Alessi's Fall/Winter Collection

The business of product design is a family affair for Matteo Alessi, Director of Trade Marketing and International Development at Alessi  (and great grandson to Alberto, the company’s founder).

The Italian home accessories brand has been around since 1921, and offers an ever-expanding catalogue of over 3,500 products, many of which are designs that have endured decades of changing kitchen and lifestyle trends. It’s this longevity of both form and function that Matteo is looking for with all the new additions, including over 50 new items in the 2009 Fall/Winter Collection.

I had a chance to check out some of the new pieces last week at San Francisco’s Alessi store (on Sutter Street at Powell), as well as chat with Matteo about what sets Alessi apart. “When we launch a product, we don’t try to answer to a specific target or a particular trend. What we do is develop what we believe is an innovation in the world of design, which then really achieves something that is timeless. Michael Graves’ kettle is 20 years old, and still looks modern in every kitchen.”

Classic design aside, it might seem to some like a difficult time to be launching specialty products at a higher price point than competitors. Yet this is precisely where Matteo believes that Alessi thrives. In a time when shoppers and amateur chefs are tightening budgets, he sees an opportunity for people to invest in items that will endure any financial downturn (and eventual recovery) right along with them. “The recession is affecting how we live our lives,” he said. “People are going out a bit less, eating fewer meals at restaurants and more at home. People have smaller houses and smaller kitchens, but there’s also this growing interest in cooking. There’s a much greater focus on value, and that doesn’t necessarily mean that products that don’t cost a lot. Our products might be more expensive, but after twenty years not only do they still work, but they still look great. By crafting products that will last forever, we are answering to both sustainability and smart spending.” So the answer seems to lie in finding that delicate balance between need and want, initial cost and long-term worth.

The new collection incorporates designs for all three of the brand’s platforms—Alessi, Officina Alessi, and A Di Alessi—encompassing everything from tea cups to dog bowls to stainless steel trays. Speaking of which, before I left the shop Matteo shared a neat anecdote about one of Alessi’s most recognizable pieces.

“You know the famous lemon squeezer by Philippe Starck [Juicy Salif]? That was actually his reply to a brief that my uncle gave him to design a tray. He got the idea when he was sitting in a pizzeria on the Amalfi coast, eating squid, and wondering what he could use to squeeze lemon directly onto his plate. He started drawing on the paper tablecloth, and after he finished eating he folded it up and sent it to Alberto and said, “This is it. This is the idea.” We still have that paper tablecloth in the Alessi museum. And that’s how the creative process happens: in the most unthinkable places, at the most unthinkable moments. This is the freedom we give to our designers.”

Click on the slideshow button at the top of this post to check out some cool new pieces from the new collection.

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