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MUSEOWEB dell'economia varesina

Rossi d'Albizzate spa

Historical Profile

 

Armchairs and sofas: an unusual company for the times


In 1923, Felice Rossi began a family business in Arsago producing and selling mattresses, upholstery and saddlery, with a branch in Cavaria. Felice’s younger brother Giuseppe was also initially involved in the company, but left in 1935 to create his own sole proprietorship in Cavaria together with his wife Maria Saporiti, which would only deal in upholstering and fabrics.

In 1937, Giuseppe registered his company at Chamber of Commerce, while that same year his brother Felice closed his own company’s branch in Cavaria.

With the development of the business, the company eventually rented an industrial warehouse in Solbiate Arno, in which the production activities would be carried out, and soon ended up employing thirty workers.

Giuseppe Rossi began to research, design, build and perfect mechanisms that would lead to the development of dynamic models capable of transforming the functions that were enclosed within appropriately designed shapes: the chair could be turned into a bed, and a bed the could be turned into a chair.

This gave rise to the “Confortevole” sofa bed in 1939, which was highly appreciated on the market because it catered to an emerging demand for new types of living spaces.

This led to a long series of inventions and patents, and resulted in a corporate philosophy that would govern all of the company’s later developments: making things that are beautiful, useful and long lasting.

The company suspended its production activities during the Second World War and started up again immediately following Italy’s Liberation, fuelled by the countless ideas that had been generated in the meantime. The Pullman model sofa bed came out in 1946, followed by the Gardone living room set in 1949, both of which were subjects for illustrations by artist Silvio Zanella.

When put on display at the Milan Trade Fair, the “living environments” that had been created by Giuseppe Rossi and Maria Saporiti were an enormous success with the public as they satisfied a widespread demand for domestic spaces capable of adapting to the demographic, housing and urban changes of the post-war period.

In 1951, the company and family both moved to Albizzate, where a new factory had been built on farm land owned by the family of Maria Saporiti. In 1955, the company began collaborating with designer Giampiero Vitelli, a relationship that was destined to last into the 1970s. A company operating in the wood furnishings industry constituted an absolute anomaly within the local context, which mainly involved companies from other industrial sectors (such as mechanics, textiles and aviation). Rossi’s specialization in “padded” furniture, the culture of the project and even the distance from a more well-equipped, yet also more constraining, environment, such as the Brianza region, eventually became the company’s strengths.

The showcase that the company built in 1958 along the Milan-Varese motorway was a symbol of its success: a large parallelpiped shaped aquarium made of glass and metal that lit up at night to reveal the company’s renowned beds, sofas and armchairs as they appeared to “float” inside.

 

Innovation, design and internationalization

The Rossi family lived in a house next to the factory. Giuseppe himself was the technical heart of the company, while his wife Maria was in charge of its commercial aspects, though she also inspired solutions that added taste and emotion to the projects themselves. Their children grew up breathing the air and the values of the family business. Luigi (born in 1935) became involved in the company after received his diploma in accounting and was later joined by his brother Piero (born in 1942), who specialized in interior design.

Rossi was one of the companies that originally founded Milan’s international furniture exhibition known as the “Salone Internazionale del Mobile”, for which Luigi Rossi remained on the board of directors for a long period of time and later assumed the role of vice president.

The exhibition, which was destined to become the largest international showcase of Italian creativity, as well as an annual event for the Rossi company itself (never having missed a single year), stimulates designers to continue creating innovative furnishings and furnishing accessories.

It was within this context that Luigi and Piero, along with their parents, began to build upon the relationships that they had established with various nationally and internationally acclaimed designers, thus rendering design a structural component of each Rossi creation. This resulted in a production model that was based on close interaction between the entrepreneur (the specific idea), the designer (the overall development of the design) and the external craftsmen, by whom a number of the processing phases were carried out.

In 1964, the company – which had been transformed into a de facto company in 1962 – created an internal division for the production of polyurethane foam under its own patent right (Rofoam), which would eliminate the use of foam rubber and would offer improved softness and durability.

The company founded an information centre in Milan’s San Babila district, in the Galleria del Toro, which would remain operational up until 1975.

A sales network was developed using agents who would directly follow their own customers (usually companies) and organize their product orders. Exports increased and expanded beyond the confines of Europe to include even the United States and Canada: Rossi had become an international brand.

