Memphis Group: awful or awesome?

In the early 80s, Italian designer and architect Ettore Sottsass founded Memphis, a group of artists and designers who became known for their bright and bold furniture design.

Highly influential 80s design

  • 7 years
    Memphis designed furniture, fabrics, ceramics, metal and glass objects from 1981 to 1987
  • Inspiration
    Their style was inspired by Art Deco and Pop Art styles, which were popular at the time.
  • Style
    Memphis were well-known for their use of bright colours, geometric shapes and bold patterns.

What's the story?

In December 1980, Ettore Sottsass met with a group of designers with the aim to create a new design collective (where a group of artists or designers create work together under one name). Everyone went away in order to come up with ideas, and three months after their initial meeting, the group met again, this time bringing over a hundred drawings with them!

A Unique Style

Although many people ridiculed their work, the Memphis group were groundbreaking. Their use of clashing colours, haphazard arrangements and brightly coloured plastic laminate was previously unseen. At the time, objects were usually designed to be functional, not decorative. Memphis changed this with a more creative approach to design, where they poked fun at every day objects by designing them in a way that was unusual.

A Revival

Many people called the Memphis group a fad, and said that it wouldn't last. In a way, this was true as the group went their separate ways after six years together. Their work continued to be overlooked for a long time, but that has changed recently.

One of the members of the Memphis group, Nathalie Du Pasquier, collaborated with Danish company HAY to create Memphis-esque patterned bags in 2013. A year later, she designed a collection for the fashion company American Apparel. Elsewhere in fashion, Memphis' work has served as the inspiration for fashion collections by designers such as Dior and Missoni.

What can i do?

DISCUSS: what do you think of the Memphis furniture? Is it fun or silly to use such bold colours and shapes on such large objects?

RESEARCH: find five different types of furniture that Memphis designed, which one is your favourite?

DO: design your own Memphis inspired piece of furniture. Make sure you think about colour, shapes and patterns!

How did Memphis choose their name?

The name was taken from the Bob Dylan song titled "Stuck Inside of Mobile (with the Memphis Blues Again)", which was played repeatedly during their first meeting.

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