Memphis Group

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A collection of objects by The Memphis Group

The Memphis Group, also known as Memphis Milano, was an Italian design and architecture group founded by Ettore Sottsass. It was active from 1980 to 1987. The group designed postmodern furniture, lighting, fabrics, carpets, ceramics, glass and metal objects.

The Memphis group's work often incorporated plastic laminate and terrazzo materials and was characterized by ephemeral design featuring colorful and abstract decoration as well as asymmetrical shapes, sometimes arbitrarily alluding to exotic or earlier styles and designs.[1]


Memphis was born on the evening of December 11, 1980, when Ettore Sottsass invited a group of young designers and architects to discuss the future of design. During that first meeting, Bob Dylan's record "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" repeated continuously, and inspired the group to name themselves Memphis.[2]

The group disbanded in 1987 because its members found it difficult to sustain their commercial success after the hype of their new movement had faded.


Carlton room divider by Ettore Sottsass for Memphis, 1981

Memphis' colorful furniture has been described as "bizarre", "misunderstood", "loathed", and "a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price".[3]

During their active years, the group designed a series of non-conformist furniture. One of their most popular and well known designs is the "Carleton" Room Divider, a totemic pole incorporating a variety of bright colours, solid shapes and voids. The structure itself is constructed using cheap plastic laminates, though designed to be sold by a luxury market, and incorporates a series of equilateral triangles, both real and implied. [4]

While created in the 1980s, the colorful geometric style became most popular and widely accepted in the 1990s, where it influenced the design of furniture, architecture, household items, and clothes.

Memphis designs served as inspiration for the Fall/Winter 2011–2012 Christian Dior haute couture collection fashion show,[5] for the Winter 2015 Missoni collection,[6]

Notable Memphis design collectors include fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld[7] and musician David Bowie. After Bowie's death in 2016, his collection was auctioned off at Sotheby's for a total of £1,387,000.[8]


Being the founder of the group, Ettore Sottsass became the leader of the Memphis Group and is now one of the most well known Italian post-War designers. [9]

Martine Bedin, a French designer, was also a member of Memphis. She first joined the group when she was in her twenties and was deemed in charge of over-looking all Memphis lighting that was produced. Her father had been an engineer and she was also continuously 'playing with forbidden things', all which contributed to her designated position. During her time in Memphis, Bedin designed and thought of numerous ideas. Her design of the Super lamp placed on wheels, first designed in 1978, supposedly represented, along with a group of other objects, 'friend-like' items. Bedin's lamp was later produced in an artisanal workshop, where all Memphis products were manufactured, and her first prototype is now featured in the Victoria & Albert Museum, in London, England. [9]

Peter Shire, a sculptor, designer and potter originally from California, was another figure who formed the Memphis Group. He was first discovered thanks to Wet: The Magazine of Gourmet Bathing, a lifestyle publication in the west coast that Sottsass' partner on occasion would contributed to. In one article featuring Shire's teapots in 1977, he quoted "I'm not much of a tea-drinker [...] Actually my first impulse is to put Coke in teapots. I'm a big Coke drinker and I'd love to see Coke flowing out of the teapots and foaming on the ground." His unique approach and attitude later secured him a spot as a member of Memphis. [9]

Memphis included contributions from many international architects and designers.[10]

Notable members include:


  1. ^ Barnes, Sara. "How the Memphis Movement Went Against ‘Good Taste’ to Inspire Designers Today". My Modern Met, April 27, 2018.
  2. ^
  3. ^ Pellegrin, Bertrand (January 15, 2012). "Collectors give '80s postmodernist design 2nd look". San Francisco Chronicle.
  4. ^ Adlin, Jane; Goss, Jared D.; Rewald, Sabine; Messinger, Lisa M.; Lieberman, William S.; Loveman, Jennifer A.; Johnson, J. Stewart; Sims, Lowery Stokes; Hambourg, Maria Morris; Fineman, Mia; Eklund, Douglas (1998). "Twentieth Century". The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin. 56 (2): 61–68. doi:10.2307/3269046. ISSN 0026-1521.
  5. ^ Fox, Imogen (July 4, 2011). "Christian Dior shows first haute couture collection since John Galliano sacking". The Guardian. London.
  6. ^ Blanks, Tim (1 March 2015). "Missoni Fall 2015 Ready-to-Wear Collection". Vogue. Retrieved 10 February 2019.
  7. ^ Glancey, Jonathan (March 22, 2002). "Love it or loathe it?". The Guardian. London.
  8. ^ "Bowie/Collector Part III: Design: Ettore Sottsass and the Memphis Group". Sotheby's. November 11, 2016. Retrieved July 4, 2017.
  9. ^ a b c ADAMSON, GLENN (2011). "Recent acquisitions of postmodern design at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London". The Burlington Magazine. 153 (1302): 597–600. ISSN 0007-6287.
  10. ^

Further reading[edit]

  • Radice, Barbara (1985). Memphis: Research, Experiences, Failures and Successes of New Design. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 9780847805693
  • Sparke, Penny (1988). Italian Design: 1870 to the Present. London: Thames & Hudson. ISBN 0-500-23531-7
  • Horn, Richard (1985). Memphis: Objects, Furniture, and Patterns. New York: Wuarto Marketing. ISBN 0-89471-307-8

External links[edit]