Reviving the Bold and Playful: Exploring Memphis Design Style's Resurgence

Last Updated on January 24, 2024 by SampleBoard

The Memphis Design style, born from the creative minds of the iconic Memphis Group, is a true testament to artistic innovation.

With its vibrant and audacious nature, this design style has become instantly recognizable across the globe.

Blending elements of Art Deco with pop art influences, it exudes an unmatched sense of boldness and eccentricity.

The use of bright colors, geometric patterns, and unconventional shapes gives life to furniture pieces and decorative objects that transcend mere functionality.

Each creation under the Memphis Design umbrella radiates a distinct energy that captivates viewers at first glance.

It challenges conventions in favor of pushing boundaries, inviting us to embrace individuality and celebrate daring creativity.

Defying monotony and traditional aesthetics, Memphis Design stands as a symbol of unapologetic self-expression within the realm of design – an inspiration for those who dare to defy conformity in pursuit of artistic originality.

Image credit:
Image credit:

What is Memphis Design Style?

Memphis Design, the epitome of boldness and eccentricity, emerged in the early 1980s as a rebellious response to the prevailing minimalism.

Breaking free from the chains of conventional aesthetics, this movement unapologetically embraced vibrant colors, quirky geometric shapes, and outrageous patterns.

A delightful symphony of contradictions, Memphis Design seamlessly blended kitsch with sophistication and chaos with order.

It was a riotous celebration of individuality that challenged the notion that design should be restrained or predictable.

Image credit:
Image credit:
Image credit:

Every piece bore its own distinctive personality; chairs became sculptures adorned with whimsical polka dots or stripes; tables sprouted asymmetric legs like playful limbs yearning to dance freely on their own accord.

This enchanting style captured hearts across continents—its infectious energy seeping into fashion runways, interiors dripping with flamboyance, and even album covers pulsating with exuberance.

Memphis Design was an audacious invitation to embrace our wild side unapologetically—to revel in unabashed color explosions where anything goes—as it dared us to question normative boundaries and encouraged artistic freedom without reservations.

Milano Memphis Design

The History of Memphis Design

In the 1980s a group of designers with a vision led by Ettore Sottsass gathered in Milan, Italy to start a rebellion against the rigid rules of modernist design.

Sottsass and his team were bored with the minimal color palette and restrained lines of the 70s and hoped to create something utterly different.

So, like the majority of design movements, theirs was a reaction to what had come before. With bright colors and unusual geometric shapes, their designs were wild and cheerful, even childlike.

Just take a look at the iconic Carlton bookshelf!

But the idea didn’t just fall from the sky. The Milan-based Memphis group drew inspiration from existing design movements such as the striking geometric figures in Art Deco, the bold color palettes of Pop Art, and 1950s Kitsch.

Thus one of the most recognizable styles of the late 20th century was born!

Milano Memphis

And just to be clear, the group got its name after Bob Dylan’s song Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again which was playing in the background while they were contemplating what would become the New International Style.

It had nothing to do with Memphis, Tennessee, or Memphis, Egypt.

Of course, not everyone was a fan. The critics at that time viewed the Memphis movement as a kind of joke, a bizarre and forgettable moment in the design world that was soon going to end up in the dustbin of history.

Even the contemporary critics were skeptical. However, they had no idea that the whacky shapes and colors were going to be at the core of what we think of as 80s design.

But before the end of the decade, the excitement flamed out.

While the design stance of Memphis was influential and important in the world of fashion and interior design, it never had commercial success. Sottsass soon tired of the media circus and the world tired of the movement.

Milano Memphis

Following his death in 2007, Postmodernism once again came to the center of attention after a series of exhibitions and articles and since then, things have taken a turn!

Call it the 80s revival if you like, thanks to its influence on a new generation of designers born in and of the 1980s, the Modern Memphis Movement has re-emerged and is back in the spotlight.

Unlike the original Memphis movement, the current movement is unorganized and is randomly being manifested through the work of designers from around the world who are turning down the volume and opting for softer hues, materials, and patterns that are more pleasing.

In a way, the new Memphis-inflected design is doing the same thing as the first time – contrasting the sameness of mass-produced furniture and encouraging the desire for custom, hand-crafted, and authentic.

However, it’s hard to say why, exactly, this particular movement is having a comeback right now. Maybe it’s just nostalgia but whether you love it or hate it, at least for now, Memphis is back!

Did you know that Millennial Pink, the color that has captivated the fashion and design world, was also inspired by the Memphis design?

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Bojana Bajac
SampleBoard Brand Ambassador

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