What is Memphis?

Memphis is a design movement characterized by vibrant colors, geometric shapes, and bold patterns.


Memphis is an iconic design movement that originated in the early 1980s in Milan, Italy, famously founded by the designer Ettore Sottsass and a group of young architects and designers. While the term 'Memphis' often brings to mind the city in Tennessee, USA, the design movement actually took its name from a Bob Dylan song titled "Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again" that was playing during the group's first meeting. What sets Memphis design apart is its definitive break from the minimalist trends that preceded it, embracing instead a playful and almost postmodern approach to design. Memphis pieces are known for their eclectic mix of patterns and materials, striking use of color, and an explicit rejection of conventional good taste. The movement sought to challenge the idea that products needed to follow conventional forms, materials, or color schemes, aiming instead to bring a sense of whimsy and vibrancy into everyday objects.

Memphis design influenced not only furniture but a wide array of products including textiles, ceramics, glass, and metal work. Its impact was felt globally, with pieces now considered collectors' items. Although the original Memphis Group dissolved in 1987, the style has experienced a resurgence, influencing contemporary design, fashion, and culture. Designers today often draw inspiration from Memphis by incorporating its signature bold patterns, colors, and unconventional materials into their work, blending modern techniques with the movement's distinctive style.


Memphis design can be spotted in a variety of contexts, from statement furniture pieces like sofas and armchairs clad in vivid, patterned upholstery to playful home accessories and decor. It's often used to add a vibrant, eclectic touch to interiors, often contrasting against more subdued or minimalist backgrounds. In contemporary practice, designers might blend Memphis-inspired elements with modern design concepts, creating spaces that feel both nostalgic and forward-thinking. Memphis has also made its mark in fashion, with clothing and accessories adorned with its signature bold geometrics and colors.


  • Who founded the Memphis design movement?

    The Memphis design movement was founded by Ettore Sottsass and a group of young architects and designers in Milan, Italy, in the early 1980s.

  • What are the identifying features of Memphis design?

    Memphis design is identifiable by its vibrant colors, bold patterns, geometric shapes, and eclectic mix of materials. It often features unconventional combinations that challenge traditional design norms.

  • Is Memphis design still relevant today?

    Yes, Memphis design has seen a resurgence and remains relevant in contemporary design, influencing fashion, interiors, and culture with its playful and vibrant aesthetic.

Practical Application

When incorporating Memphis design into a space, consider using it in accent pieces or focal points to inject energy and playfulness without overwhelming the room. Think statement armchairs, vividly patterned rugs, or striking wall art. Balancing Memphis pieces with more subdued elements can help create a dynamic yet harmonious interior. Accessorizing with Memphis-style objects or mixing patterns and colors in textiles are also great ways to embrace this style. Remember, the essence of Memphis is in its celebration of individuality and creativity, so don't hesitate to experiment with bold choices.