Alessi Arrives, Miamians Get Cooking
by linda lee
Alessi’s Design District outpost is the company’s first dedicated monobrand store in Miami, and one of only six nationwide
Alessi, the Italian design company known as the Tiffany & Co. of quirky, shiny kitchenware, has launched a standalone shop at 4141 NE Second Ave. in the Design District, with a grand opening during this past Art Basel Miami Beach. Previously, Miami shoppers could find individual Alessi pieces, which range from whimsical to limited edition, at Luminaire and Bloomingdale’s. The new hub is full of cleverly conceived items that usher bold design into the kitchen, such as the Juicy Salif by Philippe Starck citrus squeezer. It stands on three arachnid-like legs and looks like something George Lucas might design to attack salt-and-pepper shakers. At the top of the line are limited-edition silver coffee and tea towers by famous architects such as Toyo Ito, David Chipperfield, Sanaa, MVRDV, Jean Nouvel, Richard Meier, Future Systems, Thom Mayne of Morphosis, Zaha Hadid, and Hans Hollein.
For Alessi’s first 30 years, products were designed in-house, initially by founder Giovanni Alessi and then by his son, Carlo. When Carlo became head of the company in the ’50s, he began using outside designers, and his son Alberto expanded the idea. Working with superstars in any industry can present challenges. “There have been some [designers who were] more difficult,” says Alessio Alessi, the 56-year-old president of Alessi USA and Giovanni Alessi’s grandson. “Some needed to take more time.” The upside, though, is worth it, as the limited-edition program puts the company in league with design stars who dream shape and volume, and often end up designing items in the company’s everyday lines.
Alessi now exhibits work by more than 200 outside designers. But it wasn’t until 1985 and Michael Graves’s iconic nine-cup 9093 teakettle, made of 18/10 stainless steel with the little bird whistle in the spout, that it became better known Stateside.
The company, now celebrating its 91st year, is based in Crusinallo, on Lake Orta, near the borders of both Switzerland and France. It turns out 7,500 individual items every day and employs 500 people. “We consider ourselves a pocket multinational,” says Paolo Cravedi, managing director of Alessi USA. The company’s lines have grown to include design-y barware, jewelry, electric appliances, items for the bath, objects for children, clocks (including the Blank wall clock by the Catalan designer Martí Guixé, who also designed the special installation for the Miami store’s grand opening), knives, textiles, office products, watches, and more.
While those sell in select retailers, Alessi also has six dedicated monobrand stores in the US. Why Miami as a new store location? “Because they want to come here to vacation,” jokes Cravedi. In fact, he notes that the company was aware of our town’s sophisticated shoppers. “Miami people have taste closer to European taste—and a diverse culture.”
The privately owned Alessi company credo is to do what is beautiful and will last. “There are two ways to do business,” Alessio Alessi says. “Just to make money, or another way. We think in the long term. We want to be around 100 years from now and still family-owned.”
Alessio’s son, 30-year-old industrial designer Giovanni Alessi Anghini, is part of the next generation, and he was expected (via a new family rule, since there are 14 in the younger generation) to work at other companies. He spent time at Philips Electronics, Foreverlamp, and Vitra, among others. His taste is clearly keeping the company youthful: The Moom, a single-serving bowl (add food, hang a wine glass, and carry to the sofa) and his $50 Pop-Up bottle opener are both in production.
As for Alessi Anghini’s own home décor: “I have a Wiggle side chair [designed by Frank Gehry] and the Eames elephant [both produced by Vitra],” he says. “It’s not the style, it’s the meaning of the object. I don’t buy furniture to match the carpet.” 4141 NE Second Ave., 305-572-1284
photographs by presscott mcdonald