PICCOLO PRINCIPE

Principe & Company New York

The Golden Van, parked outside the Metropolitan Museum of art in New York

On July 31st, 2004—a sunny Saturday as I recall—I received a cold call e-mail from Rajah Dagstani in New York. “I’m buying a delivery van. I’m strapping a cappuccino machine in the back and I’m hoping to introduce the most pudding like cappuccinos the world has ever seen to New York street food. I am looking for a designer to help me with a logo or design work for the whole van if I can afford it… Does this sound like something you might be interested in?” Of course, I said YES immediately.

Wouldn’t you? As I remember it Rajah and I then ran towards each other through a dewy meadow in slow motion.

In reality, I went to New York to meet him and discuss, and found him to be the perfect client: He combined a clearly defined vision with a romantic appreciation for the possibilities of art and design. What do you expect? The man tools through New York on a Vespa, wearing bespoke suits. He also happens to be a trained sculptor, and makes a mean charcoal drawing. It’s just that he got seriously interested in the business of food along the way.

Over coffee at Café Sabarsky our conversation turned to early 20th century café society, and to some of the Gustav Klimt paintings that were only a few feet away in the Neue Gallerie. Shortly thereafter I hatched the brilliant idea that the whole van should be Klimtified in gold leaf. (As much as I enjoy squeezing every last drop of ink out of a dollar, you can always count on me to come up with hideously expensive ideas if you’ll let me.)

Rajah to his great credit immediately caught my gold fever and said “Let’s do it!” Over the following 18 months we were on a mission to find just the right people to make this true El Dorado on wheels a reality. After much searching and a few false starts we found Tony Markus, a high-end custom motorcycle painter in Burbank who was eager to help us.

At Tony’s suggestion we changed the design to a two tone “classic flake” sparkling gold paint, confining the gold leaf to the Piccolo Principe logotype. Think “Klimt meets Low Rider.” This is also the point in the story when the pimped out gold spoke wheels struck us as simply mandatory.

As much as the projected cost of the paint job was steadily rising, the thing we didn’t anticipate was how entirely complicated and shockingly costly it would be to outfit the van with the necessary plumbing and electricity to fulfill its basic function. You see, your street legal Bajaj-brand three-wheeler looks beautiful, but is also diminutive at best. So to put in a generator, a refrigerator, and two separate water systems (one for serving and another for cleaning) without having the whole thing tip over turned out to require the services of a Tetris grand master. And they don’t come anywhere near cheap.

At this point, Rajah was tapped to become the maître d’ (and, soon after, the general manager) of Thomas Keller’s restaurant Per Se. Raj and his wife also welcomed their second son into the world. Suddenly, investing in a $60,000 espresso machine on wheels seemed less than wise. And thus the golden van went into indefinite hibernation.

Who knows if it will ever become real? In some ways it belongs in the “Thoughts & Dreams” category of life, but I’ve not given up hope. One day the phone may ring and Rajah may tell me that it’s all back on. I sure hope so. The world would be better with the little golden van puttering through Manhattan, don’t you think?


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These are a few of my first round comps. I usually don’t present this much work, but there was just too much to explore here. While the news tickers appealed to Raj and me both for the Times Square connection, it was the serving hands that seemed most appropriate to the original idea of the van. It’s my guess that most corporate clients would probably have gone with one of the designs in the first row. When Raj blew straight past them, I knew we were on the same wavelength.

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Raj liked where I was going here, particularly with the top left option, but he was also disappointed. “You’re holding back! I want you to go wild!” So I did, and he said:

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“OK, not that wild. But I really like the flying saucers. Can we use those?”

And so we did. (I love that man!)

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The original artwork for the “go Crazy!” option. Note the flying saucers.
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