Interview with Alberto Alessi
(Image credit: press)

This autumn Italian design firm Alessi, arguably the most recognised name in tabletop design globally, is joining forces with its equally iconic birra-brewing compatriot, Peroni Nastro Azzurro, to stage the Peroni Blue Ribbon Design Awards. The competition challenges emerging designers to create a piece that will accessorise, accompany or enhance the Italian pre-dinner eating and drinking ritual of aperitivo.

Entries covering the categories ‘furniture’, ‘kitchenware’ and ‘gadget’, will be judged on how much they epitomise iconic Italian style, on quality and detail, and the relevance to the aperitivo. Winning designs will be developed into prototypes and shown at the ICA in September, with the possibility of the overall winning design being developed for Alessi.

We took time out with Alberto Alessi, guardian of the family firm founded in 1921 to find out more.

What will Alessi gain from this collaboration?
I am interested to see how designers will interpret the stylish ritual of Aperitivo and how they will embrace the Italian approach to design. I am interested to see what emerging design talent is out there and the standard and creativity of their work.

There is talk of a synergy between your two companies – one an Italian brewery, one an Italian homeware manufacturer. Where do you see similarities?

Italians are renowned for their unique and effortless style, natural flair and creativity, and have produced some of the world’s most enduring and widely admired designs and designers. Craftsmanship and passion have consistently been the key ingredients to great Italian design over the years. At Alessi we use quality materials and pay attention to the details in order to create distinct pieces of homeware. Similarly, Peroni Nastro Azzurro uses only the highest quality ingredients - a strong focus on quality prevails with both brands.

You are renowned for bringing big name architects and designers into the Alessi fold to create new accessories for the table and kitchen. How do you usually work with designers such as Frank Gehry, Jasper Morrison, the Campagna brothers – do they come up with ideas or do you approach individuals for specific requests?

Like all the Italian Design Factories we work in both ways.

On one hand we hold production briefings at Alessi where I personally decide who to propose the project to, from over 200 designers working in our network .

On the other hand, many designers who are inspired by Alessi’s values know that they only need to pick up the phone and say “Alberto, I have a fantastic idea for you!” and I’ll listen.

Have you ever worked with emerging designers before? How is it different?

Alessi has a long tradition in collaborations with designers. In 1990 we launched a project dedicated to designers under the name of “Memory Containers”. We invited 300 young, female designers, under the age of 30 to work on the theme of personal and collective memory.

That was the beginning of a long series of activities among which design workshops, in collaboration with schools and universities, were set up all over the world. We organise 5 or 6 every year.

How has Alessi evolved as a company under your directorship?

Following in my fathers footsteps, I have continue to be the head of a typical Italian Design Factory. I may have exaggerated a bit with the number of authors I’ve met and involved in it…

Which of the products you have commissioned have brought you the most joy?

I would like to say all of them, but if I had to choose a select few the following would be my personal favourites: Ettore Sottsass condiment sets (1978) , the “9090” espresso coffee maker by Richard Sapper (1979), “Dry” cutlery set by Achille Castiglioni (1982), Michael Graves’ water kettle with whistling bird (1985), “Juicy Salif “lemon squeezer by Philippe Starck (1989), “Anna G.” corkscrew by Alessandro Mendini (1994), “Merdolino” toilet brush by Stefano Giovannoni (1992), the table set by Jasper Morrison….

Rosa Bertoli was born in Udine, Italy, and now lives in London. Since 2014, she has been the Design Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees design content for the print and online editions, as well as special editorial projects. Through her role at Wallpaper*, she has written extensively about all areas of design. Rosa has been speaker and moderator for various design talks and conferences including London Craft Week, Maison & Objet, The Italian Cultural Institute (London), Clippings, Zaha Hadid Design, Kartell and Frieze Art Fair. Rosa has been on judging panels for the Chart Architecture Award, the Dutch Design Awards and the DesignGuild Marks. She has written for numerous English and Italian language publications, and worked as a content and communication consultant for fashion and design brands.