What is the Memphis Movement?
We’ll Help You Explore This New Design Trend
Trends come around again and again. It seems like even the most outrageous trends find a way of becoming popular once again. Memphis design is an illustration of how a movement that would’ve seemed ridiculous in the early 2000s, but is now coming back in style with some modern updates.
What is Memphis Design?
The Memphis Movement was a design trend that began in 1981. While the name might suggest a connection to Tennesse, it got its start in Milan, Italy. Ettore Sottsass founded the Memphis Group with a team of fellow designers and architects, taking their name from a Bob Dylan song titled “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” which played on repeat during their initial meeting.
Memphis sought to go against minimalism where everything was about structure and straight lines. Sottsass focused the group’s thinking around the “radical, funny, and outrageous.” The group was inspired by geometric figures of Art Deco, the color palette of Pop Art, and 1950s kitsch inspired.
PREVAILING FEATURES OF MEMPHIS DESIGN:
- Laminate and Terrazzo materials making an appearance in tables and lamps.
- Squiggles, aka the Bacterio print, that Sottsass created in 1978.
- Bright, multi-colored, and unusually shaped objects. Typical chair legs might be rectangular, well Memphis design likes them circular.
While the style was commercially rejected, it attracted a cult following. Designer Karl Lagerfeld bought all of Sottsass’ first collection, and David Bowie’s collected more than 400 pieces since the ’80s. It even made an appearance in pop culture shows like Saved by the Bell and Pee-wee’s Playhouse.
The Memphis Design Comeback?
Memphis design started to circle back around in 2005-6. The LACMA exhibited a survey of Sottsass’ designs just a year before he passed. In 2014, Nathalie Du Pasquier, a founding member of the group, designed patterns for American Apparel.
Designer Camille Walala is a contemporary representative of everything the Memphis design aesthetic stands for. She has worked with artists like Katy Perry and brands like Urban Outfitters. More about her and her "Walala In Da House" exhibition in this Fast Company article.
Upholstery and textile design company Atelier Kobalt released Memphis-inspired textile designs for their Summer '15 collection. And Aldo's 2015 Holiday installation, designed by Leta Sobierajski, showcased the style.
Memphis in Interior Design
When it comes to interior design for the current day, Memphis-style accents are being paired with straightforward modern basics. You’ll see predominantly black and white, contemporary couches and tables with splashes Memphis in the pillows, wall colors, and even decals.
Check out this Memphis Design-inspired wall decals from Etsy shop BeePart that capitalize on the Squiggles.
And these decals from Bridget Britt Designs that showcase some of those classic Memphis shapes and colors.
You’ll even find planters like this one from Kailo Chic that add that pop of color and shape that you want.
Where to find Memphis design:
Original Memphis Group pieces are collectibles and most of us can’t get our hands on them. But, the squiggles, bright colors, and wacky shapes still live on thanks to contemporary designers.
Plus, you can pair contemporary pieces found right here with pops of color to create that Memphis look you want. For example, check out this Furniture of America Ninove Three-Piece Occasional Table Set. It offers the curves and twists any Memphis fan will love and with a few brightly colored items perched on top, you’ll be well on your way to reclaiming that 80s feel.
To incorporate those twists and curves into your furniture, try out items like the Coaster Barzini "Mermaid" Black Dining Side Chair, the Furniture of America Lodia or Sansa Occasional Table Sets, and the Coaster Modern Bar Stool.
There’s even this Coaster X-Shaped Contemporary Bar that offers that unique change to traditional shapes. Again, pair it will some brightly colored accessories and hang a wacky print behind it and you have the perfect modern Memphis-inspired look.
If you’re really looking to live it up in color land, the Furniture of America Madelyn Sofa is available in a striking teal that you can pair with some crazy pillows made with vintage Memphis fabrics.
This trend might be right up your alley and there are definitely ways to make it work in the modern world. Try it out. The sky’s the limit when it comes to the Memphis Movement.
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- Rachel Johnson