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Return of Memphis: How Memphis design style took the centre stage in 2022
Return of Memphis
Image: Courtesy of STIR

Return of Memphis: How Memphis design style took the centre stage in 2022

Best of 2022: From colourful fruit-shaped lamps to major exhibitions, STIR puts the spotlight on the Memphis design style.

by Ayushi Mathur
Published on : Dec 31, 2022

2022 broadened the design horizons beyond mere functionality, allowing for the creation of sculptural identities for a wide range of objects. From iconic brands tapping into the modern, aesthetic soul of furniture design to creative designers fashioning sculptural and visual treats, every league of the design world placed major emphasis on thinking outside the box to offer creative design solutions. One such post-modern style of design that outshone itself as a colourful design approach offered playful collections, animated exhibitions and bold interventions as the best of 2022. The Memphis style became a constant source of inspiration for creatives this year, with the launch of new furniture collections, collectable designs and even retrospective exhibitions.

The Memphis design style was established in the early 1980s and can be characterised by bold colours, clashing patterns, a humorous aura and instantly recognisable geometric shapes. The pioneering Italian designer and architect who founded the influential Memphis movement, Ettore Sottsass held a major impact on the 80s design style. It was in 1980 that Sottsass formulated the Memphis Design Group and assembled a bunch of daring designers who broke the norms of modern design and challenged the generic approaches to create bold-hued designs.

Over the years, the uniquely colourful design style returned as a key source of inspiration for many graphic design, fashion design, interior design as well as furniture design interventions. From the playfully creative wiggle pipe by Nikolas Bentel to the pebble-shaped Karlotta sofa by Karim Rashid, STIR rounds up the best Memphis-inspired design from 2022.

Karim Rashid’s Kasual collection

Karim Rashid, known for his maximalist design approach that captures the essence of luxury through uncomplicated designs, collaborated with Essential Home and Delightfull to fabricate his Kasual Collection. The pastel-hued collection featured an assortment of unique furniture and accessories ranging from a modular sofa in a Memphis-style arrangement to sculptural lighting designs and even mushroom-shaped table lamps. Hosting the characteristic retro aesthetic of the Memphis design style, the Karlotta sofa was designed with a golden base and pebble-shaped seaters. While the vibrant colours of the Karlotta sofa and the Karlotta single sofa with stool offer a contemporary vibe, the entire aesthetic supporting the design emanates traces of Memphis design.

Natascha Madeiski salvages household objects to build ‘Flaming Stars’ lamps

In a contrasting design approach, the United-kingdom-based designer focused on creating sculptural artefacts by upcycling objects found in a homely setting. The Flaming Stars lamps by Natascha Madeiski are a series of seven sculptural lamps that evoke memories using everyday objects. Though the lamp designs were not intended to be in the Memphis design style bracket, the pop colours, simple geometries and smooth edges comply with the design style. The lamps were designed by the product designer for the German brand Pulpo as the bespoke lighting solutions accessible to everyone. Objects such as homemade bread, a modelling balloon, off-cut funnels, and styrofoam leftovers, among other materials, were cast into moulds to create unique shapes for the collection.

Nikolas Bentel’s Wiggle Pipe

Nikolas Bentel is an industrial designer who is known for his colourful, playful and absurd designs. Drawing inspiration from the vibrant hues of the Memphis design style, Bentel created an unusual object titled the wiggle pipe. The handcrafted smoking pipe is designed using porcelain and is washed perfectly in pop colours. The squirming shape of the wiggle pipe wasn't as easy to mould, however, the New York-based designer captured the perfectly playful vibe that enchants every user. The wiggle pipe’s design is in sync with the product designer’s previous creative endeavours including the loopy chair, moon chalk and squiggle glasses, each of which fashions the Memphis style and its fun vibe.

Hsian-Jung Chen’s abstract lamps

Holding onto the Memphis design style as the primary source of inspiration, the Taiwanese ceramic artist Hsian-Jung Chen created a series of lamps and sculptural household adornments. As the simplified forms of everyday objects such as trees, flowers, fruits, vegetables, candles, toys and even pretzels, Chen’s unique ceramic lamps appear as simple playthings that effortlessly upscale the basic lighting design into abstract art forms. The Taipei-based sculpture artist's colourful creations, which feature vibrant colours and delightfully juxtaposed circles, cylinders, and rectangles, instil joy in their surroundings.

Memphis again exhibition

This year, Memphis design was celebrated at a much larger scale with retrospective exhibitions and displays at multiple design events across the world. One such collaborative exhibition that staged more than 200 furniture pieces and objects inspired by the Memphis design style was the Memphis Again exhibition presented by Triennale Milano and Memphis Milano. Curated by the Swiss-born designer Christoph Rdl, the exhibition offered an assortment of bookshelves, furniture pieces, vitrines, dividers and even rugs created by iconic designers including Ettore Sottsass, George J. Sowden, Michele De Lucchi, Matteo Thun and Andrea Branzi among others. The objects were staged on a 100-metre-long platform in the Curva Gallery just as a fashion show, accompanied by quotes from critics, designers, and architects on the walls. The enticing showcase celebrated Memphis as a form of art and each of the iconic designs as works of art.

The Royal Chaise

The iconic Royal Chaise was originally designed by the product designer and artist Nathalie du Pasquier in 1983 as an embodiment of the playfully Memphis design style. In 2022, the iconic seater was highlighted as a conversation piece in an illustrious design exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, California. The bold design of the chaise lounge features upholstery in Pasquier’s revered ‘Cerchio’ textile along with the armrest and partial bolster covered in the ‘Quadro’ fabric that was designed by her husband and fellow Memphis designer George Sowden. For the SFMOMA exhibition, the Royal Chaise was presented alongside nearly 40 modern exhibits as a reflection of their creators’ individual personalities while officiating a discussion on contemporary cultural issues.

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