Yes, this was an actual design movement.
The Memphis Group on today's claass HAUS.
It’s true. Over the last few years Memphis Group has made a comeback of sorts. Sure, it’s the kind of “80s kitsch” most of us love to hate, but recently the lighthearted and whimsical aesthetic that defined the burgeoning electronic age has become a favorite of collectors, creatives, and millennial trendsetters. So if you love the interior stylings of Saved By the Bell or Pee Wee’s Playhouse, Memphis is right up your alley. Here’s a quick rundown.
WHO: The iconic Italian industrial designer Ettore Sottsass (best known for his “Valentine” typewriter) started the collaborative in 1981. According to design lore, the name “Memphis” came from the Bob Dylan song “Stuck Inside Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” which played repeatedly during the group's first meeting. The designers worked together under the Memphis name until 1987.
WHAT: Seen as part of the postmodern movement (PoMo) of the 1970s and 1980s, Memphis’ work featured strong geometric forms, clashing color combinations, bold asymmetry, and a mix of materials with an emphasis on laminate and plastic.
Tasteful? Hmm, not really.
Eye-catching, witty, and attention grabbing? Definitely.
Memphis was a style that could not be ignored.
WHEN: 1981-1987 (Neo-Memphis 2010s)
WHERE: Milan gave birth to the movement, while the 1981 Salone del Mobile introduced the group to the world.
WHY: Illustrating the hallmarks of PoMo, Memphis’ work was influential and polarizing. Taking cues from Pop Art and Art Deco, the design group combined overt geometry with brash colors and graphic patterns. Hardly the restrained palette of modernism, Memphis provoked (with a little wink) the rigid Modernist establishment that had dominated architecture and design with white boxes and chrome chairs for nearly fifty years. Complex, contradictory, and ambiguous, Memphis celebrated the social optimism and economic prosperity of the 1980s, becoming an instant phenomenon and an enduring symbol of the era.
HOW: Seriously, is there anything that says “1980s” more than Memphis? The group’s work remains emblematic of a particular moment and represents a unique sentiment focused on personality, rule breaking, and wit. Today, Memphis continues to be popular among young designers, and the emergence of the “neo-Memphis” philosophy over the last few years has established the group's lasting legacy. The campy, disordered designs of Memphis now serve as inspiration for the next generation of designers who combine the original irreverent forms with high-end materials (think marble not laminate) and a little less kitsch.
Described as a “shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher Price,” Memphis shook the design world and ended up defining an era. Its enduring influence is now helping to shape the next phase of design, while the group's riotous, clever extravagance serves as a call for something fresh in the new millennium.
This architectural historian cannot stop thinking about buildings, food, and that vintage rug she found online.