Memphis is a design movement that was founded in 1981 in Milan, Italy (nowhere near Memphis, Tennessee) by an architect/designer called Ettore Sottsass and his group of creative friends. The reason they called it Memphis: They were listening to a Bob Dylan song at the time, “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”.
After its 1981 debut, Memphis dominated the early 1980s design scene with its post-modernist style. It took its inspiration from pop art, Art Deco and 1950s kitsch and combined geometric shapes from a variety of materials in bright, contrasting colours. Graphic patterns were popular, often in contrasting black and white. It was a polarising departure from the understated modern design that had ruled for decades. And a direct rebellion against the uniform, slick, minimalist aesthetic of the 70s. For many people it was tasteless – it has been described as “bizarre”, “misunderstood”, “loathed”, and “a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price” – for others it celebrated unrestricted creative exploration. In retrospect, it evokes the 80’s.
In the short-lived official period that the Memphis Group was active—technically 1981 to 1987—their work influenced graphic design, restaurant design, fabrics and furnishing.
And now it’s back. Whether you love it or hate, prepare to see the Memphis influence appearing in stores, in homes, textiles, ceramics, you name it, it’s a hot trend.