Then, Now, and Next: A conversation with Alberto Alessi

Alberto Alessi takes us on a journey from the four years he spent in Milan studying law, how it guided him to his destiny, and what he did to bring Alessi Spa to where it is today.

by Zohra KhanPublished on : May 14, 2022

“If I receive a new concept that I completely understand and accept immediately, then it is not a good sign. I need to receive something, at least in part, that I do not understand at the moment.”

Alberto Alessi, President, Alessi Spa

When Alberto Alessi joined the family business in July 1970 after he graduated from law school, he found the factory ‘a bit too dark and too grey’. The atmosphere he found was full of oil from machines and everything was too serious. The company, founded in 1921 by his grandfather Giovanni Alessi who later handed the baton to his son (and Alberto’s father) Carlo Alessi, is today made up of an eclectic range of home products which includes tableware, cooking utensils, watches, furnishing accessories, lighting, and small domestic appliances. Alberto’s entry into the company ushered in a new era of joy as the 76-year-old “entrepreneur by mistake” spearheaded the inclusion of international designers into the Alessi universe. The collaborations resulted in thousands of products over the decades, many of which have become icons of contemporary design.

Alberto Alessi (left) with design maestros; (front row) Achille Castiglioni, Alessandro Mendini. (back row) Ettore Sottsass, Aldo Rossi | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
Alberto Alessi (left) with design maestros; (front row) Achille Castiglioni, Alessandro Mendini. (back row) Ettore Sottsass, Aldo Rossi Image: Courtesy of Alessi

As the President of Alessi Spa engaged in a conversation with STIR, which traverses the Then, Now, and Next of the iconic Italian design company, and his own place in it, he said, “I have been very lucky that 70s on I had the possibility to meet and work with some of the best Italian design maestros, people like Ettore Sottsass, Achille Castiglioni, Richard Sapper, Aldo Rossi, Alessandro Mendini, and so on.”

  • Alessi’s founder Giovanni Alessi | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Alessi’s founder Giovanni Alessi Image: Courtesy of Alessi
  • Carlo Alessi (seated) with brother Ettore Alessi | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Carlo Alessi (seated) with brother Ettore Alessi Image: Courtesy of Alessi
  • Alberto Alessi belongs to the third generation of the Alessi family | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Alberto Alessi belongs to the third generation of the Alessi family Image: Mads Mogensen, Courtesy of Alessi

When Alessi was established, the focus initially relied on metal kitchenware. It was when Carlo Alessi joined the company in the 1930s that a new wave of experimentation was called forth. Steering away from the utilitarian image of everyday household objects, Carlo introduced the use of stainless steel and adventurous forms to Alessi’s industrial craftsmanship. He is credited for most of the projects in the Alessi catalogue from the mid-30s to 1945, the year of the launch of the “Bombé” tea and coffee service, one of the archetypes of early Italian design. When the third generation of the Alessi family, Alberto Alessi joined the company – his initial role was to handle the commercial section, the development of new products, and communication – he quickly traced what was missing in the company, and decided to fill the gaps head-on. Under his leadership, a new set of iconic products were introduced to the world include the 5070 condiment set design by Ettore Sottsass, Juicy Salif citrus squeezer by Philippe Starck, Whistling Bird Teakettle by Michael Graves, and La Cupola espresso coffee maker by Aldo Rossi.

  • Bombé tea and coffee service by Carlo Alessi | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Bombé tea and coffee service by Carlo Alessi Image: Courtesy of Alessi
  • Juicy Salif by Philippe Starck | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Juicy Salif by Philippe Starck Image: Courtesy of Alessi
  • Whistling Bird Teakettle by Michael Graves| Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Whistling Bird Teakettle by Michael Graves Image: Mads Mogensen, Courtesy of Alessi
  • Anna G corkscrew by Alessandro Mendini | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Anna G corkscrew by Alessandro Mendini Image: Mads Mogensen, Courtesy of Alessi
  • Moka espresso maker by David Chipperfield | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Moka espresso maker by David Chipperfield Image: Mads Mogensen, Courtesy of Alessi

In 2021, Alessi completed its centenary celebrating 100 years of design excellence. To mark this milestone, the company announced the ALESSI 100 Values Collection comprising 12 values, 12 months, and 12 unpublished products with deep roots. During the course of one year, Alessi announced the presentation of one object every month drawing from inspirations that were never realised, research samples, and new versions of signature classics. The 12 values – Industrial Craftsmanship, Art, Paradox, Beyond, Hybridisation, Research Lab, Irony, Borderline, Poetry, Thingness, Transgression, and Futurespective – are pivoted on the brand language of Alessi and the company’s remarkable history. In our conversation, Alberto discusses the genesis of these values, and what makes them all unique in their own right.

  • Celebrating the company’s centenary in 2021, ALESSI 100 Values Collection presented one product every month for a year, drawing from an unpublished project; pictured here is Twergi collection based on the value, Industrial Craftsmanship | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Celebrating the company’s centenary in 2021, ALESSI 100 Values Collection presented one product every month for a year, drawing from an unpublished project; pictured here is Twergi collection based on the value, Industrial Craftsmanship Image: Courtesy of Alessi
  • Riccardo Dalisi’s 1987-designed Neapolitan coffee maker, illustrating the value Poetry in the ALESSI 100 Values Collection | Alessi | Milan | STIRworld
    Riccardo Dalisi’s 1987-designed Neapolitan coffee maker, illustrating the value Poetry in the ALESSI 100 Values Collection Image: Courtesy of Alessi

In addition to this, we discover Alberto’s personal approach to taking a concept idea forward, what poetry in a design narrative means to him, and why he thinks the scale of the company has prevented him from doing his best work over the years.

All this and much more! Tap on the cover video to watch the complete conversation.

All images: Courtesy of Alessi

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