In 1969, based on a project designed by Giampiero Vitelli and Titina Ammannati, the company developed the “Grandangolo” model, a seamless seating system with curved or straight lines that was primarily designed for large spaces (luxury hotel lobbies, airport VIP lounges, villas, etc.). During this period, the company came to employ nearly one hundred individuals, the majority of whom were skilled workers. While Luigi and Piero continued living next to the Albizzate production facility with their families, their parents had since moved to Gallarate in 1963.

 

New strengths: modularity and tailor-made elements


The era of modularity began in the 1970s. This complex construction technology was based on the use of “tailor made” components, which would allow for the creation of seating systems and furnishings of remarkable flexibility, as well as exceptional elegance. In 1972, the company assumed the legal form of a limited partnership.

Rossi di Albizzate’s creations were displayed at the international trade fairs of Cologne (1970) and Paris (1971), as well as at Eurodomus in Turin, the Milan Triennale, and many more.

In 1972 the company introduced the Sit System: a system of desks and chairs that had been developed by Hans Von Klier and was specifically designed for top management.

In 1975 the company inaugurated a showroom designed by Carlo Bartoli in Milan’s Largo Augusto area, followed by another on Rome’s Via Condotti in 1976.

It was during these same years that the company underwent yet another significant change: an exclusive agreement was stipulated with the company Redwal of Bologna for the use of special leathers, created by designer Borbonese, with the Bogo modular design (1976, designed by Carlo Bartoli), from which the products of the Safari line of fashion accessories would be derived.

The company continued to furnish itself with original collections of fabrics and leathers for its upholsteries, which strengthened the brand’s image. Close attention was paid to the quality of each single component, and the products themselves were furnished with data sheets representing the structures themselves.

The joint stock company Rossi di Albizzate was founded in the year 1980 and just two years later the company capital was increased from 450 million to one billion Italian Lira. The choice of the company name reflected a decision to associate a rather common Italian surname with the unusual name of the locality in which the company arose. It went on to become a brand that would be recognized throughout the world.

In 1983 a new showroom on Rome’s Via del Babbuino was opened and the company inaugurated the Varese exhibition and consultancy centre (700 meters of exhibition space in the heart of the city), both of which were designed by Carlo Bartoli. The list of designers and artists who collaborated with Rossi on the development of its new products and models continued to grow: it included Dario Rossi, Luciano Consigli, Alain Carrè, Claudio Salocchi, Lucio Del Pezzo and Grazia Billio, to name just a few. Rossi chairs and sofas began appearing in different locations throughout the world (including Moscow and Dubai) and were showcased in some of the world’s most well-known interior design and furniture magazines.

 

 Beauty, practicality and enjoyment

In the early 1990s, the company was being run by brothers Luigi and Piero, although their father Giuseppe continued to follow their work with the same passion as always. While they were still elaborated with the help of qualified designers as usual, Luigi and Piero endowed the models with a softer, curvier and more colourful design. This required continuous experimentation with different materials (including support structures, padding elements, fabrics and leathers), which were then adapted to the creative solutions that had been identified. One example of this new trend was the Supersassi collection that was introduced in the year 2000 in collaboration with Matteo Thun: a set of decisively playful chairs that were made up of oval elements of different colours and could be configured as desired. At the same time, the Rossi brothers also enhanced their leather-covered seating systems, such as the Borbonese line, by giving them the unmistakable “bird's eye” texture, a mark of exceptional elegance and a true business strategy for the company.

Giuseppe Rossi passed away in 2005; the same year, the publishing house Electa published a monograph on his company’s history. A particularly challenging project arose in 2006: a comprehensive system of modular sofas (for a total of 750 seating spaces) for Costa Crociere’s Barcellona terminal. With the economic crisis that has arisen over the past few years, which has inevitably resulted in reduced sales, the Rossi brothers, having also been stimulated by the volume published by Electa, have taken the time to dedicate themselves to a project that is just as important as the extraordinary seating elements that they have been manufacturing for over 75 years: the creation of an internal company museum. The museum, which was completed in the summer of 2010 and also expresses Luigi’s passion for photography, arose from the desire to review the experience that had been acquired up until now and is primarily intended for the company’s own employees, its agents, its suppliers and its most loyal customers. It serves to illustrate and share the story of a company that has always been considered a little unusual within its own context.