Louis | Lacquered wood table by Aldo Cibic, 1987
It’s Still Here | The Design Legacy of The Memphis Group
The Fab Five | An Incomplete List of Memphis Designers
What makes it Memphis?
Nathalie Du Pasquier
Michele De Lucchi
A few key characteristics are present in any Memphis work. Here’s how some of them appear in Polar, an end table created by Michele De Lucchi in 1984:
forms (including all things tubular)
Alessandro Mendini’s collab with Supreme
The COVID pandemic encouraged many people stuck at home to experiment with bold new hair colors—Saint Laurent’s Memphis collection is a natural extension of that “why not?” spirit. When its collection debuted this past spring, the brand also exhibited a selection of Memphis pieces and sold rare tableware and books at its stores.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SAINT LAURENT
Saint Laurent, 2021
They say trends recycle in tens,
and Dior only lent more credibility to the adage. The legendary
French fashion house integrated
the patterns of some of the most famous Memphis pieces into its clothes for a collection that’s playful, irreverent, and a little bit zany.
OF DENNIS ZANONE
Dior Fall-Winter 2011 collection
It’s hard to think of a way to make smoking cannabis more fun and playful, but somehow, designer Nikolas Bentel pulled it off. Bentel only made 100 of these tri-colored porcelain pipes, and they’re now sold out, ensuring only the most stylish pot smokers have their hands on one.
PHOTO COURTESY OF
NIKOLAS BENTEL STUDIO
The Wiggle pipe
It’s Memphis on a budget. Though a genuine piece from the collective would set you back thousands of dollars, Target offers a few Memphis-inspired pieces, like this bath mat, that are
far more attainable for the average consumer.
PHOTO COURTESY OF TARGET
Target’s Memphis bath mat
Earlier this year, designer Camille Walala turned the London Museum’s shop into a supermarket that might look at home in an 8-bit video game. Walala’s work in the market paid tribute to Memphis, and the proceeds from the artist-designed foods supported the Museum’s Emerging Designer Access Fund.
IMAGE BY ED REEVE
Camille Walala’s pop-up supermarket from 2021
There’s something that’s even more jarring about seeing Memphis designs on automobiles, which are generally monochrome and often drab. These bold, rebellious designs extend to the cars’ interiors, offering a truly unique experience for those that take the road less traveled.
V ITTORIO ZUNINO CELOTTO / GETTY IMAGES FOR MEMPHIS
2017 BMW x Garage Italia customs
Your eyes aren’t deceiving you—Apple did release a Memphis-style watch in the 1990s, nearly 20 years before its more high-tech successor. The battery-powered analog watch was offered as a promotional item for customers who upgraded their software, and when a distributor put some on sale in 2014, they sold out fast.
The 1995 Apple Watch
Nuvola | Aplique in metal and Plexiglass
by Beppe Caturegli, 1988
Roma | An iridescent fiberglass armchair by Marco Zanini, 1986
Carlton | A room divider
by Ettore Sottsass, 1981
Triangolo | Cotton fabric by
George J. Sowden, 1983
Onion | Ceramic fruit bowl
by Nathalie Du Pasquier, 1985
Bel Air | A wool armchair by
Peter Shire, 1982
Flamingo | End table by
Michele De Lucchi, 1984
Bold colors, flat illustrations, disproportionate human figures (most commonly with extra long, bendy arms). These are the hallmarks of “Corporate Memphis,” a term coined by Mike Merrill. Corporate Memphis is the (usually tech-focused) enterprise brand’s favorite way to seem playful and inviting—you’ll see it from companies like Slack, Hinge, Salesforce, and Robinhood.
GETTY IMAGES / WIRED
8 Objects | Memphis Through the Years
hover and click on the designers
Architect, designer, O.G. of the Memphis Group. Sottsass unofficially established the collective by calling some bright creative minds to a meeting in his living room in December 1980. He pushed the group to go against the status quo, shaping an unorthodox vision for its creations.
French industrial designer and founding Memphis member from Bordeaux. Bedin, who’d worked in Ettore Sottsass’ studio for two years before the founding of Memphis, designed many of the group’s most prominent pieces, including Super, the fiberglass lamp on wheels.
The Tokyo-born architect and interior designer led a creative studio in Japan, designing furniture for over 300 bars and restaurants. Though not amongst Memphis’ earliest members, Kuramata is widely celebrated for sleek, minimalist work that fuses the best of Italian and Japanese design.
The youngest of the Memphis designers, her work has a distinct African influence, especially seen in her colorful textiles. Since Memphis disbanded in 1989, Du Pasquier has collaborated with brands like American Apparel to create Memphis-inspired collections.
A leading figure in the Radical Architecture movement of the ’70s and ’80s, de Lucchi’s most notable contribution to the Memphis Group was First, an out-of-this-world, pastel-colored chair. He is currently in the Faculty of Design at the Politecnico di Milano.
Luca Miserocchi. Courtesy Memphis Srl
Courtesy Memphis S.r.l.
Courtesy of Kartell
Written by Tom Devoto and eliza martin
design by Jeremiah McNair
A Complete Guide to the
You’re looking at the work of the Memphis-Milano Design Group, a creative collective of graphic designers and architects that formed in northern Italy in 1980. And if you’re confused—about the name, the creations, the fact that you’re seeing these nostalgic designs now more than ever—let us attempt to explain. The “Memphis” name came in a song—“Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”—from a Bob Dylan album the designers kept in heavy rotation. It’s also an homage, according to the group, to both the ancient capital of the Egyptian pharaohs as well as the birthplace of Elvis and Aretha Franklin.
The group designed real objects—bookshelves, end tables, desks, and so on—drawing inspiration from everyday middle-class life. Still, functionality was secondary to a quirky aesthetic defined by brightly-colored postmodern kitsch and a total rejection of all things traditional. The movement was formed around the Salone Internazionale del Mobile di Milano, or the Milan Furniture Fair, the largest trade show of its kind. The Memphis Group used this annual gathering of the world’s foremost furniture designers and architects to showcase their vision. It was widely ridiculed by the design community at the time—Paola Antonelli, currently a curator and director at the Museum of Modern Art, thought it was “atrocious.” Even as its supporters grew in numbers, many designers couldn’t and wouldn’t ever take Memphis seriously.
On the 40th anniversary of the group’s founding, and with scores of collaborations or homages popping up all over the creative industry, the joke might be on them.
It says Memphis, but it came from Italy. It’s kinda ugly, but kinda perfect, too. It’s stuck in the ’80s, but it’s as popular as ever right now. And have you ever seen anything that looks like this in Tennessee?
An Italian contemporary of Memphis, Mendini has collaborated with a number of luxury brands, including Cartier, Swarovski, and Hermes. In 2016, three years before his death, the designer and architect worked with Supreme to design three ceramic trays that featured distinct Memphis-style patterns.
PHOTO COURTESY OF SUPREME
A Complete Guide to THE