Alessi: The Art of Everyday Things

“Today we don’t eat, we dine. Today we don’t walk, we dance. Today we don’t sleep, we dream. Today we don’t smile, we laugh. Today we don’t wear boots, we wear crystal Cinderellas. Today we celebrate life and we are dressed for the occasion. Surprise your heart with your eyes and see that tomorrow will be another very special day…”— Marcel Wanders, designer of the Dressed Collection.

The first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning is how much you have to do today. Where you’re supposed to be, what you’re supposed to accomplish. As the morning ticks away, you see the kitchen as a means to get you there. You put the kettle on, take your coffee, maybe have a sandwich. Whatever it takes to get your energy up, to get things moving. The bathroom is just one more step to get out of the way before you leave. You turn the knobs and wait. You dress up, you walk out, and you drive, knowing that this day, it isn’t much different from the Wednesday before, or the ones that come after.

The rituals of the everyday, the routines of the morning, the motions you get out of the way — they’ve always been there, always been necessary. These days, there isn’t much time in between to even think about these things, and there seems little to gain from paying attention to the frying pan, the spoons on the cupboard, the cups on the dryer.

But life doesn’t just happen outside, and when all the work is done, the business of the day finished, you head back home, and what lies in that home will say more about you than what you do outside of it. Outside, you are the person who moves things, who makes thing happen, but inside lies the story of who that person is. Inside lie the things that move you. Everything you do, everything that surrounds you, there’s a story behind them.

More than 90 years ago, this was precisely the story that Alessi set out to tell. The story behind the mundane. The art of everyday things. At home, there’s a breadth of experiences that you only notice when you start to pay attention, when you really begin to look.

When you begin to look at things not only as a sequence of routines, when you take a moment to appreciate the processes that seem pedestrian, you begin to see differently. A plate is no longer a dish to put food on, it’s the platform that allows you to enjoy every taste and texture and sensation that go into a meal. No longer would a cocktail shaker be a tool to mix drinks, it would remind you of the nature of liquids, and the philosophy of movement. The whistling of the kettle doesn’t merely tell you that the water’s ready, it’s the time of the day when your stove sings the song of the morning. The little things that enhance the experience of the normal, they simply begin to matter. They begin to take on meaning. There might not be much time, but there’s always enough to appreciate the motions of the everyday as you go through it.


The Story of Alessi

“I think that this will be the goal of design in the future (or at least, my goal for my future in the sphere of design): transforming the gadget function ascribed to objects by the consumer’s society into a transitional opportunity, namely into an opportunity for consumers to improve their perception of the world.”- Alberto Alessi


Alessi was founded by Giovanni Alessi in 1921, a company that produced crafted metal products for kitchens. Set in the Italian municipality of Omegna, an area with a long tradition of wood and metalcraft, Alessi began creating artisanal pieces that were focused on the experience of the user. More than simple kitchen implements, Giovanni wanted to design pieces that enhanced the perception of the owner, opening their senses to a greater breadth of awareness of the seemingly mundane.

As Giovanni handed over the reigns to his designer son, Carlo, Alessi steered its products ever more toward this goal. A designer himself, Carlo came up with the Bombé Tea and Coffee Set in the 40s, an industrial piece that came in four sizes. It was a sleek, well-designed product, and became largely influential in the future of Italian design. It was also one that resided on the collective memories of many Italian households and is still in production today. With the success of the company well underway, Carlo began collaborating with renowned designers such as Carlo Mazzeri, Luigi Massoni and Anselmo Vitale. It was a move that would set the direction for the Alessi we know now.

When Carlo transferred the design responsibilities of the company to his son, Alberto, Alessi continued to collaborate with more designers, entering what would be known as the company’s “Design Age” in the 1980s. It was a successful foray into a new era, and would later play into the company’s strengths.


Alessi began focusing more on creative designs, ones that not only remained highly functional, but also provided the user with a unique view into the ordinary. It reached out to designers all over the world and, one by one, each designer began to reveal new ways to appreciate the everyday things. Today, Alessi’s lines are filled with pieces designed by artists from around the world, lending the company a multi-cultural appeal, and slowly erasing the lines between concept and creation. In this way, it has become more of a “Research Lab in the Applied Arts”, where art and contemporary design are used to create functional objects.

