The Return of Memphis Design

Memphis Milano was collective of designers founded by Ettore Sottsass in 1981. It was meant to be a rebuke of the sleek, minimalist black-leather-and-chrome modern design that was popular at the time. Sottsass and the 20-some designers of the movement actually wanted to reject good taste and embrace kitsch, plastic, and pop art elements. The movement was defined by bright colors, bold geometric shapes, and punchy graphics with lots of stripes and squiggles.

Original Memphis Studio designs in the home of Raquel Cayre. Photo by Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

Original Memphis Studio designs in the home of Raquel Cayre. Photo by Bobby Doherty/New York Magazine

The Memphis Studio only lasted 7 years, and while it developed a cult following it was never commercially successful during its short run. People at the time just loved to hate it, but it went on to be wildly influential in architecture and design throughout the decades, and is coming back again as the latest spin on “modern.”

Collection of David Bowie, auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2016 for $1.7 million.

Collection of David Bowie, auctioned at Sotheby’s in 2016 for $1.7 million.

Designers like Kelly Wearstler and Kelly Behun began embracing the ‘80s Memphis Design movement in a big way over the last few years. My theory is that their rock star and young-actor clienteles didn’t want the mid-century modern style so popular over the last 2 decades; mid-century was what their parents collected. Instead, they wanted what they saw on TV when they were little kids. Shows like Pee Wee’s Playhouse and Saved by the Bell had heavily Memphis-influenced sets, and so it makes millennials happy.

Kelly Wearstler

Kelly Wearstler

Kelly Behun

Kelly Behun

The Memphis revival shows no signs of stopping, and designers and retailers large and small are adding in more and more bold, geometric shapes to their collections, while the mid-century and Danish modern looks are beginning to fade from the cutting edge. 

Dusen Dusen

Dusen Dusen

Maison21 X Black Crow Studios “Memphis” Wallpaper, Photo: John Ellis

Maison21 X Black Crow Studios “Memphis” Wallpaper, Photo: John Ellis

Chair by Pool Studio, 2019

Chair by Pool Studio, 2019

Cuffhome, 2019

Cuffhome, 2019

So what do you think of the back-to-the-‘80s Memphis look? Are you ready to embrace the trend this time around? Or do you want the sleeker lines of mid-century modern to stick around for a while? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments section below!

Warmly, 

Beth

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