Dezeen Magazine


Italian design production "could disappear," says Alberto Alessi

News: Italy's design manufacturing capability is at risk of disappearing, according to Alberto Alessi, president of design brand Alessi.

The country's producers could go the same way as its great designers of the last century and be outsourced abroad, Alessi told Dezeen.

"The risk is that it disappears," he said in an interview in Milan last week during the Salone del Mobile. "Maybe Italian production will disappear."

Alessi said that until the 1970s, Italian design was characterised by Italian designers working for Italian manufacturers.

"Then during the 80s we had some important change," Alessi said, as Italian industry started to work with foreign designers. "Design expressed through the catalogue of Italian design factories was not any more Italian," he said.

Today, he said, "maybe the second element, Italian production, will disappear."

The company, which specialises in kitchen accessories and tableware, was founded in 1921 by Alberto Alessi's grandfather Giovanni Alessi and today employs around 500 people at its factory in Crusinallo on Lake Orta in northern Italy. Its annual turnover is around €100 million.

One of the best-known of Italy's design-led manufacturers, Alessi started out as a producer of stainless steel utensils for the catering industry but, like many successful Italian "design factories", began collaborating with external designers in the fifties and sixties.

Famous Alessi collaborations include the 9090 espresso machine designed by Richard Sapper, the Juicy Salif lemon squeezer by Philippe Starck and the Record watch by Achille Castiglioni.

Foreign competition and Italy's lingering economic woes are creating problems for Italy's design houses. In May last year Claudio Luti, president of both the Kartell brand and the Salone del Mobile, said the failure of the country's small, family run firms to seek investment and explore foreign markets was a "big, big mistake."

Last September Patrizia Moroso, head of Italian furniture brand Moroso, said Italy was "in crisis" while Milan was "sitting in the past".

"Italy... is very much in a crisis because it doesn't want to change, doesn't want to move and is becoming very old,” she said, adding that the country was "losing the culture behind production.”

Alberto Alessi said his company was committed to maintaining its production base in Italy but said he was "concerned" that Italian manufacturing would go the same way as Italian design, and migrate abroad.

But he added that, even if this happened, the notion of "Italian design" would continue, because of the country's unique culture of collaboration between designer and manufacturer.

"I think that [Italy] will continue to have Italian design because it has not only to do with the nationality of the designer but it has to do with a culture," he said. "We are a kind of mediator. The core of our activity is to mediate endlessly between on one side the best creativity in product design from all over the world and on the other side, customers."

"This culture makes Italian design factories the best labs to offer to designers to make real their designs," he added. "When they enter the door of Alessi, the designer or architect immediately feels he will meet people who will do their best to help him express what he has inside."