Founded in 1921 to produce crafted products in metal for eating and drinking, Italian company Alessi have since the 1980’s been famous for their designer home products and utensils made from plastic and stainless steel. Their high design execution of otherwise ordinary objects makes their work instantly recognizable on a shop shelf and has made stars of designers such as Philippe Starck and Stefano Giovannoni. As awareness of interior design has grown, Alessi has helped make kettles, bottle openers and toothbrushes become must have items to rival designer shoes, handbags or even sports cars. Where once the home was made beautiful only by items such as luxury bedding or curtain fabrics, it can now find decoration in the implements used in it.
In a masterstroke which saw the company increase not only its sales but also its brand awareness with the public, the company reclassified its products in 2006 under three lines: A di Alessi- a more widely available and less expensive range of products designed to suit a mass market, Alessi- the main collection which is generally designed by its better known designers, containing all of the now iconic metallic curves and plastic colour and has a much longer sales cycle and Officina Alessi- a much more experimental range of limited edition pieces which are not confined to the usual Alessi visual traits and can fetch huge sums amongst collectors. The same year Alessi opened its first New York City flagship store in the oh-so-chic SoHo district.
Alessi has often used controversy and the power of shock value to advertise its products. Never has this been more true than in the case of the Merdolino. Stefano Giovannoni took Alessi at their word when they first commissioned him to design a new bathroom range for them – what they asked for was something contemporary and fun! The Merdolino toilet brush was the first object from the bathroom range to be made available and caused quite a storm and a fair amount criticism when it first hit the shops for having dared touch such a difficult subject- Merdolino is the French term for ‘Pooh Mover’ (polite version)- but this simple object revolutionised bathroom design by demonstrating how poetry and whimsical beauty could be introduced to even the most mundane items, designed to look like a plant pot with a flowerless vine growing out of it, the stylised simplicity and plastic makeup was so obviously Alessi yet it was unlike anything that had been before. Through outrage then appreciation, Alessi’s lofty position as the number one rule breaker in product design had been made all the more safe.
Alessi being Alessi, they did not stand still for long following this particular triumph. Rather than relying on the same old designs by the same old designers- which would have caused no complaints amongst consumers- Alessi is currently in the middle of a brave new policy of blooding exciting young designers on high profile projects, their thinking being “who better to lead us to future success than the designers of tomorrow?” Abi Alice, a young Australian designer is currently heading a team about to launch a new range of baths and fruit holders, whilst in a real return to where it all began Giovanni Alessi Anghini, great grandson of the company’s founder Giovanni, after a period of training in Stefano Giovannoni’s studio, is about to present his first work: a bottle cap remover consisting of a large steel capsule containing an ingenious pressure-operated opening mechanism.