Memphis group. Ettore Sottsass, kitsch, elegance and extreme

Furniture made of blocks in bright colors. This is the hallmark of the Memphis Design Group, which is celebrating its 40th birthday. His style was charming and uneasy. When Karl Lagerfeld commissioned the designers to arrange the apartment, he was first pleased with it, and after a few weeks he left.

Memphis Collection – kitsch and elegance

Kitsch and elegance are perhaps the most appropriate words to describe creativity Memphis. Dr. Matteo Cris, art historian and director of the Vitra Design Museum, must also have derived from this assumption, using these terms in the title of the exhibition dedicated to the Italian designers group Memphis: 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance. The exhibition, which will run until the end of January 2022, allows you to understand how the creators combined seemingly contradictory features and made play with taste an integral part of the culture of the 80s. Memphis group He also decided to celebrate Anthony Vaccarello. “It’s time for color,” decided the creative director of Saint Laurent, a fashion house today famous for its early 70s and 80s aesthetics at its best — and, ironically, with a limited selection of colours. It seems that Saint Laurent is far from existent Memphis, and after. An exhibition of the original furniture of the collection was held in a store in Paris. There is also room for a limited selection of clothing inspired by its aesthetics. Sneakers, sweatshirts, dresses – all in a style that has infuriated critics for four decades. Which – incredibly – is still new and original. Perhaps because it acts as an antidote to the simplicity and minimalism we’ve been dealing with since the ’90s?

These assumptions are confirmed by Claire Bingham, author of More Is More: Memphis, Maximum and New Wave Design, in which she describes a renaissance of extremism. According to the British journalist, this is what today’s interior design, fashion and graphics are based on. “It’s a design that goes beyond the comfort zone, but allows you to smile.”

Memphis and fashion

The trend shift was announced four years ago, then Furniture fair in MilanIt is dominated by pink (broken beige or orange), more specifically the shade called Millennium pink. The largest newspapers, headed by The Guardian, wrote about him. Previously dominant earth colors were dominated by pink beige, mint green and pastel blue. And extremes began to crumble not only in interiors, but also in fashion. Because it symbolizes more than one direction. This approach to life does not recognize limitations, as can be seen, for example, in the actions of designer Sasha Bykov (a great example is her dream house in New York, where various conventions mix: there are psychedelic patterns, intense colors, gold, glitter, mirrors, plaster) . Spanish designer Jaime Hayon continued the assumptions of the Memphis School. With the brand Camper or Lladró, and in fashion Ágatha Ruiz de la Prada.

The fashion world has appreciated Memphis before: in 2011, to express his admiration for the wild imaginations of Italians, John Galliano created Dior’s haute couture collection. A year later, with a similar structure, the Sergio Rossi brand released a limited series of shoes. The same source of inspiration was also present on the Missoni show six years ago. Some have gone to great lengths to persuade Memphis co-founder Nathalie du Pasquier to collaborate. American Apparel and the Scandinavian brand Hay have managed to do just that.

More means more

It was a December evening in 1980, and from an apartment in Milan Ettore Sotsas Nobody was leaving. Among the group of young designers and architects among them Michel de Lucci, George SodenAnd Nathalie de Pasquier if Aldo SeebeckEverything was discussed. Friends had similar experiences and views. Later wine glasses confirmed their conviction of the superior postmodern functionality of the new design. Encourage them to criticize the notion of which they are tired: “less is more.” In universities, professors continued to hit students with the famous wisdom heads of German architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. That evening the Italians shouted: “More is more, less is boring!”. It was the idea of ​​a color revolution. Now it must come true. label it. The closer we got to midnight, the more concepts emerged. Bob Dylan’s same song “Stuck in the Phone with the Memphis Blues Again” has been playing in the background for several hours. Someone suggested “How about Memphis?” sotsas Love it, the name combines the past (the capital of ancient Egypt) and the present (a city in the United States and the song of Dylan).

The first projects were presented by the Memphis Group in 1981 during the Design Fair Del Mobile Salon in Milan. What the audience saw was unexpectedly radical, brazenly funny, and decidedly bizarre. The New York Times wrote: “Some were shocked by this, others interested, but there was a lot of excitement in the air.” Apparently, such crowds were pressing the door of the exhibition space that Sottsas thought was escaping from an unpleasant event. But the event, which was very interesting, was Memphis.

The group’s projects disrupted the design status quo, the so-called mid modern century (popular in the 1950s and 1960s), in addition to its simplicity in the 1970s, stone and leather replaced terrazzo and plastic sheets. Among the proposals was, among others, the asymmetrical Bel Air chair from California Peter Shire with a ball and square block in place of the legs. Its backing was inspired by the design of John Lautner, located on the beach in Malibu, by Stevens House. The success of the furniture is evidenced by the fact that its production was not interrupted even for a moment. Another classic is the Carlton – a bookcase, sideboard, sculpture or partition – the choice of destination is left to the buyer. “Functionalism is not enough,” he said of his project “The design must be exciting.” Ettore Sotsas. Similarly, think of a Tahiti table lamp that resembles a tropical bird with a red oblong beak (with a light bulb on it), a pink head, and a long yellow neck.

Carl, David and Memphis

All these pieces of furniture were found in Karl Lagerfeld’s apartment in Monaco. It was his wish that designers would design the entire interior. And although they sincerely convinced him that it was not worth it, because the cacophony of colors and shapes would defeat him, he did not give up. he is? The newly appointed artistic director of the fashion house Chanel? His stubbornness meant that in addition to the bedroom furniture mentioned above, among others the Ring Bed (boxing ring bed) designed by Masanori Umeda, and for the Riviera lounge chair Michele De Lucchi. Karl stayed there for several weeks. Then all the equipment worth tens of thousands of dollars was dismantled and exported from Monaco. David Bowie was even smarter, collecting more than 400 items with a tag Memphis. The public learned about their number after the death of the star, when it was put up for auction at Sotheby’s. There was great interest, and the value of the collection was close to one million three hundred thousand pounds.

Memphis group phenomenon

Memphis group It is a phenomenon. Sottsass, who had gathered a group of competent enthusiasts, knew what he was doing and at what time. In 1981, MTV was launched, which was not only about to dominate the entertainment world, but its colors and logo patterns were strongly associated with Memphis. Opposition to aesthetics of the past has been prominent, beginning with fashion (Moschino), music (Cindy Lauper) and art (Keith Haring). Although the collection only survived until 1988, works of curiosity and curious events in design history are back again. In a world bombarded with bad news — and hopefully for as long as possible.

The text appeared in ELLE magazine on 11/2021

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