The Memphis Group

The Memphis group comprised of Italian designers and architects who created a series of highly influential products in the 1980's. They disagreed with the conformist approach at the time and challenged the idea that products had to follow conventional shapes, colours, textures and patterns.

The Memphis group was founded in 1981. One of the leading members of the group Ettore Sottsass called Memphis design the 'New International Style'.

Memphis was a reaction against the slick, black humorless design of the 1970's. It was a time of minimalism with such products as typewriters, buildings, cameras, cars and furniture all seeming to lack personality and individualism.

In contrast the Memphis Group offered bright, colourful, shocking pieces. The colours they used contrasted the dark blacks and browns of European furniture. It may look dated today but at the time it looked remarkable. The word tasteful is not normally associated with products generated by the Memphis Group but they were certainly ground breaking at the time.

All this would seem to suggest that the Memphis Group was very superficial but that was far from the truth. Their main aim was to reinvigorate the Radical Design movement. The group intended to develop a new creative approach to design.

On the 11th of December 1980 Scottsass organised a meeting with other such famous designers. They decided to form a design collaborative. It would be named Memphis after the Bob Dylan song ''Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again''. Coincidentally the song had been played repeatedly throughout the evening.

Memphis was historically the ancient Egyptian capital of culture and the birthplace of 'Elvis Presley'. This was quite ironic but so were most of the pieces created by the group.

The image below is of the 'Super lamp' created by Martine Bedine. It is made of metal, which has been painted and lacquered.


The group decided that they would meet again in February 1981. By that time each member would have had time to generate design proposals. When they did meet themembers of the group had produced over a hundred drawings, each bold, colourful.

They drew inspiration from such movements as Art Deco and Pop Art, styles such as the 1950's Kitsch and futuristic themes. Their concepts were in stark contrast to so called 'Good Design'.

The group approached furniture and ceramic companies commissioning them to batch produce their design concepts. On the 18th of September 1981 the group showed its work for the first time at the Arc '74 showroom in Milan. The show exhibited clocks, lighting, furniture and ceramics created by internationally famous architects and designers.

The image below shows the 'Carlton bookcase' for Memphis designed by Ettore Sottsass.



In the same year the group published the book 'Memphis, The New International Style. The book served to advertise the groups work.

Many of the pieces featured in the exhibition were coated in brightly, colourful laminates. Laminates are most commonly used to protect kitchen furniture and surfaces from staining as a result of spillage. The group specifically chose this material because of its obvious ''lack of culture''.

The work of the Memphis Group has been described as vibrant, eccentric and ornamental. It was conceived by the group to be a 'fad', which like all fashions would very quickly come to an end. In 1988 Sottsass dismantled the group.

The group may no longer exist but it has certainly influenced graphic design, restaurant design, fabrics and furnishing.