When do you choose style over function? Some people might pick clothes, wall art, or maybe even a car for its style. But what about a juicer?
Released in 1990, the Juicy Salif is a small aluminum-plated juicer that made a huge impact on consumers and the design world. The Juicy Salif earned a permanent spot in the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Victoria and Albert Museum because of its retro-futuristic and controversial design. And yet, many people who purchased the Juicy Salif would report it wasn’t very useful as a juicer.
If only hype could juice an orange.
And don’t be mistaken, Alessi, the Italian houseware design company that produced the Juicy Salif, says it was one of their most successful selling products. It was even re-released as a gold-plated, collector’s item where Alessi left direct instructions to not use it as a juicer for fear of ruining the gold finish.
With words like retro-futuristic, minimalist, and controversial never being applied to another juicer during the past century, what is it about the Juicy Salif that attracts us?
Challenging Conventions with Defiant Designs
It’s not ergonomic — or designed to be used efficiently and safely — so why does it deserve a spot in museums or people’s kitchens?
Author Oscar Wilde once argued that critics are most often the origin of art, or to put it plainly, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Because if art cannot be appreciated by the masses, then it doesn’t deserve the status as iconic. So to get meta for a moment, if you’re still reading this because this Juicy Salif interests you, the designer has inherently done something worth noting.
And when I look at the Juicy Salif standing on its three legs on my kitchen counter — among a coffee maker, toaster oven, and microwave — it stands out.
In my mind’s eye, the design immediately invokes a tattered book cover of a blue-and-orange dime sci-fi novel with a Juicy Salif as the sketched spaceship charting the unknown. The retro-future design inspired everything from the 60s Thunderbird to the 60s and 70s sci-fi television and cinema.
Passing by the alien-head-styled juicer top, the joints of its legs arch to sharp points like a menacing McDonald’s logo.
The aluminum shine also plays with light, attracting my eye like a lure.
Additionally, the curious juicer has no clear instructions on where to juice and how to transfer it into your glass. The user is just supposed to look, wonder, touch, and understand.
A Squid's Influence on an Iconic Juicer
And yet, according to an interview with Alberto Alessi, the French designer Phillippe Starck was inspired by a squid.
Alessi says that Starck was squeezing lemon over a squid when the idea for the Juicy Salif came to him.
Starck had drawn all over a paper placemat from an Italian pizzeria with hazy ideas of what would become the Juicy Salif. He sent the placemat to the business owner, and Alessi said he immediately saw his vision and ran with it.
In Alessi’s mind, this design was a joke. He said Starck blew up the notion that design must come after function.
And as the design continues to sell, becoming one of Alessi’s bestselling products, I’m positive Alessi is still laughing.
Embracing Democratic Design for the Masses
Starck’s early career was defined by this idea of revolt against design principles.
In fact, the Juicy Salif is part of Starck’s embrace of a design style called democratic design.
Democratic design steals well-designed objects away from high society and argues that mass-produced consumer goods with high quality can improve the market as a whole. Democratic design balances function, sustainability, form, quality, and low price when dreaming up products.
The design principle can be most commonly found today by its warehouse champion Swedish homeware producer IKEA.
Starck’s time working with Alessi on the Juicy Salif and other projects reflects his part of that push.
But he wouldn’t continue to work on democratic design principles throughout his life. Instead, he’s continued to make waves in the design space that are out of this world.
Now Starck has gone on to design yachts for Apple Founder Steve Jobs, refurbish the president’s private apartments in the French capital, and even design the living space of the International Space Station.
Using the Juicy Salif
While I do enjoy this lovely little juicer (I don't have an option since it's the only one I own), there are a few things that I want to point out if you have yet to use one.
First, watch out for the little rubber feet falling off over time. Its bound to happen eventually, and if you're not careful while using the Juicy Salif, you could end up scratching your countertop.
When I use mine, I always place a cutting board below it.
Once you cut your lemon in half, just place it down on top of the juicer, and slowly apply pressure while turning.
The first time I used it, I immediately noticed the first flaw in the design compared to traditional juicers on the market, the seeds fall down with the juice.
To get around this, I have a tiny little sieve that I use to catch all the pulp and seeds as they fall from the juicer. I highly recommend doing the same, otherwise you'll be plucking these all out manually.
Owning a Masterpiece: More Than a Purchase
So, at the end of it all, you’re left with a decision. Do you buy a Juicy Salif?
Put plainly, Alessi’s juicer is not cheap. Sitting at a ripe $100 (although it's often on sale for $60), you can easily find more functional juicers for a cheaper price. If you go for the limited edition bronze-plated or gold-plated edition, you can spend as little as $1,000.
What you’re buying aims to offer more than just freshly squeezed juice. It’s something that inspires something exciting or dramatic in the mind of the user. It makes you want to learn about it, talk about it and explore. Whether you like the design or not, these facts about it make it fun, and its the biggest statement piece in my kitchen.
And Starck said it best when he explained his concept behind the Juicy Salif:
“How do we find the right balance between function and joy? Joy is a function.”