Memphis Group - The punks of the design scene


You would be forgiven for thinking The Memphis Group was a banjo playing trio out of Tennessee. However, we are talking about the influential design movement that surfaced in 1981 at the Milan Furniture Fair. Although there is a loose musical connection - Initiated by young Italian Architect Ettore Scottsass, the group took their name from the Bob Dylan song ‘Stuck Inside of Mobile with Memphis blues Again’ which was playing on repeat when the group conducted their first official meeting.

Italian architect and designer Ettore Sottsass standing next to his Carlton Bookcase

Like many cultural movements, Memphis was a revolt against the creative limits dictated by the industry at the time, as the collective searched for a new level of expression in terms of their use of materials and patterns.  Their style was inspired by Art Deco and Pop Art and they became known for their use of bright colours, plastic laminate, terrazzo and geometric shapes and bold patterns.  It was seen as garish and the gatekeepers of the status quo ridiculed their work labelling it as a fad. In a way this was true, as the group separated in 1987, however the fundamental principles of Memphis design is more enduring.  Before the movement, objects were usually designed to be functional, not decorative. Memphis changed this, with a more creative approach to design. Jasper Morrison, one of Britain’s most respected product designers went to the first Memphis show in 1981; “It was the weirdest feeling – you were in one sense repulsed by the objects, but also freed by this sort of total rule-breaking”.  The Memphis group were the punks of the design scene.

 The design collective would go on to spark a cultural phenomenon that revolutionised the creative and commercial design world, influencing trends in fashion and interiors we see today. One of the members of the collective, Nathalie Du Passquier, collaborated with Danish company Hay to create Memphis-esque patterned bags in 2013.  A year later, she designed a collection for fashion company American Apparel. Memphis has also inspired fashion collections by designers such as Dior and Missoni.

Borastapater wallpaper Memphis colour Multi 

 We see Memphis in wallpaper, take the design ‘Memphis Bound’ designed by Amsterdam Artist Sannesofia for example.  Recently released The Apartment collection by the Borastapater studio, is more than a subtle nod to Memphis.  

Closer to home, Interior Designer David Flack of Flack Design Studio, acknowledges enthusiastically that the Memphis style is a great influence on his design work.  Flack’s recent project, a Middle-Park in Melbourne residence, featured in the current Vogue Living (July/August), is an inspiring example of a modern take on Memphis.  The legacy of Memphis is all around us.

Source: Flack Studio Instagram



Tuesday 21 Jul 2020

Memphis Group - The punks of the design scene