Multicolored Memphis Group bookcase designed by Italian architect Ettore Sottsass

Memphis

Collaborative of Italian designers and architects


The Memphis Group (established in 1981) was a late twentieth-century collaborative of Italian designers and architects who helped to define the aesthetics of the Postmodern era. Established by Ettore Sottsass, the Memphis Group revived a blend of Art Deco references amid Pop Art echoes in direct reaction against the austerity of the Minimalist age. Accordingly, the Memphis designs included fresh, playful furnishings that reflected the past while envisioning the future. read more

Sottsass called this meeting in early 1981 in Milan, with hopes that he and his design colleagues could change the narrative of modern design. Having emerged from decades of the sleek geometry, streamlined motifs, and reduced palettes of the modern minimalist age, Sottsass and other member of the collaborative of Italian designers sought to establish a new design approach that acted in direct opposition. Rumored to have been serenaded by the Bob Dylan song, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again” (released 1966), for the duration of this initial meeting, they decided to dub their new collaborative “The Memphis Group.”

From the very outset, the Memphis designers revealed their study of past design aesthetics while also presenting remarkably novel forms. Asymmetric and amorphous forms from small decorative objects, like Michele de Lucchi’s “Antares” glass vase (1983) to full-scale furniture, such as Ettore Sottsass’ “Carlton” room divider (1981), came to life with bold colors and playful patterns like the characteristic “squiggle.” Examples like Sottsass’ “Carlton” room divider also reflected the group’s desire to experiment with surface, as it incorporated mirror-smooth laminates to give the work a futuristic feel to complement its uniquely vibrant color palette.

The collaborative of Italian designers of the Group debuted a suite of their Memphis designs at Milan’s Salone del Mobile in 1981 and in doing so changed the course of contemporary design, and contributed greatly to the design of the end of the 20th century. But the energy and captivation for the Memphis Group began to wane by the end of the 1980s, and the talented designers and artists of the Memphis Group fell into relative, but short-lived, obscurity. Since the beginning of the 21st century there has been a serious reassessment and appreciation for these pivotal creative figures, and today the masters of the Memphis Group, and especially Ettore Sottsass and Michele de Lucchi, are recognized as integral figures in Postmodern Italian design. Their work has been celebrated in substantial retrospectives around the globe and has also served as design inspiration for fashion lines from major design houses including Missoni and Christian Dior in the early twenty-first century.

Last updated: January 8, 2019

For additional information on the Memphis Group go to:
Memphis Group: Awful or awesome?” The Design Museum.
Memphis Milano.” Memphis Milano.
Lauren Schwartzberg, “The Memphis Design Movement is Having a Moment.” The Cut, 29 May 2017.

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