A Tribute to Memphis: Kartell revives the spirit of the late, great Ettore Sottsass for Salone del Mobile

Kartell's most recent collection comprises of never-before-seen products by the late Ettore Sottsass.
Kartell's most recent collection comprises of never-before-seen products by the late Ettore Sottsass. The collaboration was first begun in 2004, before Sottsass' death, but was halted because of technical contraints
(Image credit: TBC)

A renewed affection for the Memphis Group's quirky, postmodern aesthetic has kept its hold on the design community for a good while now, and there are no signs of any slowing, especially with the latest project from Kartell (opens in new tab) this week. The design company's newest collection is made up of never-before-seen products by the one and only Ettore Sottsass. Designed in 2004 for Kartell but never produced, the energetic collection, which includes four vases, three tabouret stools and one lamp, is as colourful and true to the design icon's style as one could ever hope for.

Intended as a complete collection by Sottsass, who died in 2007, the eight pieces were conceived to symbolise his return to industrial design. Kartell's president Claudio Luti says, 'When we invited Ettore Sottsass to design some objects for us, we agreed that the interesting side to our collaboration would be marking a sort of "return to industrial design" for Sottsass. His name has always been more linked to the idea of unique pieces.

'The brief was to express the post-futurist aesthetic, typical of Sottsass, by means of an industrial project. The challenge was to use plastic materials and technologies, like injection, to create decorative accessories like vases and more functional pieces, such as stools.'

About collaborating with a design master such as Sottsass, Luti recalls, 'It was a very stimulating exchange. I clearly remember his highly intellectual approach and at the same time, a very understated, spontaneous attitude. I felt honoured to sit down at the same table, and at the same time my wish was to translate his ideas and iconic design into real Kartell industrial products.'

Despite working on the collection with Sottsass from 2004 to 2005, Kartell chose not to bring the collection to life because of technology constraints at the time. So demanding are some of the concepts that even with the use of highly advanced injection techniques today, the collection's more decorative and complex silhouettes are still being evaluated on whether they can be ultimately produced. However, the 'Calice' vase and 'Pilastro' and 'Colonna' stools will definitely be brought to market, with others to come in the near future.

Luti says, 'Modern technology now allows us to produce the Sottsass designs to a standard and level of sophistication that we would not have managed ten years ago. I am convinced that Sottsass himself would have been a huge fan of how we have brought his objects to life. Their unique, unmistakable look will set them apart in their industrial, international future.'

To celebrate this momentous collection's debut, Kartell has transformed its Milanese flagship boutique into a spatial tribute to the Memphis design movement. In addition to transforming the space with a vibrant, patterned setting designed by Ferruccio Laviani to introduce the new designs, Kartell has collaborated with Memphis Group members like Nathalie du Pasquier (opens in new tab) and George Sowden (opens in new tab) to upholster chairs, including Philippe Starck's 'Mademoiselle', 'Foliage' by Patricia Urquiola and 'Trix' by Piero Lissoni, for a new Pop look. Together, it's a joyous testament to Italy's design heritage and its present.

The complex plastic pieces include (left to right) the 'Colonna' stool, the 'Calice' vase and the 'Pilastro' stool

The complex plastic pieces include (left to right) the 'Colonna' stool, the 'Calice' vase and the 'Pilastro' stool

(Image credit: TBC)

a concept sketch by Memphis Group member Ferruccio Laviani

'The brief was to express the post-futurist aesthetic, typical of Sottsass, by means of an industrial project,' says Kartell's president Carlo Luti. Pictured: a concept sketch by Memphis Group member Ferruccio Laviani

(Image credit: TBC)

The 'Calice' vase, however (the rendering for which is pictured here), is one of the products that will definitely be brought to market, with others to come in the near future

So demanding are some of the concepts that even today's technology leaves their future uncertain. The 'Calice' vase, however (the rendering for which is pictured here), is one of the products that will definitely be brought to market, with others to come in the near future

(Image credit: TBC)

Philippe Starck's 'Mademoiselle' chair, upholstered in Sottsass' Memphis 'Letraset' fabric

To celebrate the collection, Kartell has transformed its Milanese flagship into a tribute to the Memphis Group, collaborating with members for a new Pop look. Pictured: Philippe Starck's 'Mademoiselle' chair, upholstered in Sottsass' Memphis 'Letraset' fabric

(Image credit: TBC)

George Sowden's Memphis 'Triangolo'

Piero Lissoni's 'Trix' is transformed by George Sowden's Memphis 'Triangolo'

(Image credit: TBC)

Designer chairs covered in Memphis member Nathalie du Pasquier's memphis 'Burundi' fabric

Of particular note is the 'Foliage' collection by Patricia Urquiola, here covered in Memphis member Nathalie du Pasquier's memphis 'Burundi' fabric

(Image credit: TBC)

Designer chair upholstered in du Pasquier's Memphis 'Cameroon'

'Clap' by Patricia Urquiola, is here given a new Memphis feel, upholstered in du Pasquier's Memphis 'Cameroon'

(Image credit: TBC)

Kartell's boutique with a fittingly vibrant, patterned setting, seen here in plan

Laviani has been enlisted to transform Kartell's boutique with a fittingly vibrant, patterned setting, seen here in plan

(Image credit: TBC)

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Pei-Ru Keh is the US Editor at Wallpaper*. Born and raised in Singapore, she has been a New Yorker since 2013. Pei-Ru has held various titles at Wallpaper* since she joined in 2007. She currently reports on design, art, architecture, fashion, beauty and lifestyle happenings in the United States, both in print and digitally. Pei-Ru has taken a key role in championing diversity and representation within Wallpaper's content pillars and actively seeks out stories that reflect a wide range of perspectives. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two children, and is currently learning how to drive.