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Alessi
 

Alessi


  Alessi
putting the fun in function
by Robin D. Rusch
April 23, 2001

Ever fashionable, the Alessi brand has managed to transform from a metal utensil and dish designer to fully explore all kitchen and household options, incorporating the work of leading designers from Philippe Stark to Michael Graves and Aldo Rossi. Throughout its 80-year history, Alessi has chosen direction based on the guidance of its designers and the development of the product itself.

The brand vision appears to be to revel in design in all areas of life, to enjoy and celebrate the simplicity of everyday objects, and to take risks whether there exists a need for risk or not. Or put simply: No man should be forced to dine from a boring plate.

 
 

But how did Alessi acquire such a frivolously jubilant reputation?

The year was 1921, the setting, a small town in the foothills of the Italian Alps, the founder Giovanni Alessi for whom the company is named was a metal expert working with a lathe to create workmanlike metal utensils and dishes. The result was a family-run brand that would continually adapt to set style in the kitchen and home using a variety of mediums from silver, bronze and stainless steel to porcelain, ceramic, and eventually, plastic.

Although Giovanni was an able craftsman, it wasn’t until his eldest son Carlo stepped up to the plate in the thirties and forties that the brand began to be associated with a style of design unique to the Alessi name. Carlo’s playfully flamboyant Bombé coffee and tea set is celebrated as creating a design sensibility in Italy that can still be seen as an influence in many of the products today. It was these early designs that encouraged ordinary Italians to view their kitchen as a living arthouse, where the salt and pepper shaker were more than just the functional sum of their parts.

Carlo’s eldest son Alberto continued along the path set by la famiglia and propelled the company into the international world of design.

In the early nineties, on the advice of his designers, Alberto allowed the use of plastic to address a trend of “customers yearning for joyful, playful design,” as he put it. This change of direction for the brand, which prior to the advent of plastic, was becoming an elitist symbol of yuppie affluence, helped Alessi to breakaway from the harsh lines of the eighties and adjust to the more organic nineties.

And it is this advice from his designers that seems to inform Alberto’s approach to managing the brand’s direction. Rather than tracking the whims and desires of the market base, Alessi follows the suggestion of its designers in deciding where its next steps will be. This approach is a boon to designers who may wish to design free from the confines of the audience’s voice. In this manner, the evolution of Alessi’s is such that an elegant cup and saucer can reside next to a flamboyantly tentacled octopus whisk.

But the playfulness doesn’t begin and end with the form. Alessi’s names are reminiscent of an Asterix meets Winnie the Poo collision. We are treated to such delightfully named products as Alessitronics, Comix in the Kitchen, Coo Coo and Poe.

But for those aesthetes who worry that the brand is too accessible to the masses, Alessi has created a dual branding system to distinguish between its popular price point products and the more exclusive designs. There is the Alessi product, which is mass produced and easily accessed through department stores, and then a system of marks for designers dedicated to experimenting and manufactured in limited editions. These names include Officina Alessi, product designed solely in metal, Alessi Twergi, using only wood, and Alessi Tendentse, which uses porcelain and crystal glass.

Content for its products to be confined to the kitchen, the Alessi name in turn aspires to attain recognition within the design community. And the rest of the world obviously concurs as Alessi design can be found in museums throughout the world.

 
     
  

Robin D. Rusch lives and works in New York City.

  
     
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