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Interview: Gabriele Chiave of Alessi

Insight on the designer's whimsical new range, and the stories behind each piece

by Paolo Ferrarini
on 11 June 2015

Gabriele Chiave is a storyteller. A designer for Alessi, Dainese, Foscarini and more, Chiave has lived everywhere from Dakar to Caracas, Rome and Amsterdam. Not only is his own existence rich with stories, each one of his works has its own. “For almost every project there is an anecdote or an interesting unexpected story to tell," he tells CH.

"Within many of the projects I have done, there is a deep sense of intangible symbolism and at the same time, familiarity. I believe that design is fluid and, therefore, is subject to so many different descriptions," he explains. Chiave inherently understands that design is open to interpretation and can be deeply personal: "My goal with each design is to make a connection between consumer and concept. To create an unconscious relation between object and user which is built on common memories. In doing so, my work possesses duality as well as complexity."

Chiave is adept at finding the language to describe his process and his pieces. He notes, "I think the language I would gravitate to most are words like 'accessible' and 'experiential.'" This approach is evident in his final products, which are oftentimes ironic and light—even surreal—but he never ignores the importance of function. "For me, the creative process must be very fluid and natural. I have found over my career that the imagination and thinking that goes into one project may not necessarily be what is best for another. My extensive experience with Italian industrial design is the anchor which guides me to intermingle form and function, so this, along with balancing technology, innovation and concept could be considered my process. It's like drawing a circle, and when it closes then you've reached the optimal result. Everything makes sense,” he says.

Chiave recently applied this fluid approach to a range of Alessi products: a pillbox in the shape of a chestnut, a clever toothpaste tube-squeezer that recalls a classic belt buckle, and a cheese grater inspired by a cowbell. While seemingly whimsical in concept, each final product is a clean, stylish creation. When describing Chiave's work, Alberto Alessi has used terms such as “metaphor," “figure of speech" and “allegory”—echoing the concept that these entities are more than just things; they have substance and significance.

Like all his pieces, the Alessi collection has several stories behind it—each more charming and amusing than the last. "When I was checking the prototypes of Buckle [the toothpaste-squeezer] with Alberto Alessi, we had several tryout tubes laid out on the table—from toothpaste to mayonnaise and ketchup. All of a sudden, after one enthusiastic try, the content of one of the tubes spilled over and the table was full of ketchup. At least the prototypes proved to work very well!" he says. "Cheese Please also proved troublesome, but this time during the photo-shooting. I wanted to attach the bell to a real cow, a situation which ended up being much harder than I had thought. So we had one afternoon to 'convince' the cow to be a model."

Chiave explains that Chestnut (the pillbox) has a much more sentimental and personal story attached to it. "Chestnut symbolizes the tradition my grandmother had—an old Italian tradition saying: a chestnut in your pocket will keep the cold and flu away. Therefore a pill-holder shaped as chestnut is a paradox and funny translation of such form and function," he says. While design can seem whimsical on one end of the spectrum, or entirely mathematical on the other, Chiave's approach shows that there is a middle-ground that blends form, function, nostalgia, personal history and emotion.

Lead image by Paolo Ferarrini, all others courtesy of Alessi

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