Should I have heard of Alessi? With contemporary homeware shops from Stockholm to Shanghai stocking the Alessi range of quirky, clever designs, the brand has become a household name. Remember the steel corkscrew shaped like a woman with smiling face, arms and skirt? The range of glass containers with the little plastic people hanging under the lids? Or the seminal stainless-steel hob kettle with the coloured singing bird in its spout? They're all Alessi products, but were conceived by different designers working under the Alessi name.
So tell me about Mr/Ms Alessi, or is it just a brand name? Not exactly. The Alessi company was founded by craftsman Giovanni Alessi in 1921 in Omegna, Italy. During the 1920s and 30s, Giovanni and son Carlo crafted exquisite tableware and household objects from copper, brass and nickel silver. Carlo became chief executive of the company in the 50s and together with his brother Ettore began to invite freelance designers to create products for Alessi. Today, Carlo's son Alberto (pictured) is at the helm of design management and Alessi has produced objects created by more than
200 designers including Norman Foster, Philippe Starck, Aldo Rossi, Ron Arad, Michael Graves and Alessandro Mendini. Many, such as
the brightly coloured plastic toilet brush resembling a pot plant ('Merdolino'), have become design classics.
Strange that a toilet brush is considered a design classic. Yes, but nothing like it previously existed. Alessi is committed to breaking new ground in design, experimenting with new materials and technologies (wood, porcelain, ceramics, plastic, glass, crystal, electricity and electronics). It also invests in a number of innovative special projects every year. In one of its current projects 100 artists, architects and designers have been invited to decorate one white porcelain vase each. In the second phase of the project, Alessi will manufacture the vases the public like best.
So what should the style-conscious householder be investing in this winter? Numerous objects of desire, including Guido Venturini's seductive new porcelain tableware or Stefano Giovannoni's chunky aluminium kitchenware. For home bar enthusiasts, Jasper Morrison has designed a new wine cooler ('Bolly'), and Marc Newson has created a new cocktail shaker ('Cosmo'), with an ultra-thick glass body finished in a fine diamond pattern to ensure a good grip. Also new is Alessibambino, a gorgeous collection of tableware for children, including plates, bowls, glasses and cutlery specially designed for little hands. Tiny style aficionados can choose from lime green, hot pink and a riotous medley of colours to complement their fish fingers and chips.
Mostly kitchen stuff, then. Actually, no. Alessi also produces a range of stylish wrist watches and an extremely smart, sleek and contemporary range of bathroom sanitaryware and accessories. Check out the curvy contours of the baths, basins and bidets at Il Bagno Alessi on www.alessi.it - it's sexy stuff.
Where can I get my hands on it in Hong Kong? Try Arrakis Oggetti (Ruttonjee Centre, 11 Duddell Street, Central, tel: 2525 5144). Alessi products are also available at various branches of Lane Crawford and Sogo in Causeway Bay.