Stefano Giovannoni of Alessi

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The revered industrial designer Stefano Giovannoni tells Arthur Tam why he’s so interested in China

For the past few decades, Stefano Giovannoni has been the primary industrial designer responsible for the cute and clever products from renowned Italian lifestyle company Alessi. The long-established brand reached a landmark when Giovannoni introduced his Girotondo collection of kitchenwares, which achieved record-breaking sales of over seven million and granted a new design spirit to Alessi.
The 52-year-old designer has been named all sorts of venerated titles since, such as the Most Bankable Designer and the King Midas of Design. Giovannoni graduated from the University of Florence with an architectural degree and soon found his way into the realm of design after being approached by Alessandro Mendini to work with Alessi. Ever since, Giovannoni has created over 300 different products for the brand and has extended his creative talents to work with a multitude of companies like Siemens, L’Oréal, Samsung, Nissan and Oregon Scientific. With his vast knowledge across a range of different product designs, it’s no wonder that he was invited as a keynote speaker at this year’s Business of Design Week, which took place just a few weeks ago. During his stay, we were fortunate enough to speak with the hailed designer about his design philosophy and his thoughts on the future of design in China.

When did you get your first design inspiration from Asia?
During my business trip to the National Palace Museum of Taiwan, I was astonished by the beauty of the garden, prose and ancient masterpieces of Chinese history that I found there. I told the director, ‘it’s a real pity in Europe that not so many people know about these masterpieces’. She asked me. “Mr Giovannoni, do you have any ideas about promoting the museum in Europe?” So after thinking a little bit, I decided to design a collection of 10 products inspired by the Qianlong Emperor and the imperial family.
In this way, more and more people could understand the significance.

Do you think you will ever do a Hong Kong-inspired collaboration?
I don’t know, but I will give it some thought. I work really globally now, and more frequently in Asia.

Do you have big plans in this part of the world?
Yes, of course. Right now I am opening studios in China because I am interested in creating a bridge between Eastern and Western companies – and their distribution processes, because the market has changed very rapidly. I came to China first, and I invited Alessi afterward to find Chinese companies and locations for collaborations. I am very positive about this new potential of working globally.

What do you think about the design scene in HK and China?
China’s market at this moment is really targeted on only one level. Each company competes with each other on one product at the same price point, which means they are marginally different. However, in Europe and in Hong Kong, there is a greater range. In Italy, for example, I design basins for Alessi in 15 different typologies and sizes for a sophisticated consumer society.

Do you see potential in China?
Of course! There is great potential all over this country. I think that the future will be here. The Chinese market is so big and there is so much space for branding and co-branding between Europe and Italy.

What haven’t you designed that you’d like to?
I’m interested in designing boats and some electronic vehicles like bicycles, scooters and electric cars – and I have contacts that I hope to develop into such kind of businesses in the future. In China there are a lot of companies, and design will be a crucial component of the Chinese economy, which the Chinese government has understood very well recently. Chinese suppliers have understood a lot from European companies coming here and working. Now they are understanding how to brand their products.

How would you characterise your designs?
Clever. My intention is to develop a product that’s new and that everybody can understand.

Where do you get inspiration for your clever products?
Inspiration comes from understanding people’s needs – not in terms of functional needs, because in a rich society everybody already has a product that solves a functional need. You have to think of more sophisticated needs, more sophisticated desires.

What is your personal philosophy as a designer?
I try to create an emotional product with a strong identity that succeeds in communicating with people.

What advice do you have for emerging designers?
You need to know about philosophy, about economy, about how society changes. You have to understand these changes and adapt your designs. Try not to work immediately with a company. Work independently and think of really great ideas. Don’t create just anything. Design something people can understand as different and new.

Alessi Shop 247, 2/F, Landmark Prince’s, 2869 6377; alessi.com.

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