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The Memphis Group was a collective of young furniture and product designers who captured the early 1980s in an explosion of colour, pattern and shape. By Karyn Sparks IMAGES BY DENNIS ZANONE/ZANONE STUDIO – WWW.ZANONE.COM

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F, LOOKING AT THESE pages, you think you’re looking at stills from the classic 1980s movie Ruthless People starring Bette Midler and Danny DeVito then you’re in the right ball park – the set designers were clearly in thrall to Memphis design. But this real-life pad is all the genuine article and belongs to photographer Dennis Zanone. Owner of one of the most formidable collections of Memphis design in the world, he lives in – wait for it – Memphis, Tennessee! You may have imagined that the celebrated 80s Italian design collaborative took its name from the classy Ancient Egyptian Memphis. But no, it came from Bob Dylan’s Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again. The song had been played over and over during the group’s inaugural meeting in December 1980, which Ettore Sottsass organised with like-minded designers. So clearly it’s Kismet that the two Memphises should come together – but how? “I

started collecting Memphis design in the early 90s,” explains Dennis. “I had seen one of the travelling exhibitions at the Brooks Museum here in Memphis, TN and loved the quirky pieces.” Owning so much by the group, is there something he still covets? “The one piece I would like to own is the Art Deco inspired dresser/vanity called ‘Plaza’ by architect Michael Graves. Expert Richard Horn names it one of the “pièce de résistance” designs alongside the ‘Tawaraya’ ring by Masanori Umeda – which I do have!” The 1980s brought with it a new wave of ornamentation, contradiction and experimentation – a few thrilling years when image was everything. The avant-garde Memphis Group of Italian designers and architects was founded in Milan in reaction against the austere restraints of ‘good design’ at the time. Form follows function? Pooh! Basta! Memphis drew inspiration from earlier

▲ABOVE: AIRPORT CABINET BY GERARD TAYLOR, 1983 MBELOW: METROPOLE CLOCK BY GEORGE SOWDEN, 1982 ▲CARLTON BOOKCASE/ROOM DIVIDER

▼BEVERLY SIDEBOARD BY SOTTSASS, 1981

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▲ MAX BOOKCASE BY SOTTSASS, 1987. NAMED FOR HIS FRIEND MAX PALEVSKY

▲FROM THE TOP: PETER PLANT STAND/SIDEBOARD BY PETER SHIRE, 1987; TAHITI LAMP BY SOTTSASS, 1981; FIRST CHAIR BY MICHELE DE LUCCHI, 1983

movements such as Art Deco and Pop Art, 1950s Kitsch and 60s futuristic themes. Vivid colour, theatricality and exaggeration: everything was a style statement, whether surfaces were glossy, faked or deliberately distressed. Aesthetically this manifested itself in bright colours, bold forms constructed from simplistic shapes resembling children’s building blocks! Memphis designed Postmodern furniture, fabrics, ceramics, glass and metal objects, producing around 300 designs, most of which saw limited production. Variously described as “bizarre”, “misunderstood”, “loathed”, and “a shotgun wedding between

Bauhaus and Fisher-Price”, whether you love it, or hate it, there’s no denying it isn’t boring – and it’s SO 80s! Eighties only: Sottsass left the movement in 1985, and the Group had disbanded by 1987. Besides Sottsass and Graves, names to look out for are Alessandro Mendini, Martine Bedin, Andrea Branzi, Aldo Cibic, Michele de Lucchi, Nathalie du Pasquier, Hans Hollein, Arata Isozaki, Shiro Kuramata, Matteo Thun, Javier Mariscal, Luciano Paccagnella, George Sowden, Marco Zanini – and their chronicler, Sottass’s journalist wife Barbara Radice. Although the movement only lasted a relatively short time, the impact of Memphis www.vintagexplorer.co.uk


▲ GLASSWARE ▼BERTRAND SIDEBOARD BY MASSIMO IOSA-GHINI, 1987

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▲ TAWARAYA RING BY MASANORI UMEDA, 1981

▲ HILTON TROLLEY/BAR CART BY JAVIER MARISCAL, 1981

▲FROM THE TOP: SUPER LAMP BY MARTINE BEDIN, 1981; ASHOKA LAMP BY SOTTSASS, 1981; BEL AIR CHAIR BY CALIFORNIA DESIGNER PETER SHIRE, 1982; GINZA ’ROBOT’ SIDEBOARD/SHELVES BY UMEDA, 1982

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is still very much felt today, and currently seems to be picking up momentum. I’ve noticed quite a presence at international modern design shows over the past year or so, particularly across Europe, and there are also pieces appearing at auction. Though they are selling for only slightly more than their original retail price of over 30 years ago. Give it time... This year the Italian furniture company, Kartell launched a tribute to Memphis with

a range of unproduced objects that Sottsass designed for them back in 2004, including vases, stools, lamps and fabric. Of course, like the rest of you, I’d always prefer to own the Vintage original. Though I think ‘Super’ table lamp designed by Marine Bedin (above left) is probably as bold as I’m prepared to go for now.ve This entire collection is owned by Dennis Zanone from Memphis, Tennessee. You can see more at: www.memphis-milano.org

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Memphis - New Wave - 1980s Design  

The Memphis Group was a collective of young furniture and product designers who captured the early 1980s in an explosion of colour, pattern...

Memphis - New Wave - 1980s Design  

The Memphis Group was a collective of young furniture and product designers who captured the early 1980s in an explosion of colour, pattern...

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