Memphis revival: the 1980s design movement gains fresh momentum with new shows and fashion collections

museum exhibition of Memphis
During this year's Salone del Mobile, Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese presented 'La Collezione Memphis alle Stelline', offering the largest museum exhibition of Memphis ever presented in its birthplace of Milan including Sottsass' 'Carlton' room divide,1981.
(Image credit: Fabrizio Stipari)

'The night we launched Memphis, during the Salone del Mobile, we could not believe that the road in front of the showroom had to be closed after an hour, because so many people were on the street,' designer Matteo Thun told Wallpaper* in 2011 on the occasion of the group's thirtieth anniversary, adding, 'We did not intend to shock at all!'

Known for its Fisher-Price hues, bulbous curves, asymmetrical shapes and graphic structural forms, the movement has been making a steady comeback for some time now but, with a slew of recent exhibitions, and a new monograph by Phaidon celebrating the life and work of Memphis founder Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007), the creative industries are again in the colourful throws of a Memphis moment. Not only are archive pieces being given the spotlight once more, Memphis is also inspiring fresh works from a host of contemporary architects, painters and fashion designers.

This year's Salone del Mobile kicked off proceedings with 'La Collezione Memphis alle Stelline' at Galleria Gruppo Credito Valtellinese, offering the largest museum exhibition of Memphis ever presented in its birthplace of Milan. The event was such a success that it's to be shown again at the Pila Gallery from the 1-29 June (opens in new tab). This showcase was also tied to Milanese furniture designer Giacomo Moor's 'Metropolis' presentation at Post Design (opens in new tab), which is the brand name under which Memphis Company produces its new collections, and the gallery that exhibits Memphis' productions.

Jumping to Paris, the celebrations continued with French architect Charles Zana's staging of 'Vasi e Fiore', a curated collection of vases realised by the Memphis group and shown at Paris' (opens in new tab)Musée Delacroix (opens in new tab). 'I discovered the Memphis movement while I was studying architecture,' explains Zana. 'Memphis is a true revolution in the world of design. It opened the way for new forms of design in the 1990s, distancing function and causing a more artistic attitude.'

The road to Memphis was forged in 1981 by Sottsass, and over the years involved up to 20 designers who shared his Post Modern aspirations, creating furniture, objects, fabrics, ceramics and buildings that sat somewhere between the realms of kitsch and futurism, quickly becoming a brash badge for 'New Design'.

Moving past Art Deco and Pop Art, the group admired the Bauhaus, but felt limited by their principals, and was perhaps best known for its colourful assault on interiors. This bold aesthetic has recently been referenced in American artist Hernan Bas' new exhibition titled, 'Memphis Living' (opens in new tab), on show at London's Victoria Miro gallery until 31 May. In his painting series Bas incorporates key design elements of the movement's aesthetic that he first encountered through pop culture references in his youth. 'In my opinion, living "Memphis" means more than a love of bright colours, pattern and uncomfortable seating,' Bas reflects. 'It was an impassioned moment, a daring, bold-formed and wildly influential movement that is just catching our rear-view attention again.'

The fashion industry is similarly making sure Memphis has our full attention. American Apparel recently collaborated with core member, artist Nathalie du Pasquier on a 43-piece summer collection (opens in new tab) that's lavished with her graphic prints.

On the Spring/Summer 2014 runways, both Céline and Alexander McQueen embraced the movement's Mobilo-hued primary palette, while dizzying optical graphics were seen at Marc by Marc Jacobs, Opening Ceremony and Roland Mouret. Upping the showmanship, Karl Lagerfeld's Chanel 'art gallery' was dotted with Memphis-style sculptures - no doubt a throw back to his former Monaco apartment that was entirely clad in Memphis. Come Autumn/Winter 2014, Proenza Schouler also looked to the movement's upbeat energy and light-hearted humour, manifested in the show's onslaught of trippy graphics on pattern-blocked coats and dresses.

Sottsass may have left the group in 1985, with it disbandoning by 1988, but the Memphis legacy certainly lives on, culminating with an upcoming talk by his wife Barbara Radice at London's Design Museum (opens in new tab), offering an intimate insight into the world of one of the twentieth century's most revered design-thinkers and influencers.

Various glassware by Ettore Sottsass

This exhibition was such a success that it is moving to Pila Gallery in Sartirana Lomellina (Pavia) from 1-29 June. Pictured: Various glassware by Ettore Sottsass, 1986, from the Memphis Milano Collection.

(Image credit: Fabrizio Stipari)

'Max' wood veneer sideboard

'Max' wood veneer sideboard by Ettore Sottsass, 1987.

(Image credit: Fabrizio Stipari)

'Flamingo' bedside table and 'Polar' end table

'Flamingo' bedside table (left) and 'Polar' end table (right), by Michele de Lucchi, 1984.

