WMF vs. Alessi Stainless Steel Wire Basket
I was prompted to create this page based on a blog item by David A. Keeps entitled, "The Look for Less: Alessi and WMF wire baskets," dated 2 November 2010 at the Los Angeles Times web site.  In the article, Keeps compares one of the Alessi 826 stainless steel wire baskets with a similar one by WMF, part of its "Concept" collection, both of which are still in production.  As Keeps indicates (and I agree), the two contemporary baskets are easily distinguishable.  My "issue" with the piece is that Keeps calls the WMF basket a "copycat" version of the Alessi bowl, which I find a bit demeaning considering WMF's actual role here.  To understand the situation, a little company history is needed.

There are actually three companies involved:  the two manufacturers, WMF (Württembergische Metallwarenfabrik AG) and Alessi S.P.A., plus a former distributor, Fraser's Ltd. 

WMF was founded in Geislingen an der Steige, Germany, in 1853 by Daniel Straub, and it continues to be one of the world's major producer of tableware.  It has had and/or continues to have factories in Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Spain, Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Korea, and elsewhere.  Alessi S.P.A. was founded in 1921 in Crusinallo, Italy, by the Alessi family.  It, too, continues to be a major player in the design and manufacture of housewares.

Fraser's was founded in 1947 by Gordon Freeman Fraser in Berkeley, California, as a retail shop selling contemporary housewares.  To make a long and complex story short, Fraser's became the distributor of WMF products throughout the U.S. and Europe (it was bought out by WMF, becoming a division of WMF, but still carrying the Fraser's name).  Gordon Fraser moved to Geislingen and played a major role in the development and marketing of WMF products.  When Gordon Fraser died in 2005, Fraser's ceased to exist by that name (the U.S. distributor is now WMF Americas Group).  This union of WMF and Fraser's is the reason you see many of WMF's tableware products labeled, "Fraser's WMF."  Getting back to the wire baskets...

There are vintage stainless wire baskets, identical to the Alessi 826 basket, that are labeled "Fraser's WMF"!  You can see one in the photos below, a used one that I bought about a year ago on eBay.  There is another used one currently (20 Jan 2013) for sale at eBay.  Images there show that it is stamped on the underside:

ALFRA [eagle logo] ALESSI

and that it has a paper label below the backstamp reading:

stainless 18/8

From above, this basket and mine look the same, but there are some minor differences on the underside (see photos below).  The Alfra Alessi one lacks the two drain holes mine has, and the center of its underside is recessed with a distinct step, while mine has no such recessed area (I note that the new ones currently being sold by Alessi S.P.A. also have this recess).

Despite these minor differences, which probably reflect when and where the two baskets were manufactured, clearly there was some kind of association between WMF and Alessi.  My guess is that "Fraser's WMF Italy" was acting as the distributor,  possibly even the manufacturer, for the Alessi-designed basket.  The fact that Alessi continues to sell this same basket, without an apparent connection to WMF, does suggest one of the Alessi's was the original designer.  It would take more research to find out.

WMF has redesigned its entire and very successful line of mid-century modern stainless tableware into a new, "minimalist," style (e.g., the "Concept," "Kult," and "Profi Plus" lines).  Given the change in style, continuing to produce the mid-century modern Alessi bowl would not have made sense.  So, the bottom line here is that WMF is not being a lame "copycat," it has simply advanced stylistically.  Whether one likes minimalist design or considers the change an improvement is a whole other issue.

"Cromargan" is WMF's trademark for stainless steel, registered in 1927.  18/10 and 18/8 refer to the percentages of chromium and nickel, respectively, in the stainless steel (the remainder being iron).  Nickel is expensive, so 18/10 has come to be considered more desirable in terms of marketing and is, thus, replacing 18/8, but in fact there's very little functional difference between the two formulations, so it is not uncommon for the labeling to be contradictory from one production run to another.

This is the used wire basket/bowl I purchased on eBay last year, which clearly resembles the Alessi 826 basket, not the WMF "Concept" basket.

These are the welded (soldered?) joints mentioned by Keeps in his article.

The underside of my basket showing the Fraser's WMF paper label.  Note the two drain holes and flat bottom (no recess).

Close-up of the underside of the above basket.  The backstamp does not include either company logo or the place of manufacture or the word, "Cromargan," which is unusual for WMF.