From fairly modest beginnings near Lake Orta in the Italian Alps, the Alessi brand has become one of the world’s most recognisable. Founded in 1921 with the aim of producing metal utensils for eating and drinking, it has helped to shape our expectations of how a household object should look.

Three generations later, the Alessi name is safe in the hands of Alberto Alessi, who took over the company in the 1980s, the decade that kick-started the contemporary obsession with designer objects. Having the foresight to see how a team of skilled designers could transform an apparently dull kitchen appliance into a work of art, he initiated collaborations with such stellar names as Ettore Sottsass, Michael Graves, Richard Sapper, Alessandro Mendini and Achille Castiglioni.

By a happy coincidence, the 1980s marked the dominance of Postmodernism, an artistic and philosophical movement that had succeeded Modernism. While Modernist objects had largely eschewed embellishment in favour of straight, clean lines which reflected the philosophy “form follows function”, Postmodernism celebrated a return to decoration, which often included past styles re-imagined for a late twentieth century audience.

This was the ideal environment for the Alessi company, as they delighted fans of intelligent and imaginative design with beautiful objects like Michael Graves’s whistling kettle with a bird perched on the spout, Massimo Giacon’s humorous Mr. Suicide bath plug with float and Philippe Starck’s iconic three-legged Juicy Salif citrus squeezer.

In 2006 Alessi opened its already famous flagship store in New York’s SoHo district and reclassified its products under three different names: A di Alessi (lower priced items for cash-strapped design fans), Alessi (the main collection) and Officina Alessi (the most avant-garde section of the company, offering limited edition pieces).

Alessi retains its sense of playfulness, creating products that are entirely functional (which should please the most spartan Modernist) but rarely fail to raise a smile.

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