DESIGN //The wonderfully wacky world of Memphis Design.


Memphis Design, described my some as a ”shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price” is a point of derision in the design world. Some love it because its playful and wacky, and others think its kitsch rather than cool.


The Memphis Milano design group was founded in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass and a group of other Milan based architects and designers. It played with form, laminates, patterns and color. It was the post modern answer to good taste. They drew inspiration from Art Deco, Pop art, the 50’s and definitely from kitsch. Sottsass left the group in 1985 and it disbanded in 1988.

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Obviously, this look is intense. It’s so distinctly 80s, it was shaped by – and shaped the spirit of the decade…which we dismissed as awful for quite some time. (Well, I didn’t.) But it seems that bad taste on some level, is good taste again. I think it’s so interesting to watch how trends change and how our collective eye becomes used to things, and then eventually offended by the very things it loved the most, only to embrace it again years later.  My favorite example of this is Wayfarer sunglasses. They were designed in 1952 and were ground breaking. The shape was considered an ode to mid century design and Cadillac tail fins. They were the ultimate cool: masculine chic and the shape literally conveyed a sense of unstableness. They were extremely popular in the 50s and 60s. Then like magic, they were uncool again. Until the 1980s when Rayban struck a deal with a movie placement company and Tom Cruise wore them in Risky Business. Then they were ridiculously hot again. This WAS what sunglasses looked like. It wasn’t even something to think about. Then the 90s came around again, and I remember finding an old pair of my parents and thinking they were UNWEARABLE. They became so unwearable, that when pop stars and fashion icons started wearing them in the early 2000’s it was SO EDGY and cool. “Look how I’m making this thing from the 80’s that you think is uncool, look so ridiculously awesome.” It’s surprise + irony that makes it cool again. But alas, now this is what sunglasses look like to us again. It’s the norm. And so the cycle will continue. Our eyes get so used to ideas that anything else looks good. Until it doesn’t and then the old stuff is great again. So here we are, with Memphis.


Bottom line- Memphis is having a moment. Christian Dior’s 2011 fall collection was grounded in the Memphis aesthetic, and the pieces have become collectors items. Yes, this may look garish and insane and like a movie theater from 1984 bred with your Trapper Keeper from 1993. But guess what, as individual pieces, they are awesome. (Go scroll up then come back down.) The Tahiti lamp, perhaps one of the most famous pieces from the era, is iconic and flat out beautiful. The tea pot, up top, is also a favorite of mine. In a time when interior design is sometimes heart attack serious, whimsy and fancifulness is welcome, even if only in small doses.




And why did I decide to write about it? Well, a couple of fashion designers and bloggers just got Memphis TATTOOS.


All of the pieces above are available on 1st Dibs or can be purchased on the Memphis Milano Design Store. 

Love it or hate it or BOTH?

(Photo sources: 1. First Dibs 2. Home of collector Dennis Zanone 3.YMS Hair Salon designed in the Memphis Style by Kitsch Nitsch 4. + 5. Sergio Rossi collection inspired by Memphis. 6. Karl Lagerfeld  7. Source 8.unknown/ Source 9. Instagram)

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  1. Working with a museum on a Memphis design exhibition of my collection in 2014. Updates coming in the Fall on Facebook, Twitter and Tumbler when officially announced.

  2. this is freaking amazing!!

  3. The sitting room reminds me of a kids TV from the 80’s, interesting, not sure i’d have my sitting room like that but definitely interesting.

  4. Love it! It all makes me smile!

  5. 9o9o says:

    The third image down is something that was not designed by any member of Memphis. It is the interior of YMS Salon, designed by the group Kitsch Nitsch.

    • Nicole Cohen says:

      Thanks for the heads up!

      • Yes, and is considered “Memphis inspired” or “Memphis influenced”. The Richard Horn book on Memphis design shows other American made Memphis influenced design in the 80s in the revised edition. Most of the Memphis designers worked for other companies designing products in the 80s. Sowden and du Pasquier created the “Objects for the Electronic Age” pieces during that time.

        • Nicole Cohen says:

          Tell us more about your collection!

        • 9o9o says:

          Yes I have that book. The YMS salon was designed in 2012, I wish the editor would have included some clarification of the images in the article.

          • Nicole Cohen says:

            I added the sources, and included a link back to an article about the salon. I originally found the image on tumblr, but when you told me about the YMS salon, I googled it and found the correct source – so thank you.

            I was just trying to give an intro to the aesthetic. I should have been more thorough.

  6. alyse franco says: