The quirky ’80s design movement Memphis is back on our horizon as this influential style creeps back into interiors for 2016. A bold and brash style, full of graphic aplomb and primary colours Memphis isn’t for the faint hearted.
Originally founded in December 1980, it was design icon and renowned architect Ettore Sottsass that sparked the meeting of minds which formed the movement. In his Milan apartment Sottsass met with a group of younger architects; Martine Bedin, Aldo Cibic, Michele De Lucchi, Matteo Thun and Marco Zanini and writer Barbara Radice. There to discuss his plans to produce a line of furniture with old friend, Renzo Brugola, the group started what was originally dubbed The New Design. The project was rechristened Memphis after the group were inspired by a lyric in the Bob Dylan song ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile (With the Memphis Blues Again)’, which was playing on Sotsass’s record player at the time.
George Sowden and Nathalie du Pasquier had joined the collective by February ’81, and contributed to the plenitude of furniture, lamp and ceramic drawings that had been produced, all adhering to no set formula. After decades of modernist structure, Sottsass and the Memphis design collective were breaking free of the smart but soulless ‘good taste’ in design.
Sottsass, a pivotal figure of the late 20th century Italian design scene, had devoted his life to dismantling the past in his various roles as artist, architect, industrial designer, glass maker, ceramicist and more.
“When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism,” he once said. “[Functionalism] It’s not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting.” Design Museum
Memphis design dominated the early 1980s design scene with its post-modernism rule breaking and is seen as an era defining style. Karl Lagerfeld championed the movement and used his Monaco penthouse as a fashionable shrine. This ground breaking new look embodied themes with which Sotsass has been experimenting with for many years; bright colours, kitsch suburban motifs and cheap materials like plastic laminates. The thematics of the movement had captured the attention of the mass media and design world, and was billed as the future of design. It had liberated the young designers of the time, allowing them an escape from the regulated rationalism they has been taught and enabled them to adopt a more conceptual approach to design.
Bold graphic prints and a resurgence of vibrant primary colours are set to feature throughout our interiors this year with many leading designers and brands using the movement for their collection’s inspiration.
“As the ’80s start to be the decade to look back to in interior design, I would watch for Memphis-style pieces—geometric motifs and silhouettes and clashing bright colors. Look for pieces less kitsch than the true Memphis designs but that are just as fun and experimental.” Justina Blakeney, designer, artist, and author- as told to Vogue.
For some, Memphis design is not just the latest trend that they will incorporate into their home but a lifelong passion. Dennis Zanone is one of the movement’s biggest known collectors and has filled his home with iconic pieces, you can see his vast collection on his Memphis dedicated website – Memphis Miliano.
“I live in Memphis, TN USA and started collecting Memphis design thirty years ago and think I have the largest collection of early Memphis design. Several museums here in the U.S. have Memphis in their permanent collections such as Denver, IMA, LACMA, Metropolitan, Fine Arts/Boston and here at The Brooks which held an exhibition in the 80s here in Memphis, TN. The V&A showed Memphis design in their Postmodernism exhibition in 2011.” Dennis Zanone.
One of the key collections to encompass the body and spirit of Memphis this year is; Kartell goes Sottsass: A tribute to Memphis, billed as an ‘everlasting design’ capsule. Sottsass met with Kartell back in 2004, and today they still produce a few of his designs that were created expressly for Kartell. Two stools (Plastro and Colonna) and a vase (Calice) proudly reflect their designer in their modular volumes and post-modern shapes, and in their full and decidedly ‘pop’ colours of red, acid green, pink, glossy white and glossy black.
Kartell have also used this capsule collection as a great opportunity to celebrate one of Sotsass’s greatest adventures: Memphis. They have included Patracia Urquiola’s Foliage line of armchairs and sofas, the Trix modular seating system, Pop Duo and Plastic Duo sofas, Piero Lissoni’s Audrey chair and Philippe Starck’s Mademoiselle armchairs with fabrics created specifically by Kartell in collaboration with Memphis. The fabric collection was designed by Nathalie du Pasquier and Ettore Sottsass, revisiting the typical Memphis patterns in new and creative ways. These items are given a new post-futuristic pop look making Memphis’s artistic message more modern than ever, in a new industrial optic by Kartell. These are totally new products, with a strong identity and powerful impact, perfect for re-embracing this ground-breaking design movement.
As a capsule collection Kartell have borrowed the fashion world’s idea of a range composed of a few items that can be easily mixed and matched, the Kartell goes Sottsass. A tribute to Memphis capsule was designed to last much longer than a single season.
Break the rules and be inspired by incorporating a little Memphis into your interior. Kartell is the go-to brand for on-trend pieces, look to Wrong for HAY, Jonathan Adler and Sunny Todd for accents to bring a hint of the look home.