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Putting the “iconic” into design

Putting the “iconic” into design

What’s more important when it comes to buying iconic design? Style? Substance? Or should designs have both (and maybe a dash of timelessness), before being given iconic status? In the fashion world, it feels like time has no meaning, and substance is the irritating aunty that you pretend to like in order to keep the peace, then seat her at the back, behind a pillar at family weddings.

Hardly surprising given this is an industry that aspires to the great heights of producing a season’s ‘it’ purchase; worn by the latest ‘it-girl” and labelled “As Seen in Vogue”. 

It’s disappointing that one of the most iconic designs in fashion is a handbag that can only be purchased by the rich and famous. The Hermès Kelly bag is truly magnificent, with a back story deserving of its iconic status. As are the Chanel quilted 2.5 handbag, Christian Louboutin red-bottom high heels, Louis Vuitton luggage, Burberry trench coats, Chanel tweed jacket, Diane von Furstenberg wrap dress, and the Tiffany’s heart tag necklace. It’s just such a shame that iconic fashion designs like these tend to be wrapped in gilded elitism, with a price to match.

Meanwhile, over in homewares, it’s a completely different story. Designs with iconic style, substance AND timelessness abound. Brands including Dyson, Smeg, Bialetti, AGA, KitchenAid, Weber, Le CreusetCuisinart, and Iittala.

Then there is Alessi. A brand that is a powerhouse of iconic design. Their ability to instil character, charm, and often humour, into almost any everyday household item. A call bell is transformed into a royal carriage led by a circus monkey. Bottle openers become married couples flapping their arms up and down. While gorillas with Polynesian skirts and banana earrings will let you know when the boiled eggs are ready.

Alessi makes us smile with every new iteration and collection while never forgetting that each product must be useful enough for people to use every day. Most brands would have seen their founder’s joie de vivre diluted after the first 1oo years in business. But not Alessi. Somehow the Alessi designers are getting even crazier with age. That’s a very good trait in this increasingly sanitised world. And a rarity indeed.

Alberto Alessi says it best, “Alessi's duty is to create happiness, take risks, transcend functionalism and acknowledge that mass production can lead to dully homogeneous.” In other words, iconic design needs to be more than stylish, more than functional, and more than the ordinary. Iconic design is when you can feel the passion of the brand to be “more than.” That’s a mantra I can get behind.