(Image credit: Fabrizio Stipari)

metal floor lamp and leather armchair

Left: 'Treetops' metal floor lamp by Ettore Sottsass, 1981. Right: 'Otello' leather armchair by Massimo Iosa Ghini, 1986.

(Image credit: Fabrizio Stipari)

exhibition of vases

French architect Charles Zana recently staged an exhibition of vases designed by the four tenors of the Memphis group - Ettore Sottssass, Andrea Branzi, Alessandro Mendini and Michele de Lucchi - titled 'Vasi e Fiore' at Paris' Musée Delacroix.

(Image credit: Jacques Pepion)

vase designs

This exhibition was the result of Zana's desire to bring the creations of the four designers together in one place. 'The vase is this simple object that clearly explains the style of each,' he adds of Andrea Branzi's designs pictured.

(Image credit: Jacques Pepion)

artistic vases

'I discovered the Memphis movement while I was studying architecture,' explains Zana. 'Memphis is a true revolution in the world of design. It opened the way for new forms of design in the 1990s, distancing function and causing a more artistic attitude'.

(Image credit: Jacques Pepion)

conical pieces in exhibition

This conical piece was designed by Alessandro Mendini in 1992. The shape was later interpreted by 100 other artists for an Alessi exhibition called '100%'.

(Image credit: Jacques Pepion)

Andrea Branzi vase collection

A close up of Andrea Branzi's 'Amnesie' collection, 1991

(Image credit: Jacques Pepion)

designers picture

The Memphis movement was forged in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass, with up to 20 designers (a selection of whom are pictured) involved in the group over the years, united by their common Post Modern aspirations.

(Image credit: Studio Azzurro)

new monograph by Phaidon

A new monograph by Phaidon celebrates the life and work of founder Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007). 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Phaidon)

A portrait of the Italian architect and designer from 1944

A portrait of the Italian architect and designer from 1944. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Phaidon)

A shot of Sottsass' Via Cappuccio, Milan apartment

A shot of Sottsass' Via Cappuccio, Milan apartment in 1958. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Phaidon)

glassware featuring Fisher-Price colours, bulbous curves, asymmetrical shapes and graphic structural forms

The group created glassware (pictured from 1982), furniture, objects, fabrics and ceramics featuring Fisher-Price colours, bulbous curves, asymmetrical shapes and graphic structural forms, sitting somewhere in the realm of kitsch and futurism, quickly becoming a brash badge for 'New Design'. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Phaidon)

Exterior of Wolf House in Colorado USA

The group also applied their bold, Lego-like colours to residential projects including Wolf House in Colorado USA, built in the late 1980s. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Phaidon)

shelving piece

Sottass left the Memphis group in 1985, but continued experimenting with typography, furnishings and buildings. This shelving piece was designed for Ernest Mourmans in 2003. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of Phaidon)

Moor's 'Dedalus' bookcase

Also on show during the Salone de Mobile was a new furniture collection by Giacomo Moor for Post Design, which is the brand name under which Memphis Company produces its new collections, and the gallery that exhibits Memphis' productions. Pictured is Moor's 'Dedalus' bookcase, 2014

(Image credit: press)

'Katai' horizontal wall system

Moor has designed a system composed of seven limited-edition storage pieces including a table, desk, wardrobe, console, bookcase, horizontal and vertical wall system, which are each numbered and signed by the designer. Pictured: 'Katai' horizontal wall system, 2014

(Image credit: press)

'Tecla' wardrobes composed of walnut wood and framed in black-varnished iron

'Tecla' wardrobes, 2014, are composed of walnut wood and framed in black-varnished iron

(Image credit: press)

exhibition painting

Memphis' bold aesthetic has also been referenced in American artist Hernan Bas' new exhibition titled, 'Memphis Living', on show at London's Victoria Miro gallery until 31 May. This piece is titled 'Feeling the Spirit', 2014

(Image credit: press)

painting

In his painting series the artist incorporates key design elements from the movement that he first encountered through pop culture references in his youth. 'Running Out of Room' by Hernan Bas, 2014

(Image credit: press)

Painting with Super floor lamp

'The Go To Artist' by Hernan Bas, 2014, features Memphis designer Martine Bedin's 'Super' floor lamp, 1981

(Image credit: press)

artist Nathalie du Pasquier on a 43-piece summer collection

The fashion industry is similarly making sure Memphis has our full attention. American Apparel has collaborated with core member, artist Nathalie du Pasquier (pictured) on a 43-piece summer collection that's lavished with her graphic prints

(Image credit: press)

prints collection includes womenswear, menswear, accessories and swimwear

The prints were directly inspired by du Pasquier's work in the 1980s with the group. The collection includes womenswear, menswear, accessories and swimwear

(Image credit: press)

design from the new American Apparel collection

A design from the new American Apparel collection. When du Pasquier was recently asked why the movement had again found popularity, she replied, ' I don’t know why Memphis is "à la mode" again; it won’t last, so let’s enjoy it as long as it is!'

(Image credit: press)