Amid the ever-evolving canvas of design, where creativity often finds its roots in the unexpected, the Poêle Collection emerges as a whimsical tribute to the partnership of two visionaries: French designer Philippe Starck and Italian design home, Alessi. What began as a light-hearted joke between the long-time collaborators evolved into Alessi's impressive debut collection of furniture designs which comprises a chair, a coat hanger, and a stool design. The journey from jest to design marvel reflects the essence of their creative partnership.
“The Poêle collection started as a joke," confesses Alberto Alessi, president of Alessi. The idea took shape during a conversation that has been two decades in the making—an exchange between Starck and Alessi on the possibility of crafting a chair that mirrored the manufacturing process of a steel frying pan, utilising Alessi’s advanced cold-press metal technology. As with many of Starck’s endeavours, it all began with a subversion, a playful twist that laid the foundation for a collection that elegantly combines the most beautiful symptoms of human intelligence: humour and technology.
The Poêle collection, named after the French word for 'pan,' serves as a homage to the humble steel frying pan—a common kitchen item transformed into sophisticated pieces of furniture. The first instalment of the chair design embodies the essence of the entire collection: its seat and back draw inspiration from the familiar shape of a frying pan, with legs cleverly mimicking the handles of a pan. This unconventional approach to product design reflects not just the skill of a furniture designer, but the playful imagination of a true innovator. “I have been trying to make a chair with Philippe Starck for around 20 years now, and we finally did it,” shares Alberto, highlighting the enduring nature of their collaboration. This particular project stands out, representing the fulfilment of a long-held ambition at Alessi: to venture into the realm of furniture design with the renowned French creator.
The Poêle chair and the entire collection are a manifestation of Alessi’s expertise in homeware and kitchen products, rooted in its rich history of metalwork dating back to 1921. The chair is a testament to a modernised traditional cold-press technology from the 1950s. Alberto sees the collection as a celebration—100 years of Alessi’s dedication to working with metal, and over 30 years of collaboration with Starck. “It has always been a dream of mine to enter the world of furniture significantly”, says Alberto, emphasising the weight and significance attached to this venture. The collection is more than a trial—it is a serious exploration into the synergy of artistic vision coupled with technological precision.
Steel, especially stainless steel, poses a formidable challenge in the design and manufacturing process. Starck shares with STIR the technical hurdles he encountered during the creation of the Poêle Collection, recounting a meticulous journey of embossing millimetre by millimetre. Over a span of three years, the team overcame impossible odds, adding two to three millimetres every two months, until a small idea blossomed into a complete collection for the home. “Every colour, every shape, every material means something”, insists Starck, highlighting the responsibility of designers to guide and inspire through their creations.
“I am not a designer, I am not an artist, I am not a semiologist," asserts the French architect, product and industrial designer, addressing the challenge of bridging functionality with aesthetics through his creative philosophy. "Culture or aesthetics don’t count for me. I use materials, shapes, and colours to reflect what we want to express and what we look for. My products are made to live and to last. This is my goal. That is why functionality is paramount. For this, the fundamental rule is to always try and find the centre of the project, the backbone. Once you have found the minimum, you can guarantee that the product will be timeless," he promises.
The furniture collection marks a significant milestone in the 30-year collaboration between Starck and Alessi, during which they have created 39 designs together. The furniture designer emphasises the importance of love in creating beautiful projects, a sentiment echoed by Alberto as well. Their friendship, built on respect for intelligence and humour transcends mere work—it is a serious play that allows them to tackle challenges lightly, and approach lighter things with seriousness.
Starck expands on the broader significance of the Poêle Collection, highlighting the inherent responsibility of designers. He sees the role of designers as political, social, and human, shaping contracts with communities and civilisations. The pieces in the collection—a chair, a coat hanger, and stools, are not just objects—they are designed to enhance daily life, fulfilling a contract to help communities and species evolve.
Discussing the role of humour in design, the product designer reveals to STIR his deep interest in human intelligence and genius, especially when coupled with technology. Humour, for him, is the most beautiful symptom of human intelligence; an elegant way to give relativity to everything. It is through this lens of humour, elegance, and poetry that Starck envisions timeless, honest, and high-quality products, addressing the main ecological parameter of today's design: longevity.
Looking ahead, Starck predicts the demise of trends that consume excessive energy and cynicism. The Poêle Collection, with its focus on longevity, transmission, and heritage, aligns with modern ideals. The designer envisions a future where individuality trumps trends and product designs are intelligent, honest, and durable. His words resonate with the evolving landscape of contemporary design, challenging the prevailing, fast-paced consumer culture.
The Poêle Collection is more than just a set of furniture pieces—it is a narrative that unfolds through humour, friendship, and a family’s century-long dedication to metal mastery. As we engage with the chair and other pieces, we are reminded that even the most serious creations can have their origins in lighthearted exchanges. This collection is a culmination of Starck and Alessi’s creative journey and stands as an invitation to embrace the playful side of design and find art in the everyday.