Sinking back into a gray settee, Nerio Alessandri muses about the time he was rejected by Giorgio Armani.
“When I was twenty years old, in the early 1980s, my dream was to become a fashion designer. So I sent my CV to Armani.” He pauses. “Nothing. Non ho ricevuto niente.” When he never heard back, he did what any precocious twentysomething would do: he retreated to his garage in Cesena, Italy, and started building a crude hack squat machine.
A workout apparatus may seem tangential to Italian suiting, but Alessandri insists otherwise. “My DNA is design,” he says. “I transform functionality into the emotional, plus the environment.” It’s with that credo that Alessandri has turned that early angular metal contraption into Technogym, the multinational goliath that has supplied the training equipment for six Olympic Games, not to mention hotels, gyms, and private homes all over the world.
Technogym is not, as Alessandri is quick to correct, a fitness company. “The fitness is looking good, the wellness is feeling good,” he says, gesticulating as light floods the landing on the executive floor of Technogym Village, the brand’s corporate offices in Cesena. With a sharp navy suit, tidy salt-and-pepper hair, and fluent English tinged by an unblunted Italian accent, Alessandri is the type of character that Hollywood rom-com directors would rush to cast in an affable uncle role. He adds: “Wellness is the balance of regular fitness activity, good nutrition, and positive approach. It’s a full vision, a mind-set.”
In today’s Goop-y era of activated-charcoal smoothie bowls and workout tights that cost more than dinner at a Michelin-starred restaurant, “wellness” is an omnipresent, impossible-to-escape buzzword. But no one was using it in the mid-1990s, decades before the wearables boom, when Technogym (an obvious mashup of “technology” and “gym”) introduced the MyWellness data tracker. When other fitness brands were just dipping their toes in the market, Technogym was already off and running with a wall-to-wall “wellness ecosystem,” as Alessandri calls it, consisting of innovative products that integrate seamlessly with technology and offer clean-lined aesthetics. “When you put your product in the garage, it’s fitness,” he says. “When you put your product like Technogym in the living room, it’s wellness. One is the rational, the other is the aspirational.”
The brand’s sparkling new flagship in Milan, which opened in early April during Milan Design Week, amplify these values. Alessandri entrusted the structure to Antonio Citterio, the veteran architect and furniture designer who has collaborated with such big-name design houses as B&B Italia, Kartell, Hermès, and Vitra, and who has steered the aesthetic vision for Technogym’s Personal Line of home equipment. (He’s also responsible for the headquarters just outside of Bologna.) The design is similarly tranquil and minimalist—a breather from the touristy hubbub outside on Via Durini. On the first floor, leather-clad durmast oak tables are topped with stylish stainless-steel dumbbells and kettlebells, and a typographic installation blazes Technogym’s motto, “Let’s Move For a Better World,” in neon yellow lights.
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Pieces from Technogym’s Personal Line are situated on the ground floor. Much like cars, fitness equipment tends to get more aerodynamic over the years, with more softly curved lines and oval forms. But with pronounced shapes, sharp angles, and luxurious appointments—like an ergonomic Vitra seat on a recumbent bike—the collection seems to confidently rally against that trend. “I believe every object should be a pleasure to look at—the pieces could become part of a home interior design project,” says Citterio, who recently designed a weight rack and bench for the collection.
From here, a lightning bolt–like staircase leads up to an education and events area, and down to a spread of fitness equipment, where a few customers watch trainers clad in Technogym merch demonstrate on a Skillmill, a treadmill with a concave belt. The staircase itself has a mirrored underside, a playful nod to those awful gym mirrors.
“From the very beginning, the goal was to overcome the traditional idea of a store,” Citterio says. “It would have been limiting to think of this space as a simple point of sale.” Alessandri adds: “It’s where we’ll promote wellness in the city of Milan through clinics and education programs that convey the emotional, and the philosophical, and the conceptual—not only the selling.”
A new partnership with IBM will continue to enhance the MyWellness cloud computing technology using Watson Artificial Intelligence. Beyond that, Alessandri’s plans are sizeable: “To help humanity, to help government, to help corporations, to help institutions.”
In the short term, though, he’s looking forward to his next meeting with one of his biggest clients: Giorgio Armani. “He has our equipment in all of his houses and on his boat—in every element of Armani’s life, there is Technogym.”