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The illy Art Collection: More Than Just a Coffee Cup



From the very beginning, illy has committed itself to pursuing perfection, making way for the three principles that define the essence of the illy brand: Good, Goodness and Beauty. Good refers to the sensory creation of a quality cup of coffee. Goodness is the attitude of sustainability in every component of the supply chain. Finally, beauty is the aesthetic and artistic component that complements wholly the innate sensory goodness of coffee. It is only when you combine these three principles that you can create an inclusive coffee experience that everyone can enjoy. For illy, there is no quality coffee without sustainability and beauty.


illy’s dedication to beauty and art is evident in its close collaboration with the art community at large. illy’s instantly recognisable logo was designed by Rosenquist, one of the fathers of the American Pop Art Movement in the 60s. Since then, illy has connected with some of the world’s leading artists to create pieces of art that elevates the coffee tasting experience to new heights.

The Iconic White Cup by Mattheo Thun

It was in the early 90s where illy’s vision sought to include experience as one of its major goals. The best coffee is defined by the experience of the drinker. This is where the illustrious collaboration with world-renowned architect and designer, Mattheo Thun, began. Given the task to create the ideal receptacle for espresso that boosts the sensory, intellectual and aesthetic experience, Thun created the iconic white coffee cup design.


Unveiled in 1991, this elegant white cup became the signature symbol of illy. Offering both tactile and visual stimulus, its unique shape, substantial rim, and special ‘bowl’ bottom improve the heat retention of the beverage while helping to steer the aroma diffusion for optimal enjoyment. The rounded eyelet handle adds to the simple beauty of the iconic white cup.


Soon after its launch, the white cup became a blank canvas that would inspire great artists from all over the world.



History of the illy Art Collection

The illy Art Collection was launched in 1992 by Francesco Illy as a way to combine the pleasure of coffee with the aesthetic pleasure of art using an everyday object like a coffee cup. From the perspective of the drinker, the small works of art in the form of a cup can transform the simple act of drinking a cup of espresso into one that involves the senses and the mind. To illy, the large scale art collection that uses coffee cup design and art is a way to spread art around the world.


Since the illy Art Collection launch, more than 110 of the most important contemporary artists have used the white cup as a canvas to give their vision life. Find coffee cup designs from Michelangelo Pistoletto, Anish Kapoor, Daniel Buren, Jeff Koons, William Kentridge, Gillo Dorfles, Yoko Ono, and more in the illy Art Collection. Some highlights you can find today include:

-        Stegan Sagmeister (2020): Sagmeister’s coffee cup design collection, “Now is Better”, looks simple at a glance but, in fact, offers a much deeper meaning. The clear geographic shapes on the saucer reflect and point in a positive direction on the cup, reflecting on our necessity to look at the future when dealing with reality. He calls us to remember that humanity has never had it as good as it does today.


-        Olimpia Zagnoli (2019): Using soft and simple shapes with vivid colours, Zagnoli’s “Sisters” pays homage to futurism and the Beatles. Featuring six different women in the collection, she inspires us to undertake dialogue about the future in the language of colour.


-        Marc Quinn (2018): Quinn reminds us to scrutinise the essence and authenticity of our humanity with his “Iris'' collection. He was inspired by the fact that the eyes are the only internal organ that can be seen from the outside. Additionally, no two irises are alike.


-        Gillo Dorfles (2016): The art speaks for itself with Dorfles’ art pieces. He offers no interpretation and no message. What is known about these pieces is that each of these is inspired by some of his own work from the end of the 1930s that were made with egg tempera, a technique that was favoured by the great masters of the 15th century. 


The illy sustainArt Project

In an effort to expand the dimensions of illy’s influence in the world of contemporary art, illy introduced the illy sustainArt project in 2007, reaching out mostly to the countries where illy obtains its raw ingredients. Artists from coffee producing countries like Colombia, El Salvador, Ethiopia, and Brazil are given the opportunity to come up with an artistic approach and design their own work of art.


Through this project, illy provides emerging artists with the support for exposure, experimentation, and growth through academic grants and opportunities for exhibitions, collaborations, and art events. By offering a space for the emerging artists to ask questions and present their work to leading experts in the contemporary art scene, illy is nurturing a new community of artists and sustaining creativity.





For illy, a cup of coffee is more than just that. The coffee whole experience has to take into account every one of our senses and our mind. Explore and learn more about our range of illy Art Collection to immerse yourself in that wholesome coffee experience.

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