DESIGN

ALESSI

ALESSI
ALESSI
ITALY

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Alessi, one of the most important "Factories of Italian Design", is based in Crusinallo, close to Omegna , on Lake Orta. Founded in the 20s, in a region historically devoted to the household goods production, since the 50s Alessi specializes itself in stainless steel manufacturing. Alessi headquarters bears the mark of the Atelier Mendini, that designed in the mid 90s the recent extensions to the plant. Nowadays the company employs about 500 people, who are directly involved in project development, production, sales and distribution. Alessi is exporting the 65% of its turnover to over 60 countries and count over 5000 points of sale. Today the company owns 14 Alessi stores (Showroom and Flagship) located in the most strategic areas in the world and 175 Shop in shop.

History of Alessi

Since time immemorial the Alessi family has been firmly established on Lake Orta. We originally come from Luzzogno, the oldest village in the Strona valley. The first Alessi I've traced was called Giovanni; in 1633 he married a certain Caterina Gozano in Luzzogno. That's all I know about him, and I don't know a great deal more about the eight generations separating him from me. I nonetheless have no doubt that my forebears were among the many men from the Strona valley who, in the seventeen hundreds, went as far as Germany to learn the trade of pewter-maker. Some of their number stayed on to make their fortune; others returned home and opened the first craft workshops. Such were the beginnings of the Omegna (and its suburb Crusinallo) makers of metal household objects, today one of the most dynamic centres in Europe for the production of such items.

The first metal household article manufacturer in the Cusio area was a man called Baldassarre Cane, who towards the mid-eighteen hundreds had the courage to leave Chesio (another small village in the Strona valley) for the lakeside and found the first true workshop. Although the company no longer exists, by around 1900 it was a large employer. In the following years his example was followed by many dozens of craftsmen/small businessmen, who often learned their trade as workmen at Cane's factory. Over the course of one and a half centuries, pewter has given way to other metals: brass, nickel silver, aluminium and then stainless steel, whose cycle of development is still running its course. Yet during this period neither the type nor the nature of the objects themselves have changed, and my town remains dominated by this industrial specialization. Along the shores of Lake San Giulio, amongst the Romanesque churches and the Baroque chapels, the household goods factories have become a precise point of reference, leaving their strong social and cultural imprint on the whole area. One of those early craftsmen/small businessmen was my grandfather, Giovanni Alessi. This book sets out to tell the tale of how a deep-rooted, hard, traditional and perhaps even inward-looking manufacturing tradition has blossomed into our own business venture, on the contrary characterized by constant innovation, open to experimentation and to the paradoxical results of casting from a poetic mould. Alessi has changed from being a "Workshop for the working of brass and nickel silver plates, with foundry" (so read the sign over our stand at the first Milan Trade Fairs in the twenties) into one of the "factories of Italian design." The change from a metallurgical and mechanical industry into a workshop actively researching the field of applied arts has been a gradual one over several decades. It has been an exciting process which, quite possibly, could serve as a possible model for the evolution of many kinds of industry in our consumer society.

The 1920s and 1930s

Grandpa Giovanni was a talented sheet-metal worker. In 1921 he bought a plot of land at Omegna and founded Alessi. He started handmaking objects for the table and for the home in copper, brass and nickel silver, which were then either nickel-, chrome- or silver-plated. Grandpa was a real stickler for quality and for well-done work: the things he made quickly won acclaim for their workmanship and perfect finish.

Carlo Alessi

Design, as we understand the word today, first made its appearance with my father, Carlo. Trained as an industrial designer in Novara, he joined the company when still very young, dedicating himself to design right from the start. He was responsible for most of the objects made between the mid-thirties and 1945, the year he launched his last project, that archetype of early Italian design, called the Bombé coffee and tea sets. In the fifties he took over from Grandpa at the helm of the company, completely giving up (I have never understood why…) design.

During the war years, as the household goods market slowed down, Alessi produced stars for uniforms and mechanical parts for Savoia Marchetti aeroplanes. After the war, faced with an enormous demand for brass ladles for the U.S. army, my father doubled the number of machine tools, expanded the company and started mass-production. As he had realized so early, stainless steel was set to conquer the space vacated by chromed metals and silver-plated alloys.

The 1950s and 1960s

Uncle Ettore, eleven years younger than his brother, joined my father in 1945. Although he no longer officially works for the company, he remains the great authority on cold pressing of metals. I affectionately refer to him as our "mega-technical director." As head of the technical department, in 1955 he opened Alessi up to collaboration with external designers; his work with architects Carlo Mazzeri, Luigi Massoni and Anselmo Vitale produced several ranges of products, particularly for the catering trade, many of which are still big sellers.

The 1970s

Officially my career at Alessi began in July 1970, the day after I graduated in law. My dad immediately set me to work on new projects. I threw myself into the job. With a strongly utopian view of "multiplied art," I developed mycultural-theoretic manifesto championing a new commercial civilization offering the consuming masses veritable artistic items at low prices.