Hamish Kilburn, Editor of Hotel Designs, spent 48 hours with Gessi, in Milan and its headquarters at the foot of the Italian Alps, and now doesn’t see the brand as a bathroom manufacturer at all…
The bathroom and wellness industry has been saturated with innovation, practical solutions and competition for quite some time. Gessi, a somewhat newcomer on the scene compared to its German rivals, was launched in 1992 with the unapologetic aim to think and design differently. Driven by its Italian DNA, to celebrate beauty in all forms, the brand has always looked outside the parameters of the bathroom arena to create new wellness solutions. Inspired by fashion, architecture, design and even jewellery if recent product launches are anything to go by, Gessi has achieved its goal to showcase private wellness beyond practicality – and here’s how.
Defined, one would argue, as the fashionista of the wellness industry, Gessi is all about creating lasting experiences in product form. These experiences are felt with full impact in the brand’s various showrooms, or ‘casa’, which translates to ‘home’ in Italian. Each casa shelters its own personality – amplifying a different strand of its adolescent attitude, if you like. Just like the interior design of a hotel, the casas tell their own narrative, looking beyond obvious stereotypes to not just inject as well as amplify a captivating and true sense of place. Casa Gessi Milan, for example, feels like it will at any moment make a quick-change into a nightclub, which of course it does during Milan Design Week each year.
The guest experience – and I say ‘guest’ because all designers are made to feel warmly welcome – is more of a conversation than a showcase. For example, there’s a ‘jewellery’ station inside – the Project Boutique, for ad hoc consulting with a sartorial approach – that allows designers and clients to select and customise elements of their taps and even a ‘fitting room’ style shower unit that, using magnets, can be designed to replicate a particular design scheme. At no point, in fact, does this feel gimmicky. And that, I believe, is due to the concept being conceived around the products – and not the other way around.
‘Doing things differently’ extends beyond the company’s immersive showroom experiences and into the innovation and creativity in each product. Cue the arrival of Jacqueline and Perle, two little divas that have arrived to mark the presence of ‘Haute Culture’, a concept created by Gessi that so clearly defines its approach, to stand out with purpose and celebrate the people behind the design.
In its own boudoir-style showroom, overlooking the main building on the other side of the courtyard, is where Jacqueline and Perle currently reside. The window display is reminiscent of a luxury handbag store. It is the inspiration behind both these ranges, one directly from fashion and the other from the jewellery industry, that depict the ‘Haute Culture’ term in product form.
The Jacqueline collection, inspired from fashion and accessories, encapsulates the essence of style and lifestyle in a timeless concept. The collection uses the hollow roots of bamboo for a totally unique look and feel, which is handcrafted: the roots are selected one by one, by diameter and pitch between the knots. The water dispensing levers, inspired in shape by the fastenings of handbags and fashion accessories, are available in metal with leather-effect details or in a material that simulates horn with contrasting metal details.
Meanwhile, the Perle collection, is as the name suggests a rare find, which has been created following profound research around raw materials. The creations of the collection allow, through endless combinations of unique shapes, colours and finishes, to interpret the personality of the person who inhabits the space, in a path of true tailoring in order to achieve a result that gives well-being to the individual, a tailormade wellbeing. Currently, there are five ‘materic worlds’ for Perle, including Murano hand blown glass spheres, which utilises the skill and knowledge from master glassmakers, handed down from generation to generation, and is expressed on the pure form of the pearl.
Together, Jacqueline and Perle mark a new era for the wellness brand, suggesting that it will continue to design products and solutions that centre the bathroom as the hero.
The latest Casa to join showrooms in Milan, Singapore, London, Dubai, Riyadh, Tokyo and Lohne, is in New York. Casa Gessi New York will be located slap-bang in the middle of Soho, and will feature no less than five floors of wellness experiences, including, we are told, an indoor pool.
Given its products and unique style, it’s hard not the think that Gessi was not born out of the fashion industry. However, its founder, Umberto Gessi, who established the company alongside his son, Gian Luca, was a mechanic before he decided to launch a brand that approached wellness through an architect’s lens. The vision was to reintroduce the tap in a different way; to view bathroom instruments beyond their practical use and instead see bathroom products as jewels over practical objects. Aside from the motorbikes that now line the entrance of the factory, designers will only appreciate the brand’s mechanical heritage when they start to learn about the process of design.
Gessi’s headquarters is located about 50 miles from the heart of Milan. Rather aptly given the brands innate approach to design consciously, it is nestled in nature under the striking vista of the Italian and Swiss Alps. In a site that spans 800,000 square metres, the factory itself occupies just 60,000 square meters, with development plans to add a further 40,000 square metres. The structure of the factory is made from local stone and features solar panels on the roof. It has a organic feel, with horizontal lines designed so that the building does not impact its backdrop – it’s somehow grounded to the earth, inherently conscious as much as it is efficient in its construction.
Inside, the space feels vast, but look closer and you will notice each section of the manufacturing line – the overall flow of the factory has been carefully conceived to maximise efficiency.
Adding value and longevity, Gessi is proud to layer the product with five coats of finish (the average among the industry is two to three coats).
Integral to each part of the manufacturing process is quality care. In addition to the final product being tested using air as well as water (hot and cold), Gessi also takes it upon itself to X-ray test components, using, in some areas of the factory, the same machines that have been used in the aviation industry and automotive brands such as Lamborghini. This, I am told, is a totally unique machine used in the bathroom industry.
When it comes to the commercial sector, new finishes being launched from bathroom manufacturers are usually met with a concerned eyebrow raised. That’s because, unless opting for the more expensive PVD (Gessi introduced its first PVD machine in 2020), the coating can become compromised when cleaned with any cleaning product. The advice remains from any bathroom manufacturing company to clean these painted products with warm soapy water only, but that is far from a realistic expectation for housekeeping staff adhering to modern traveller demands for hygiene. Adding value and longevity, Gessi is proud to layer the product with five coats of finish (the average among the industry is two to three coats).
Witnessing the manufacturing process puts into perspective the scale of Gessi’s demand, but also its procession when it comes to assembly as well as design. The showerhead nozzles, for example, are not manufactured as one plastic sheet – they are, instead, individual silicone nozzles, which create a better private wellness experience, which, after all, is what Gessi has always pioneered.
What impresses me, perhaps, most about Gessi’s approach is that through its innovation and risks it has taken to be perceived differently, the quality of its production and technical layers has never once been compromised. And that, I believe, is why is has become a leader, in all sectors, for redefining wellness in the most refreshing of ways.
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Main image credit: Gessi