Founded in northern Italy by Giovanni Alessi Anghini as a manufacturer of metal components, the company began to produce everyday domestic and catering products in the late 1920s. From 1932 it developed an independent design policy under the direction of Carlo Alessi, Giovanni's son. From the 1980s the company has become widely recognized internationally for its technical and stylistic innovations and often slightly idiosyncratic, yet highly fashionable, Postmodern products by leading designers such as Michael Graves, Alessandro Mendini, Ettore Sottsass, Matteo Thun, and Philippe Starck. In Italy itself Alessi products generally cater for everyday purposes, whereas in the valuable export markets its more design‐conscious products are seen to represent the stylishness and fashionability of Italian design.
Alessi designs were produced on an in‐house basis (often by Carlo Alessi himself) until 1954 when designers such as Anselmo Vitale and Luigi Massoni began to be employed on a consultancy basis. After the Second World War the company increasingly turned to stainless steel instead of the nickel silver and brass that had characterized its earlier products. Though still respecting the craft traditions that were such a key aspect of design innovation and practice in post‐war Italian consumer goods, the company also expanded its scale of production to what may be seen as medium‐sized. In 1970 Alberto Alessi Anghini became general manager of the company and has been responsible for the company's increasing commercial and stylistic prominence for more than 30 years. An important landmark in the company's profile was the Tea and Coffee Piazza limited edition project initiated by Alessandro Mendini as part of a strategy to promote the company's profile internationally and to situate Italian design within an international context. A number of designers from different countries were commissioned including Mendini himself, Paolo Portoghesi, the Americans Robert Venturi, Michael Graves, Charles Jencks, and Stanley Tigerman, the Austrian Hans Hollein, and the Japanese Kazuma Yamashita. These and subsequent experimental designs were produced under the trademark of the company's experimental division, Officina Alessi. Ironically, perhaps, amongst the best‐known designs produced by the company are those by non‐Italians such as Michael Graves's Kettle with Bird Shaped Whistle or Philippe Starck's Juicy Salif lemon squeezer. The company has also produced a number of designs that seek to underline its sophistication and awareness of design heritage, reflecting a cultural promotion strategy similar to that of the furniture company Cassina and office equipment manufacturer Olivetti. These include designs by the 19th‐century industrial designer Christopher Dresser, the Bauhaus metalware designer Marianne Brandt, and the Finnish designer Eliel Saarinen.
Alessi has been highly adept at marketing its products through books and publishing ventures, multilingual catalogues, exhibitions, and the establishment of the Alessi Museum. Books have included Alessi: The Design Factory (1994) with essays by a number of people associated with the company and Alessandro Alessi's The Dream Factory: Alessi since 1921 (1998). Amongst the exhibitions promoting the Alessi idea has been L'Atelier Alessi: Alberto Alessi et Alessandro Mendini: dix ans de design 1980–1990.
Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.