It has also expanded well beyond its original production, going on to create two more labels. Thus, the structure of Alessi now consists of A di Alessi, its introductory line with entry level prices and a more pop art appeal; Alessi, its main range, with the pieces that it has become known for; and Officine Alessi, a line that houses its most conceptual, limited edition works.

Alessi in the Philippines

When Alessi opened in the Philippines, it was something of a surprise to the market. While there had always been suppliers of European houseware, none could give as much value as it did. Alessi was simply different. It was a brand that made the ordinary rather more interesting, more unusual. Not just by making them out of precious metals or modern technology, but with how the company itself approached design. Alessi’s value was in the concept of its pieces themselves, the way they interacted with their owners, the way they made people feel.

Conlins, the company that brought it to the country, had been looking for a brand that would complement their existing ranges. Known for their own line of luxury coffee blends and being the distributor of high-end European coffee makers, it wanted to extend its reach to include household items that would fall along the same lines of quality. They wanted a brand that had a vision that was like their own. It was then that the company decided on Alessi, and the first shop, displaying some of the most iconic pieces of the brand, opened at Bonifacio High Street in 2007.

“In the same way that we want people to appreciate the intricacies and nuances of what different coffee origins have to offer, we want them to experience what designs from all over the world are like. We brought Alessi into the Philippines because we felt that it was the right time for the Philippine market,” says Harris Conlin, Chief Executive Officer of Alessi Philippines, “We were looking for a brand that can speak to a variety of people, one that was in line with the mission of Conlins. This brand should be able to transcend the values of quality, function, and price. We found these qualities in Alessi. Their objects have the ability to speak and convey messages, bring forth emotions and express cultural values; though not through the use of words, but through shapes, lines and forms. This is a quality which we call the poetic value of an object.”

“If the person can understand the value – not only the value in price but the value of the product, the story behind the product, it adds character, it adds weight to why they would want it,” he continues.

Each piece in the Alessi product lines tells a story, and this is precisely what drew Conlins to the brand. They wanted to make this approach to lifestyle, this appreciation of making art out of the mundane, available to the Philippines. To date, Alessi has collaborated with over 500 creators, including the celebrated French designer Philippe Starck and the German-born Richard Sapper, two of the most important designers of their generation. Each designer, in turn, has a unique approach to design, a different way to appreciate the common.

“When they design, they create. They’re artists and their thought processes in these pieces are shown through the use of lines, the use of shapes,” Eric Conlin, Chief Operating Officer of Alessi Philippines, explains, “These elements will speak to a customer, or to the people who collect Alessi. When you ask somebody what appeals to them sometimes we don’t know how to describe it but there’s something that just speaks to you.”

“Why is this plate special? What were the designer’s thoughts, making this piece? It’s never just about the function anymore,” he goes on, “If it’s just about the function, somebody can just opt for a banana leaf to eat off from or they can always eat from the saucepan. Why bother using the plate? But when we start appreciating the processes, what we do every day, the things that seem mundane — why can’t they be special? And that’s the idea of using things that accentuate the everyday and make you appreciate life more.”

As with most art, the appeal to any viewer or buyer may vary. One thing might speak to a person but another might view it an entirely different manner. A piece could bring forth memories, or the feel of the wind, or invoke the experience of an evening outdoors. The reason behind this is that all Alessi pieces start as an idea. That idea is then given form, driven into something tangible.It was brought into the world as faithfully as Alessi’s means could allow. In some cases, people are even left wondering how a piece is made, since none of them are ever completely direct in nature.

The appeal of Alessi began to take hold in the Filipino market, and it soon gained a following, prompting Conlins to open Conlins Elements— one in Greenbelt 5 and another in Trinoma both carrying Alessi products. The popularity of the brand grew exponentially over the following years, and people outside of Luzon began to ask for its avalability in the Southern part of the country. Toward the final quarter of this year, Alessi is set to open a flagship store in Cebu, and as it continues to develop its position in the market, more outlets will undoubtedly follow.

