5 Italian Design Brands You Ought to Know

These 'Made in Italy' classics have conquered the world, making design history in the process.

From left to right: Photos by Sonya Pix, Florencia Viadana and Nick Fewings (details)
From left to right: Photos by Sonya Pix, Florencia Viadana and Nick Fewings (details)

In post-war Italy, massive strides have been made in terms of innovation and material research, and many of the brands and companies involved, including Alessi, Bialetti and Cassina, have made design history. Their products have become icons that have found their way into the collective consciousness far beyond the borders of Italy. Here we explore the top 5 Italian brands and the products that have made them famous.

1. Alessi

Michael Graves for Alessi, kettle 9093 'Oisillon'. Photo © Catawiki
Michael Graves for Alessi, kettle 9093 'Oisillon'. Photo © Catawiki

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The brand Alessi was founded in Piedmont in 1921 as a workshop and foundry for processing brass and nickel silver plates. As early as the start of the 1930s, the company switched its production to steel processing. Under the direction of Alberto Alessi, the company began to work with important designers in the 1970s and '80s, including Aldo Rossi, Achille Castiglioni, Ettore Sottsass, Philip Stark and Michael Graves. The latter designed the conically shaped kettle 9093 made of stainless steel with a pipe in the shape of a bird, which today can be described as a timeless classic.

2. Bialetti

Moka-Express from Bialetti. Photo by Sonya Pix
Moka-Express from Bialetti. Photo by Sonya Pix

The Bialetti company was also founded in Piedmont in 1919 as a manufacturer of aluminium semi-finished products. In 1927, it was taken over by Alessi. However, in 1933, Alfonso Bialetti founded a new company to revolutionise coffee preparation at home and in the office with the 'Moka-Express'. However, only a few copies were made until the post-war period, when Alfonso's son Renato Bialetti took over the management of the company and made the 'Moka-Express' first a national bestseller and then an international phenomenon.

3. Cassina

Gio Ponti (1871-1979), 'Superleggera; chairs made of walnut, designed in 1955, manufactured by Cassina, covers by Paul Smith, height 83 cm each. Photo © Christie's
Gio Ponti (1871-1979), 'Superleggera; chairs made of walnut, designed in 1955, manufactured by Cassina, covers by Paul Smith, height 83 cm each. Photo © Christie's

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Another child of the interwar period is the company Cassina, founded in Brianza in 1927 to specialise in the manufacture of furniture and furnishings. After the Second World War, when Cassina's focus was initially on equipping cruise ships, there was a meeting with Gio Ponti, which resulted in a long-term collaboration. The most famous design resulting from this was the Superleggera chair in 1952. Its light weight structure in combination with a simple, sleek design have made the chair one of the best-known and most successful products, by both Cassina and Gio Ponti.

4. Olivetti

'Lettera 32' from Olivetti. Photo by Florencia Viadana
'Lettera 32' from Olivetti. Photo by Florencia Viadana

See also: The 10 Most Popular Furniture Designers

The invention of the typewriter is traced back to the Italian typographer and publisher Francesco Rampazetto the Elder in the late 16th century. The first patent for such a machine, however, was applied for by the British engineer Henry Mill in 1714, while the American company Remington contributed to their rapid development in the 1870s. In 1908, Camillo Olivetti founded his company, which specialised in the manufacture of typewriters and which soon stood out for its technology, innovation and aesthetics. The best-known Olivetti models are the Letter 32 typewriter by Ettore Sottsass and the Valentine by Perry A. King.

5. Piaggio

A Vespa from Piaggio. Photo by Nick Fewings
A Vespa from Piaggio. Photo by Nick Fewings

After its founding in 1884, the Ligurian company Piaggio initially devoted itself to the construction of ships and then switched to the aviation and railway sectors. However, its breakthrough came after the Second World War, when in 1946 it registered a patent for the Vespa (Italian for 'wasp') scooter, a much smaller means of transport. Practical and comparatively inexpensive, the scooter, which reminded company owner Enrico Piaggio of the said insect, became a real bestseller, which today embodies the Italian dolce vita more than any other product internationally.

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