Alessi, one of Italy's leading design firms of the 1980s and 1990s, is best known for innovative design of domestic objects made in stainless steel, silver and, more recently, in plastics. In 1989 however, Officina Alessi acquired the rights to the 'Tendentse' project that concerned ceramics. Initiated in 1985 by Ettore Sottsass, Adolfo Natalini, Andrea Branzi and Alessandro Mendini, the project aimed at experimental research into handmade objects and their 'emotional content' which could inform and inspire the design production lines. Ceramics had been selected because of the ancient origins of the medium's forms, decorations and processes. The results of first experiments were objects forming the initial 'Tendentse' collection launched in 1989.
Following Alessi's acquisition of the 'Tendentse' project, experiments focussed on the ceramic vase, 'one of mankind's most ancestral wares' (A. Mendini, 'The 100% make-up', p.118, in: Alessi Design factory, 1994). In 1992, the firm released ten thousand vases from the 'The 100% make-up' series which formed a spectacular highlight of the 'Tendentse' collection. All vases were wheel-thrown and cast in white porcelain to one basic design by Alessandro Mendini. Identical in form, colour and material, they began their life as most of mass-produced objects do. The similarity ended there however, as the vases were then decorated with one hundred different designs commissioned from one hundred artists, architects and designers from Europe, Africa, Asia and America. Each design was copied on one hundred vases, each vase being individually numbered and marked with names of all contributing designers.
Due to overwhelming demand for vases decorated by particular designers, twelve designs were re-issued in an unnumbered edition (about 500 pieces of each design) also in 1992. Decorated by Mendini and bearing his signature on the base, this vase belongs to the later, unnumbered edition. Originally part of the collection of the Alessi Museum in Milan, the Mendini vase and a vase printed with a design by Michael Graves were presented to the Powerhouse Museum in the year 2000. They are excellent examples to illustrate Alessi's continuing quest for innovative design, product diversification and for producing objects with a distinct personality.