Poetic justice

For Alberto Alessi, CEO of Alessi, products are more than just objects of consumption, writes Jacqueline Tsang


Q. You have been credited with putting Alessi firmly on the design map through high-profile collaborations with renowned players in the design industry. When you first started approaching these designers, what qualities were you looking for?

A. I was looking for some poets able to reinterpret the contemporary world with industrial products which have truly innovative shapes.


Q. Since Alessi does not employ any in-house designers and works solely with these external designers, how does this affect the brand's identity? What makes a product an Alessi product?

A. We don't want to have a uniform "style". I believe our strength, and certainly our characteristic, is having a 'fil rouge' [common thread or guiding principle], represented by the cultural quality of our authors - the architects and designers who collaborate with us.


Q. Alessi has featured cutting-edge technology over the years. How do you balance this with the brand's devotion to handicraft culture?

A. It is a feature of our ambiguity. We use the most advanced technologies in our production environment, but we do it with a mindset [focused on] craft - bending the machines to the poetic and expressive needs of our designers.


Q. You once said that it was your goal to transform the consumer's view of objects as functional, gadget items to objects that can improve how they perceive the world. How have you managed to do this and what further steps will you take to achieve this goal?

A. I've done it by transforming Alessi into a research laboratory [that explores] the field of applied arts, that is, the design. It has been a process [that we've been working on for] 40 years and, today, I can affirm we have all the tools to continue playing this role.


Q. Alessi launched ALESSIEYES with Hong Kong-based 101 Studio Limited in April this year. In addition to this project's new Kompas eyewear collection, Alessi also offers watch and jewellery products, and the brand's products feature permanently in several art museum collections. What is the synergy between product design, art, fashion, watches and jewellery?

A. The common thing is that all these areas of products are expressions of what the philosopher Gianni Vattimo named "the commercial arts": the new contemporary artistic forms which aim to bring the best artistic and poetic quality to the consumer society.


Q. Why do you think people see the brand's products as art, and what has been the motivation behind your decision to align the brand closely with the art world?

A. I think the industry today can express products that are not only objects of consumption, but should contain in themselves a trend towards transcendence.


Q. Alessi has an expansive online presence, with online stores dedicated to almost a dozen geographical regions. How do you balance the brand's embrace of modernity and e-commerce with the conceptual experience and physical displays that a flagship offers?

A. They are two different settings, started together about 15 years ago. They are not in contradiction - they lean on one another. Both are meant to explain the complexity of our world - we call it the "Alessi Encyclopedia" - in different but equally important ways.


Q. Since you assumed leadership of Alessi in the 1990s, what would you say is the most significant strategic decision you've implemented?

A. There are two, the first being the "Tea & Coffee Piazza" project in 1983 which opened the world of Italian design to great foreign architects and designers, such as Aldo Rossi, Michael Graves and Bob Venturi. The second one would be the "Family follows Fiction" project in 1991 which practically invented the so-called ludic design [Giovannoni, Mirri …]. It also introduced plastic into our catalogue of products, which until then [consisted of] only metallic pieces.