Design is a search to perfectly integrate form, function, and meaning. A single design can take years of iterations and refinements and still may never embody that ideal. But if it becomes iconic–think the Coca-Cola bottle or, for our purposes, the Zippo pocket lighter–it ceases to be in flux and moves beyond time and style.
But, and sooner or later, change needs to be introduced–either directly injected into the design itself, or at the very least, by admitting alternative forms into the cycle. As every designer knows, neither is easy to pull off. Especially the latter: Exactly how do you go about making something that aims to displace or rethink an icon?
“It is very difficult and challenging,” says Rodrigo Torres, the designer behind Alessi’s new Sushi lighter. Torres and his team had to figure out how to move away from the classic Zippo lighter, first introduced in the ’30s, then popularized by U.S. forces in World War II and seen in a bazillion action movies ever since. What he came up with looks to the past as much as it looks to contemporary design.
The Sushi lighter is a new typology, Torres tells Co. Design, one that’s pocketable and attendant to your smoking habit but also handy to use at home, where you can use it to light your gas stove or those pesky narrow glass candles. The abbreviated aerodynamic lines and the quirky pastel color schemes reference midcentury automobile and kitchen design. Torres explains: “I wanted to create an iconic, domestic, and sympathetic object. A product that, by using the ‘collective memory’ embedded in its shapes and colors, reminded the user of the emotiveness and warmth of that period of time when home appliances told a story through simplicity, joy, and a very strong identity.”
As for the name, the designer says he derived it from one of his initial concepts for the lighter. “It came from the idea of ‘wrapping fire,’ one of the directions that I was exploring during the brainstorming stage of the project.” After he made his first sketches, which would become the final design, the curvy, compact shell reminded him of a “beautiful sushi wrap.”
The “Sushi” lighter is currently being distributed in Japan and Europe, with North America to follow soon after.