Alberto Alessi Factory

Alessi_N3I1076_3 Preferred

Above: Alberto Alessi. Below: Archival photos from the early days of the Alessi factory in Italy. Bottom: Tea kettles inside the present Alessi factory.

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Alberto Alessi and the Dream Factory

Monday, March 25th, 2013

By Sarah Handelman

Since its establishment in 1921, Alessi has crafted and manufactured countless designs. The brand, which began as a family business nestled into the foothills of the Italian Alps, has produced so many thousands of original products that the company refers to its catalog as a comprehensive encyclopedia. Its pages read like the history and current affairs of a very specific kind of Italian product design. And even in its online version, the catalog serves as an artifact that reveals Alessi’s constant drive and mission to always bring design to the masses—sans mass production.

In a global market where good design has been commoditized to the point of mockery (almost anyone can afford a knockoff Eames lounge), it’s impressive that this modest factory in the Italian Alps still makes such an impact. Alberto Alessi, son of the company’s founder and the head of marketing strategy, communication, and design, says the mission to reach vast global audiences beyond the backdrop of mass production plays an inherent role in the techniques and approaches of Alessi. “The aim is to create objects that not only satisfy a basic need, but also try to respond to a desire for happiness and the public’s dreams,” Alessi says.

In his words, Alessi has dedicated his life to furnishing the “everyday theater.” But his role also involves rearranging expectations about what design is and what it can be. He sees the company as a mediator that liaises between artistic expression and public desire. This remains ever-present in collaborations and the artistry of the products Alessi sells. The powerhouse brand’s list of collaborators reads like a who’s-who of world-famous designers, with names such as Salvador Dalí, Michael Graves, and Philippe Starck having graced its products and catalog pages.

Name-dropping aside, what’s most striking are the objects that come of these partnerships. Alessi’s specialized way of working means craftsmanship is ever-present (internal teams of specialists follow every project from the very beginning to the end), while the machinery available means anything is possible. “The strength in our practice is the freedom given to the authors we collaborate with,” says Alessi.

“Our designers know they can choose the materials, the colors, and the size they prefer, and their projects will not meet the constraining limits usually imposed by mass production. Even with contemporary technology, our practice remains craft-based in the spirit, in the mentality.” Many of the projects Alessi takes on not only provide design solutions; they question the current state of, well, stuff. An in-house research lab explores new and future modes of design; it is currently focusing on experimenting with and discovering new technologies, especially for Alessi’s electronics range, its most recent catalog addition.

For Alberto Alessi, the research that comes from these tests is invaluable to the company’s future as a global product-design innovator. “Well designed objects give us an opportunity to grow and enhance our perception of the world,” he says. It’s this straightforward perspective, underwritten by Alessi’s commitment to research and tradition, that has enabled the company to be flexible while staying true to itself—a compelling idea in an increasingly Ikea-fied landscape. An idea that keeps the Alessi dream factory running.

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