Memphis Movement founder Ettore Sottsass ‘Carlton Room Divider’ (1981)


Sottsass protogee Michele de Lucchi’s ‘Flamingo’ bedside table (1984)


The often misunderstood 1980’s MEMPHIS MOVEMENT inspired a full throttle reviale with the distinct geometric motifs and block colour dominatiing furniture, lighting, fashion, jewellery, textile and graphic desigm, making it one of the most dominant trends of 2014.

Contemporary interpretations of the movement span the spectrum from ‘literal’ interpretations to ‘homage’; and whether you like it or not, Memphis is back – even if in a far more sanitised incarnation.

A collective gasp resounded through the design industry when the Memphis Group unveiled the debut collection in Milan 30 years ago, then the Post Modern inspired pieces were as shocking as they came to later be revered. Despite the controversy, the original pieces now command big bucks as collectors and galleries clamber to add the now iconic pieces to design collections – something that no doubt contributes to the revival of the movement.

Founded by Italian design vanguard Ettore Sottsass in 1981, Memphis furniture lighting and objects were produced until 1987 despite Sottsass departing the collective in 1985.

Typified by asymmetrical geometry, block colour, distinct patterning and black and white stripes, the imagery was also reproduced on laminates, textiles and carpets. Named after the Bob Dylan song Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again, a soundtrack that reportedly played on-rote during the inaugural meeting of the group, they drew reference from Pop Art, Art Deco and 1950’s kitsch, and the works exhibiting annually in Milan from 1981 – 1987 prior to the collective disbanding the following year.

MEMPHIS was born of some of the biggest names in 20th Century Italian design, with members including Alessandro MendiniAndrea BranziMichele de Lucchi, Nathalie du PasquierMichael GravesMatteo Thun, Javier Mariscal, and Marco Zanini, to name but a few of the collective.


Nathalie du Pasquier for American Apparel / Wrong for Hay, 2014

In 2014 original Memphis member Nathalie du Pasquier was commissioned to design a capsule collection for fashion brand American Apparel, and textiles for Wrong for Hay that launched last April during Milan Design Week.

“I have started from where I stopped and I now have put the machine in motion again. I’m going to design other things, textiles.

If I have requests I am more than happy to do it.”



Nathalie du Pasquier for Wrong for Hay, 2014

Citing Memphis to represent much more than just decoration, du Pasquier refuses to see the movement as a ‘style’ – seeing it more as a ‘post modern philosophy.’ Fellow Memphis members George Sowden and Agerman Ross agree – explaining to design blog dezeen they see the revival the genre being stylistic interpretations as opposed to an expression of a deeper thinking.

“Maybe younger Postmodern designers are using it themselves also as communication, but I don’t think they’re doing it in the same way we were doing it during Memphis time.”


“Memphis is being used as a style and as a styling tool by a lot of designers and companies, whereas it was actually more of a philosophy and way of working,” AGERMAN ROSS


Clocks by Jenny Nordberg, an industrial designer from Sweden, Sight Unseen Offsite (New York 2014)TSA_DESIGN_MEMPHIS_8

The Valis table by Matthew Sullivan (LA x Milano Project 2014)TSA_DESIGN_MEMPHIS_09

Lamps by Ladies & Gentlemen Studio Sight Unseen Offsite (New York 2014)

An exhibition celebrating the 30th anniversary of the movement was held during Milan’s Salone del Mobile last April, yet stylistic interpretations were evident across many other installations that week courtesy of a new generation of product designers.

An exhibition celebrating the 30th anniversary of the movement was held during Milan Design Week in April 2014, yet it was clearly evident stylistic intepretations could be found across installations city-wide on everything from graphic design to the surge of geometric forms.

By May MEMPHIS had gone viral – being impossible to avoid during New York Design Week – most notably at SITE UNSEEN – OFFSITE – the physical installation curated by design blog founders Monica Khemsurov and Jill Singer.

Whilst colouration may be more muted and forms simplified to a more clearly referenced geometry, cues can be seen in the custom-print clothing (below) created with Print All Over Me.

Whether it be a watered down version of the original radical movement by a new design generation mostly not born when that first collection was unveiled in 1981, Memphis, like it or note – is here. For awhile anyway! TSA_DESIGN_MEMPHIS_10

The Sight Unseen + Print All Over Me collaboration with contributions from Camille Walala, Louie Rigano, Saskia Pomeroy,

Damien Correll, Fort Standard, Ellen Van Dusen, Eric Trine, Santtu Mustonen, Dot/Dash, and Will Bryant; photo Mark Vorrasi


Kelly Behun furniture Sight Unseen Offsite (New York 2014)

Historic images courtesy of National Gallery Victoria // Photo via Dennis Zanone of his private collection of Memphis design in his home. New York Design Week

Other images via gizmodo and THE SNAP ASSEMBLY and Wrong for Hay.

Originally posted by SNAP June 19, 2014, edited January 19,2015