What the... Memphis design is happening

Design trends go in cycles. Even the bad ones - just ask anyone who works in fashion and they'll each have their horror stories about one thing or another being revived like Frankenstein's Bride.

Well, thankfully for interiors the trends don't change as quickly, but trends do come and go. And right now Memphis is trending in. Which begs the question, at whose expense?

I would submit that there is a homeostasis of sales in the design world, adjusting for macroeconomic patterns; meaning if one design trend gains, others must stutter. And for Memphis to be finding new buyers, I would argue it's the undisputed king who is slipping: Mid Century Design. More on that in a future blog.

But today, rather than dance on proverbial MCM grave (again, we'll break out some tap shoes soon), let's focus on what the hell is Memphis Design, where to find it, how to work with it and do you even want anything to do with it in the first place?

In last week's blog Memphis design was described as a mix of Pee Wee's Fun House and The Max from Saved By The Bell. The bright colors, distinct patterns and obtuse shapes were the brain child of Italian designer Ettore Sottsass' Memphis Group in 1981 in Milan. From 1981 to '87 the Memphis Group's post modern look used a variety of materials to create what defined the eponymous' groups design trend. 

The designers drew inspiration from pop art, art deco and 1950s futurism (think, The Jetsons). And when it was unveiled in 1981 Salone del Mobile of Milan, its reception wasn't just good, but it changed the way people designed. The absurdity of that isn't to be downplayed. To make a product that is popular is one thing. To make something well-received at design shows, let alone Salon, is another. And then for that to be, as we cliche these days call, "a disruptor;" that's beyond generational. It's unheard of. This is the equivalent of a Hollywood director making a movie and it falling in genre that they just made up and then everyone saying "oh yea, that's a thing now, we do that in Hollywood." 

This. Doesn't. Happen. There are horrors, dramas, comedies, sci fi, westerns and a few others probably. But Blorb isn't a genre, they made it one. They so made it one that you'd see it in tv shows, on Adidas shoes and, hell, 36 years later, we're still talking about it and seeing a revival. In fact, for the haute fashion world that revival came a few years ago with Christian Dior 2011-12 Fall Collection.


But as quickly as it caught hold as a pop culture as a sort of staple look for youth eccentrism, it was gone. The Memphis Group disbanded in 1988 and it petered out from there. It sort of figures that it was the 90s when you'd see it in places like Saved By The Bell, because isn't it that tween age that really hallmarks the death of a style and clout of cool.

There is a big, unfortunate, difference between now and the 80s birth of Memphis: Instagram.  Because this style is so eye catching - good or bad - it lends itself to likes. And for some reason society now deems that really important, so this pop art furniture could have a bit more legs this time. When you scroll through your feed, it's the loudest, most catchy things that you'll pay attention to. And Memphis is anything other than quiet.