Nine iconic Memphis pieces reveal why the design movement – characterised by cultural upheaval – remains so popular today.

A cultural phenomenon, Memphis is the love child of the 20th century’s Art Deco, Futurism and Pop Art movements. Conjured up by a group of like-minded Italian architects and designers (called the Memphis group) in 1981, the movement is defined by loud, contrasting colours, bold patterns and asymmetric shapes; an exaggerated, garish style born out of a desire to challenge the understated styles that were prevalent at the time. 

Memphis revolutionised notions of furniture as functional items and transformed them into provocative works of art – that also happened to serve a pragmatic purpose. While the movement was short-lived, it continues to influence popular culture in a way that suggests minimalist design might be slowly phasing out. Among the Memphis fanbase are several notable celebrities, including the late musician David Bowie – whose 400-plus collection was auctioned off shortly after his passing – and Chanel creative director Karl Lagerfeld.

In this feature, we explore nine historical pieces that offer an introduction to the spirited world of Memphis.

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Memphis Milano Victoria

A turned and hand-painted ceramic vase.

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Memphis Milano Tahiti

A table lamp made of painted metal and decorative laminate.

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Memphis Milano Treetops

A painted metal floor lamp with a cast iron base.

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Memphis Milano Royal

A wooden chaise lounge covered in decorative laminate, upholstered in a graphic pattern designed by George Sowden.

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Memphis Milano Palace

The intense, contrasting colours of this lacquered wooden chair enhance its otherwise simple shape.

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