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Accessories That Are the Opposite of Ordinary

March 09, 2000|CONNIE KOENENN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Alessi, the Italian firm noted for bestowing a designer touch on the most humble household items (down to a Philippe Starck fly swatter), is stepping up its U.S. presence.

"They've been in this country for years but have just opened a New York wholesale showroom and are reinvigorating their brand," said spokeswoman Esther Perman. "They specialize in home furnishings, and there is a design twist to everything."

Although the family-owned Alessi made its biggest splash with stainless-steel items such as tea kettles, they've moved into zesty plastics and recently introduced a line of candy-colored bath products at the Frankfurt Gift Fair.

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A whimsical Big Bubbles collection by Stefano Giovannoni and Miriam Mirri are fluid formations that serve as a soap dish and tumbler for toothbrushes (about $24 each). They're in jellybean blues, greens and yellows, with air bubbles trapped in each piece.

And designer Marc Newson's pontoon-shaped soap dish, in transparent neon shades of plastic, has a center hole to keep the soap dry. Newson's earlier contributions to Alessi's kitchen offerings include an ergonomically contoured bottle opener with a translucent plastic handle and a set of salt and pepper mills with an ebony/ivory lacquered finish. Alessi has also added hot fluorescent colors to the plastic "plumage" of their comical Firebird, a battery-powered tool for lighting a fire or grill. It now comes in red, green, yellow, blue, orange and black (about $59).

Los Angeles stores carrying Alessi, listed on the company Web site at http://www.alessi.com, include several specialty furniture stores and the Museum of Contemporary Art gift shops.

"Alessi totally stands out from everything else," said Grant Breding, retail manager for the MOCA gift stores, who just returned from a European shopping trip and bought a lot of Alessi items.

"It's actually very practical stuff--it doesn't just sit on the shelf," he said. "They use a designer for every single thing and the designs make sense."

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At the Diva furniture showroom on Beverly Boulevard, Sarah Whipple says the store has customers who make a beeline for anything Alessi. "They are upscale accessories but not unattainable in price, and people love them for wedding gifts and housewarming gifts," she said. "A few years ago nobody knew who Alessi was unless they'd been to Europe, where you see it everywhere. But now it's really taking off here.

"They're a combination of really thoughtful design and just plain fun," she added. "The kind of thing that is very useful, but you also want it to be seen. It's a nice way to start learning about design."

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Connie Koenenn can be reached at connie.koenenn@latimes.com.

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