The appreciation of Alessi is one that comes in stages. Harris tells of how, when a customer first walks into the Alessi store, they might initially be drawn to the colorful pieces. The pieces with pop culture sensibilities might attract them with their wit, their humor. From here, they could eventually develop a taste for the monochromatic uniformity of metals, choosing to purchase pieces that are elegantly designed and with more complex thought processes. At this point they might develop a fondness for a certain designer or style, and begin to collect limited edition pieces made by the artist. Collecting Alessi, in this sense, is very much like collecting art, although it is art that has a precise function in the household or office.

“Whether its something as whimsical as Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif or his wine bucket or if you want the more elegant and more fancy Marcel Wanders Dressed Collection, the nice thing about Alessi is that it doesn’t limit its clientele to a specific market segment,” Harris explains, “Whether you’re looking for something more playful or into something more classical, there’s something for everybody.”

Eric, in turn, describes the designers who have collaborated with Alessi, and how each one might differ from the other, therefore appealing to different sorts of clients.

Michael Graves, the architect famous for his Bird Whistle Kettle, designed the piece with an Americana theme in mind, recalling a rustic, countryside household or memories of Sunday morning breakfasts. Richard Sapper, a German designer, created another kettle that has a melodic, two-tone whistle on the spout, which plays a harmonic tune as the water begins to boil.

From the other side of the world, Alan Chan of Hong Kong designed a tea strainer shaped like a bird in a cage, reminiscent of the old Chinese tradition of bird fanciers taking their pets to teatime. The strainer creates a melody when the bird is taken out of the cage, which might remind you of a pleasant morning in the gardens. Miriam Mirri of Milan designed implements that draw on emotion, like her ice cream spoon formed into the shape of a heart. The two halves of the heart can be used separately, so one’s part of the ice cream does not touch the other or, conversely, it might be shared as a kind of indirect kiss. Dutch designer Marcel Wanders created plates and utensils with intricate designs on the edges, subtle accents that are meant to enhance the experience of food without taking your attention away from the meal — “dressing it up”, if you will.

Even people from the same culture can differ greatly in their approaches to design, and in Alessi’s ranges Karim and Hani Rashid have created pieces with dissimilar aesthetics, with Karim preferring angular shapes while Hani chooses to use flowing, curvy lines.

With its constant collaborations, Alessi has collected a substantial group of cultures and traditions, making it one of the most diverse companies when it comes to design influences. All of these, however, go through Alessi’s trademark processes of creation, and while they might be crafted with modern technology, each one is still made with the artisan’s principles in mind, and Italian master craftsmen are still entrusted with their production.

“Because Alessi doesn’t have in-house designers, it brings in a lot of cultures. Each designer comes from a different part of the world,” Eric says, “So alessi itself is an eclectic brand bringing together cultures from around the world. Each designer brings a portion of themselves in their piece, and each piece has a story to tell. Its up to our clients whether they can understand or relate to the what the pieces want to convey. But it’s even more special when a customer can create a story for themselves and relate to it themselves.”

“Alessi opens our eyes to many different things, rather than seeing the world though closed lenses we are able to open not only our eyes but also our minds,” he goes on, “We are able to see life and the objects that we encounter in different manner; the obvious answer no longer seem as important as finding and appreciating the small details and intricacies. Through Alessi we learn to see things not for what what they are, rather see them as what they can be. We become aware and gain a new appreciation of our daily processes, things that we have always been taught as ordinary become extraordinary.”

It’s the little things that happen in between the big ones that tell your story. It’s these tiny fragments that are told and retold each day, remembered with a single piece here, a single symbol there. When you take the time to appreciate each fragment, to understand the meaning behind them, then you begin to realize that there is much more to the everyday than you allow yourself to see. From the moment you wake up and take a look at the things that surround you, the things that you’ve collected over the years, the things that remind you of why you choose to do what you do, why you even get up in the first place —nothing will ever be the same.

Alessi is available at the Alessi Concept store at Bonifacio High Street in Taguig (856-4452) as well as in Conlins Elements stores in Greenbelt 5 Makati (729.9698) and Trinoma, Quezon City (900-0668). ###

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