The stainless steel kettle with a blue plastic handle and a red bird whistling on the spout, and the corkscrew that looks like a smiling woman with levers for arms were designed for and made by Alessi.
Alessi is an Italian domestic metal products factory. You would think Alessi, Italy’s foremost design factory, would have its headquarters in an imposing palazzo in Milan. Instead, the company is nestled near a small northern Italian lake called Lago d’Orta, a mountain range from its more famous big brother, Lago Maggiore.
The Italian business was established in 1921 to produce metal utensils for food and drink. The products were initially more or less conventional, but by the 1940s, the appealing design had gained significance. Alessi started exhibiting its products at significant expositions in the 1950s, and by the 1970s, well-known designers and architects were creating pieces for the firm.
The Can Can can opener and the Mandarin citrus squeezer with a goblet, two products made by the firm starting in the 1970s, would alter some culinary customs and pave the path for unconventional design.
From 1929, Alessi specialised in the bar counter and domestic tableware items, including bread baskets, teapots, egg cups, condiment sets, and cheese dishes. In 1932 under Carlo, the firm began to focus on the appearance of its products.
1950 with large orders from the United States, it started mass production. The Model No. 870 cocktail shaker designed by Luigi Massoni in the 1950s had sold one and a half million pieces by 1991.
Producing numbered and signed pieces by international architects and designers, including Ettore Sottsass, the firm gained popularity in the 1970s.
Its first cult object was a 1978 espresso-coffee pot designed by Richard Sapper.
The 1983 Tea and Coffee Piazza project initiated by Carlo Alessi’s son Alberto, intended to create ‘architecture in miniature’ and, in reality, was a brilliant publicity ploy commissioning 11 architects: Robert Venturi, Michael Graves, Richard Meir, Stanley Tigerman, Aldo Rossi, Paolo Portoghesi, Alessandro Mendini, Hans Hollein, Charles Jencks, Oscar Blanca Tusquets and Kasumasa Yamashita. The tremendous success of the venture prompted a wave of architect-designed goods from Alessi and other manufacturers.
Alessi-designed products are emotive object pieces. They are things that you want to pick up and admire and caress. They lend a sophisticated sheen to everyday life.
Kovel, R. M., & Kovel, T. H. (2007). Kovels’ American Collectibles 1900-2000. Random House Reference. https://doi.org/10.1604/9780609808917
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Italian design, like interior design, urban design, fashion design and architectural design, refers to all modes of design in Italy.
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