do I balance family and work responsibilities? How do I believe in myself when others are doubting? How do I progress when obstacles are placed in my path? Are the answers different if I am a woman?

“When we first came over [to the United States] in September of 1957, we were still on honeymoon and we’ve been that way for many years,” said Massimo. Like most young couples, they sought independence, breaking away from their families to define themselves as individuals and as a couple. “The greatest part of our work has been growing together,” Lella said. “You must have the same sort of preferences. This is good with us, we are complimentary, we balance. In a relationship, it is important that you don’t let yourself be taken over. We do our own projects but we listen to each other.” She laughed. “I am practical, Massimo is creative but he is disorganized.” “Lella is my brake, my reality, I could not have done this without her,” said Massimo. He laughed too.

Sometimes their partnership was tested, notably when married couples were once discouraged — and often forbidden — to work together in American offices. Unimark too had an official policy against working couples. It was only partially applied for the Vignellis but there was still disparity: Lella’s work was contractual while Massimo held a very public role as a founder and Design Director. Lella might have been responsible for a project but her presence was somewhat suspect to construction workers on project sites. A mix of exasperation and bitterness is still apparent as she recalls those times. “‘Oh Sweetie, what are you doing, hanging around? We have questions, send your husband,’ they’d say. I was critical when their work was sloppy and they resented that,” she said. In that era, it was harder for a woman to gain respect and cooperation, simply because she was a woman.

Balancing professional goals and a job with the demands of home and family often was, and is, complicated for women. Men are not immune to these issues, but typically women bear the brunt of work and worry for the family. Lella was no exception as she mothered their two young children, managed the household, kept a watchful eye on business records, and still maintained her own career. “It wasn’t that easy,” she said, “I wanted to focus on my work, but I couldn’t totally. Many times I didn’t trust myself; I was tired, I couldn’t think straight.” Lella worries as their daughter, and other young women, face many of the same concerns.

Looking at Lella’s accomplishments proves that perseverance pays off. “Now is the best time of my life,” she said a few years ago. “I am doing the showrooms; they please me. I am traveling — I have less responsibilities with home, with cooking, with record-keeping. I am in control of myself. Being older helps too.”

The Vignellis often interrupt each other as they finish one another’s sentences or elaborate on a thought. It bothers them both, and it is something they continue to work on, but the habits of a lifetime are hard to break. On the plus side, it is a sign of their constant sharing of information. Their big ideas are developed together, and they are fully understood by both partners.

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