In 1921, the Italian metal-turner Giovanni Alessi purchased a parcel of land in Omegna, in the Piedmont region of Italy, and together with his brother founded a small atelier called Fratelli Alessi Omegna. The workshop produced crafted tableware and household objects in metal and wood, often inspired by the Art Nouveau designs popular in Austria and Britain at the time. With an obsession for quality finishes and careful execution, Giovanni propelled Alessi toward quick success.
In 1932, Giovanni’s eldest son, Carlo joined the family business and, between 1935 and 1945, designed most Alessi’s products. Over the years, he played a vital role in integrating industrial processes into Alessi production and generating large-scale commissions from hotels and restaurants. In 1945, another son of Giovanni, Ettore, joined the company as head of the technical office and began to commission designs from independent designers, such as Luigi Massoni.
In the 1970s, the third generation of the Alessi family joined in: the visionary Alberto Alessi. Influenced by the vanguard design community active in Milan at the time, Albert instigated a campaign to transform Alessi into one of the most forward-thinking design brands in the world. He believed that the “function” of objects must always include an emotional component, and brought in a powerhouse roster of designers and architects to develop new collections imbued with poetry, identity, and spirit.
In the ensuing decades, Alessi forged relationships with the likes of Eero Aarnio, Ron Arad,Mario Botta, the Bouroullec Brothers, Andrea Branzi, the Campana Brothers, the Castiglioni Brothers, Nigel Coates, Joe Colombo, Michele De Lucchi, Naoto Fukasawa, Frank Gehry, Anna Gili, Michael Graves, Zaha Hadid, Toyo Ito, Piero Lissoni, Enzo Mari, Alessandro Mendini, Jasper Morrison, Jean Nouvel, Karim Rashid, Richard Sapper, Ettore Sottsass, Philippe Starck, Studio Job, and Marcel Wanders, among many, many more.
Alessi pieces can be found in museum collections around the world, especially Carlo Alessi’s Bombé Tea & Coffee Service (1945), Richard Sapper’s 9091 Tea Kettle (1983), Michael Graves’s 9093 Teakettle (1985), Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif Lemon Squeezer (1990), and Alessandro Mendini’s Anna Gili Corkscrew (1993). Another standout project is the 1983 Tea & Coffee Piazza series, for which Alberto commissioned several limited-edition, “architecture in miniature” tableware objects from major architects like Hans Hollein, Charles Jencks, Richard Meier, Aldo Rossi, Stanley Tigerman, and Robert Venturi.
Despite the vast diversity of its product lines, Alessi has maintained its focus on high-quality production, especially for products made with nickel, chrome, silver-plate, and plastic. With nearly a century of history behind it, the family-owned company remains an established industry leader. In 1998, the Alessi Museum was established at the Alessi headquarters outside of Milan to house prototypes, products, drawings, photographs, publications, and catalogues from Alessi and other companies, documenting the history of the home and of Italian design.
* All images courtesy of Alessi