What is Memphis Design and Why Is It Coming Back?

It’s bright, garish, colorful, and to many… tasteless. But judging by its huge influence throughout the 1980s and its massive staying power, it’s one of the great design movements. Synonymous with all things 80s and dripping with nostalgia for many, this unique and exciting art form has gone full circle and is now returning to the mainstream. Join us as we take you through a short history of this wonderful design.


The Memphis style began its life in 1981 in Milan, Italy. Yes, that’s right. Italy. Why not Memphis, Tennessee? Well, rather than referring to the location, it in fact namechecks a song by Bob Dylan called “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again.” This song was stuck on repeat during the entire first meeting of the 22 designers and architects that gathered with founder Ettore Sottsass that year.

After this fateful meeting, the Memphis Group began to create furniture, fabrics, patterns, ceramics, and other items all in the same distinctly Postmodern style, combining elements of 1950s kitsch, Pop Art, and Art Deco.

It was a far cry from the styles that were popular at the time. 70s designs that aimed to be ‘tasteful’ were all the rage, with dark and muted colors, streamlined shapes, and utilitarian materials like metal, glass, and concrete.

This bold new style received a mixed reception. Initially, critics were not impressed. The group’s incorporation of typical ‘bad-taste’ motifs like plastic laminate and clashing colors attracted much criticism. Only now can we understand how groundbreaking it really was.

Time For a Comeback?

As with all things, The Memphis design peaked and then became old news. During the 1990s, Memphis Design fell out of favor as more minimalist designs came into fashion. But in 2005, Sottsass’s designs were put on display in the LA County Museum of Art. After his death, interest in the style grew once again and it began to pop up in high fashion houses like Karl Lagerfeld, Christian Dior, and Missoni.

In 2014, Nathalie Du Pasquier - one of the Memphis Movement’s founding fathers - had her designs used for a collection of patterns for American Apparel. In 2016 Memphis style caught the attention of skate brand Supreme, which released a series of skate decks and garments designed by Memphis veteran Alessandro Mendini who appeared in the first Memphis show. Even big-box retailers are getting in on the action, with West Elm debuting a series from Dusen Dusen in 2017, a brand inspired by Du Pasquier.

Memphis design has always been about excitement and change. Functionalism cannot be the only concern when designing for the modern-day. Gustaf Westman, a designer from Stockholm says of his work, “My objects are supposed to be friendly and fun, and hopefully are an escape from reality in some sort of way. That is what the Memphis group did, too.”

There is a whole raft of up-and-coming designers reinterpreting the old styles and adding their own twist, evolving the design language and customizing it for the modern-day.

Memphis Your Home

So, why do we want you to know about Memphis Design? Well, it’s just one of the thousands of design movements that we’ve drawn upon to build our collection of unique, high-quality artworks and canvases. Browse our selection today and see how you could bring color and life into your home, transforming your world.

Take a look and see what you find. We offer free 24-hour cancellation, refund on dissatisfaction or damage, and shapes and sizes to fit every space.