It's time to mark the career of an entrepreneur who brought to a wider market some of the most iconic plastic housewares product lines of the 1970s.
Alan Heller, who died Aug. 13, partnered with Italian designer Massimo Vignelli to resurrect plastic stackable plates, cups and other items that were first made in Italy. As the New York Times notes in his obituary, Heller grew up in a family-owned company that made housewares out of aluminum. When he saw Vignelli's line, he flew to Italy and bought up the molds to begin production in the U.S., tweaking them slightly for American tastes. The rainbow-colored "Hellerware" was produced and sold at a price most people could afford.
"To Americans of a certain age, Heller dinnerware is as potent a madeleine to the 1970s as a Marimekko print," Penelope Green wrote in the Times.
Some pieces of Heller's work are in Syracuse University's The Plastics Collection, and I recall using several of those pieces at a college apartment.
Heller went on to work with French designer Philippe Starck on a toilet brush, marketed as Excalibur, and Italian designer and architect Mario Bellini on a one-piece molded plastic chair. Heller Inc. still sells the injection molded, fiberglass-reinforced polypropylene Bellini chair.