When you first get a glimpse of ’80s pieces by the Milan-based Memphis Group, you can’t help but have a “Eureka!” moment–countless clothing and dishware patterns took their inspiration from this collective of furniture and product designers, not to mention the graphic design motifs that popped up throughout the 1980s. In fact, many a watered down version of Memphis Group design infiltrated ’80s pop culture. Try watching the opening credits of Saved by the Bell reruns and spot the Memphis motifs…With influences spanning Art Deco to African art, The Memphis Group (aka Memphis or Memphis-Milano Movement) formed in 1981, seeking to challenge the conventions of “tasteful” design with unabashedly bold color and geometry.
Experience Memphis pieces, and you get a sense that something special was happening here. Something unmistakably profound in its freedom of form. Suddenly the Jams shorts and swatch watch patterns have a context..But Memphis design is the real deal–glimpse at the Carlton room divider or Tahiti lamp and try telling me this movement wasn’t groundbreaking.
The Memphis Group was named after Bob Dylan’s “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again,” the song blaring from founding member Ettore Sottsass’ record player while continuing to stick on the line “Memphis blues again.” But rather than having ties to Tennessee, Memphis designers were primarily Italian, with designers from other countries joining, such as American architect Michael Graves.
For some great Memphis Group collectibles, check out The 80’s Gallery, an an online gallery offering original ’80s treasures, from artwork to dishware, furniture and jewelry! A special thanks to my ’80s Gallery friends Katie and Ken for the use of their images in this post.
To show the Memphis influence on dishware through the ’80s and ’90s, I’ll leave you with another 80’s Gallery image, followed by one of mine:
Suddenly I’m inspired to install a checkered or striped floor. And paint the room in an assortment of primary and candy colors. And accessorize with triangles…
“Memphis.” designmuseum.org. 2 Dec. 2010. http://designmuseum.org/design/memphis