The Italian design factory known as Alessi has, for a while now, sold its flatware in boxes with black & gray patterns of silhouetted cutlery — knives, forks, spoons, cake servers, etc.
These are “decorator” boxes in the sense that most of the branding and all of the product information appears on a removable belly band sleeve. (See also: Branding in your home)
Alberto Alessi’s first connection with Finnish design was in the 1970s, when he started working with the graphic designer Eija Helander and her architect husband [Franco] Sargiani. It was an intensive cooperation: the couple did all Alessi’s graphic design from the logo to the packaging.
Design in Finland Magazine
Finnish Foreign Trade Association, 1995
More Alessi flatware patterns package design and then I digress…
Confirming my assumption —that it was Eija Helander and Franco Sargiani who designed these patterned boxes— has proven difficult. In fact, I have not been able to confirm it.
Programma 8 was a modular system of close-packing rectangular trays, plates and other containers, thought to be more efficient and space-saving.
In 1971 the two architects were asked by Alessi to design an oil jug.
However, Sargiani and Helander’s creativity and motivation, coupled with strict, continued relationships with the company yielded an entirely new set of modular tableware objects. As Sargiani recalls: “I don’t exactly remember if it was Alberto who, after the initial theme of the oil jug, said that we could develop some trays and food containers, or if we came to the idea of finding a support for the oil jug […] It was a continuous interplay on how to proceed with the project, how to carry it on; it is now difficult to remember what came first”
Another relevant aspect to understand strategic innovation at Alessi is the conceptual work behind “Programma 8”. The project was based on a research program, in which the two architects conducted an extensive survey of international cooking, tableware articles and dining habits, coming to the creation of many trays and food containers on a scale never attempted before.
In the words of Eija Helander: “The starting point was a ‘briefing’, in which something new was asked, because in that period the six or seven companies competing in the field were all doing the same things, often imitating each other”
With Programma 8 Sargiani and Helander aimed at designing objects that satisfied functional requirements: the objects should be of maximum adaptability and flexibility, they should enhance food without reducing its visibility, and they should be able to use space more efficiently. As already mentioned in Section 4.2, Programma 8 was a radical change of direction for Alessi, since it re-positioned the firm from an elitist producer of traditional, well-crafted objects, to a mass-producer of advanced-design household articles.
Micro-Foundations of Organizational Adaptation
A Field Study in the Evolution of Product Development Capabilities in a Design Firm
They also designed some of their own flatware as part of Programma 8.
In the 70’s for the first time we encounter “designer” silverware authored by Franco Sargiani and Eija Helander, after a complex process of of development: salad fork, cake slice, knives for cheese, roast and cold cuts.
Alessi Hotel & Restaurant catalog, 2013
Although Carlo Salvato refers to Sargiani and Helander as “the two architects,” in the only official bio for Helander that I can find —the same on the Alessi web site as on the Franco Sargiani site— she is described, not as an architect, but as a designer who “runs her own business covering a comprehensive range of services, from interior design to advertising graphics, setting up stands and creating corporate logos.”
I’ve searched for additional evidence of Eija Helander’s separate design business, but have not been able to find any. No website or other self-promotional online activities. Perhaps she’s a silent partner somewhere. The photograph of her standing, partly obscured behind Sargiani is, perhaps, telling.
Maybe she’s just publicity-shy, but there’s something inexplicable about how little information there is available about Eija Helander.
According to IMDb (the Internet Movie Database) she is an actress and art director, known for the 1968 film Vain neljä kertaa (“Only Four Times”) directed by Aito Mäkinen. I’ve tried in vain to find a clip of her appearance in this movie. The credits list her as both art director for the film and with an “uncredited” role playing “woman in the trial.”
Eija [Helander] hei, darling – kun minä aloitan ‘darling’ se ei kyllä tarkoita sitä. Tää on katsos kyllä lavastuksellisesti okei, mutta… liikaa Oonaa, näyttää pahalta ja vanhalta… Sitten tuo pienitäi, mikä se on? Ei siitä kukaan keksi että voin tehdä pannulappua…
Juha Tanttu, Armi Ratian maailmassa
Google translate wasn’t much help with the conversational Finnish, above. Still, it’s very tempting to draw some connection from Eija Helander’s “long collaboration with Marimekko” to the flatware patterns package design of the Alessi boxes.
Sargiani, on the other hand, is not so elusive. With him, we find much more in the way of an online paper trail.
“Brief History of Design ” was the series of interventions by Franco Sargiani on the history of design in Italy since the war.
In addition to his work as an architect, he’s designed and patented a number of elegantly minimal plumbing fixtures for Fantini.
Fittingly, he appears in a number of their videos…