top of page

Memphis Design's Kitsch and Elegance

Plain English


Memphis designs have very bright colors, crazy shapes, and wild patterns.

An armchair in red and pink. One armrest is green and cylinder shaped. The front foot is a purple bar. The back foot a a shiny orange colored ball. The seating is pale blue.

Armchair "Bel-Air" by designer Peter Shire, Memphis Group,1982.


40 years ago a group of young Italian architects and designers got together to challenge the idea of what looks good and what doesn’t.

They were having a party when Bob Dylan’s song “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”came on. Inspired by the song they decided to call themselves the Memphis Group.

A group of 9 people in everyday clothes sitting close together on a stylized boxing ring. The boxing ring floor has a black and white checked pattern. The borders of the ring are green and yellow.

The Memphis group members. This boxing ring is a bed. It's designed by Masanori Umeda and is called „Tawaraya“.


The Vitra Design Museum is celebrating the Memphis group's 40th anniversary with a fantastic exhibition.


A white sideboard with green speckled doors. On top of the sideboard is a tilting wooden shelf and a metal bar. A light bulb is fixed to the metal bar.

Sideboard »Beverly«, designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1981


-------- Advert --------


Table "Kristall" designed by Michele de Lucchi, table, 1981

Sidetable: A rectangular block with a geometric black and white pattern and four blue metal furniture legs. A round yellow table top is attached to the side of the cube with a blue metal bar.

Memphis pieces look like they've jumped out of a comic book.


Memphis member Barbara Radice said, “We started with the idea of changing the face of international design.”

Designer Michele De Lucchi says "The ideas I first thought were useless, helped me come up with a really good idea.“


Martine Bedin design: Lamp "Super", 1981

Lamp: A blue laquered half-circle with wheel like a toy car. 6 light bulbs are attached to the arched top. The sockets are different colors: red, green, yellow, light-blue.

“I was designing everything with wheels. I had been moving house a lot and tired of dragging my stuff around.” says Martine Bedine.


-------- Advert --------


Memphis presented their first collection in Milan, Italy in September 1981. It made them famous all over the world. Fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld decorated his Monte Carlo apartment in 1982 with Memphis design pieces. This was a big break for them.


Karl Lagerfeld sitting at a table surrounded by Memphis design furniture.

Karl Lagerfeld in his Monte Carlo Apartment with designs by Memphis.


The Vitra Design Museum is celebrating the Memphis group's 40th anniversary with a fabulous exhibition. Memphis furniture, lamps, bowls, drawings, sketches, and photographs of the group’s work are on display.


Lamp: lots of metal tubes in different colors put together in a geometric shape. 5  lightbulbs.

Lamp "Ashoka" by Ettore Sottsass, 1982.


The Memphis group’s success shows that there is no strict definition of beauty. The image of what is beautiful changes over time. Take the example of Crocs shoes. People once thought they were ugly. Now celebrities are designing and wearing them.


-------- Advert --------


So, be inspired by the Memphis group's attitude! Don't get stuck with any rules of what is considered good taste. Following Memphis' philosophy, break the rules, and you may be a trendsetter.



Memphis: 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance

06.02.2021 – 23.01.2022


About the Vitra Design Museum

Permanent Exhibition: The Vitra Design Museum Collection.

The Vitra Design Museum displays around 20,000 objects. These include some 7,000 pieces of furniture and more than 1,000 lighting objects.



  • Armchair »Bel-Air«, © Peter Shire, © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Jürgen Hans.

  • Group photo of Memphis members on the boxing ring bed „Tawaraya“ © Masanori Umeda, © Studio Azzurro, with kind permission of Memphis, Milano,

  • Sideboard »Beverly«, Ettore Sottsass, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021, © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Jürgen Hans

  • Table »Kristall«, Michele de Lucchi, 1981 © Michele de Lucchi, © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Jürgen Hans

  • Lamp »Super«, Martine Bedin, 1981, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021, © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Andreas Sütterlin

  • Karl Lagerfeld’s Monte Carlo Apartment with designs by Memphis, Monaco, 1982, © Jacques Schumacher, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021 for all designs by Ettore Sottsass.

  • Lamp »Ashoka«, Ettore Sottsass, 1981, © VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2021, © Vitra Design Museum, Photo: Andreas Jung


*Quotes are edited to Plain English*

Back to all Plain English articles


bottom of page