20 of the Most Influential Memphis Design Figures

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While it often feels like we crave minimalism at every turn — with neutral tones and clutter-free surfaces across Pinterest and in IRL spaces — sometimes you just need something a little bolder. Tired of the design conventions of the early '80s, the Memphis Design group decided to turn the standard look of furniture, lighting, and seating on its head. And for modern maximalists, the group's use of bright colors, busy patterns, and unexpected materials still serves as inspiration.


Below, we're taking a quick look at some of the most impactful figures in the Memphis Design group.

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1. Ettore Sottsass

Naturally, the name that most often comes up in histories about Memphis Design is Ettore Sottsass. He basically led the charge when it came to bringing together designers who were into shaking things up in the decor world. Born in 1917 in Austria, the architect and designer had a great sense of humor about design and its changes. As Memphis Design reached its end, he was ready to move on. Yet his influence continues. You've probably seen his iconic, wavy Ultrafragola mirror, pictured here, in magazines or on Instagram.

2. Barbara Radice

Barbara Radice is an author and journalist whose work has helped continue the movement's legacy. Born in 1943 in Italy, Radice played an important role in Memphis Design's evolution. She met Sottsass in 1976; the two married and were creative partners. Radice has written a number of books about the history of the movement, and the evolution of Sottsass's career. She was also recently involved in the production of Phaidon's monograph, Ettore Sottsass, published in 2017.


3. Nathalie du Pasquier

Pattern plays an important role in Memphis Design, and Nathalie du Pasquier helped develop the bright, bold look of the style. Born in France in 1957, she has worked in everything from textiles to furniture to decorative objects. In Memphis: Research, Experiences, Results, Failures and Successes of New Design, Radice calls Pasquier the "kind of natural decorative genius" known for "turning out extraordinary drawings at the frantic pace of a computer." Pasquier took inspiration from art movements like Cubism, as well as Indian, Japanese, and African art. Her work is part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection.



4. Peter Shire

One of the founding members of Memphis Design, Peter Shire continues to encompass the whimsical and brights elements of the style. Born in 1947, the Los Angeles-based artist's work has been displayed from Tokyo to Paris. He's designed everything from toys to furniture, including the iconic Bel Air chair, pictured here. In 1972, Shire founded Echo Park Pottery to create more affordable pieces; they're made along with people residing in Echo Park, where Shire was born. He also helped found the Soap Plant in Los Angeles with his family.


5. Andrea Branzi

Andrea Branzi once said: "Memphis utilizes the building technology of both industry and craft ... with the aim of sparking new experiences capable of renewing language." Born in Florence in 1938, Branzi studied architecture and went on to become an important member of groups like Archizoom and Studio Alchimia. Branzi opened his studio in 1982 and helped found Domus Academy in 1983, "Italy's first postgraduate design school," according to the school's site. His work is now in the permanent collections of many institutions, including the Museum of Modern Art.


6. Marco Zanini

Born in Trento, Italy, in 1954, Marco Zanini initially studied architecture. Zanini was a part of Sottsass Associati, Ettore Sottsass's company. Along with designing furniture objects, Zanini also counts jewelry in his creative production — like a colorful necklace inspired by Egyptian motifs, now part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art's collection.



7. Michele de Lucchi

Architect Michele de Lucchi was also known for his furniture and lamp designs. He was once quoted as saying: "In a traditionally designed object the surface is a single unit ... today the tendency is to see the design not so much as a unit but as a sum of parts." Born in 1951 in Italy, de Lucchi created everything from colorful sofas to sculptural floor lamps in the Memphis Design style.


8. George Sowden

Born in 1942 in Leeds, George Sowden crossed paths with Sottsass at Olivetti, the manufacturer where Sowden started as a design consultant (and for which Sottsass designed that iconic red typewriter). According to the Cooper Hewitt Museum, Sowden was the sole British member of the Memphis Design group. Today, you can find still find his designs in stores, from bigger items to smaller ones like this HAY water bottle.


9. Martine Bedin

As with other members of Memphis Design, Martine Bedine's experience ranges from architecture to industrial design. Born in 1957 in Bordeaux, she espouses the whimsical nature of the Memphis Design group with pieces like her icon Super Lamp, pictured above, from 1981. Bedine has continued to work on a number of both public and gallery projects throughout the decades. Her work is in numerous collections, such as the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.



10. Matteo Thun

A co-founder of the Memphis Design group, Mattheo Thun has made an international impact on architecture. Born in 1952, the Italian architect and designer once said: "Only if you dare to do something new, to cross borders, you can experience new knowledge." After being a part of Memphis Design, he went on to found Matteo Thun & Partners in 1984. He's received numerous awards for his architectural work and the company continues to work on these projects, along with interior design.

11. Aldo Cibic

Born in 1955, Aldo Cibic created an illustrious career — part of which included being a founding member of Memphis Design. The Italian designer and architect established his own studio in 1989, Cibic & Partners, to continue experimenting. He mentored the next generation of thinkers at institutions like Domus Academy and the University of Architecture in Venice. In 2000, Cibic started designing objects for Paola C, which he helped create. His designs have reached international audiences and clients.

12. Michael Graves

The New York Times obituary on Michael Graves refers to him as a prolific architect "who designed more than 350 buildings around the world but was perhaps best known for his teakettle and pepper mill." Born in 1934 in Indianapolis, he became widely known for Modernism and received high praise for his work. He designed items like the Plaza dresser and stool, pictured here, in the Memphis Design style. Graves also worked with Target on a series in 1997, making some of his designs available to a larger demographic (you might recognize his tea kettle design from the recent Target 20th anniversary of Design for All).


13. Hans Hollein

Born in 1934, Austrian Hans Hollein studied architecture and completed buildings like the Museum Abteiberg in Germany, but he also created everything from silverware to furniture. A winner of the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize, Hollein designed furniture with the Memphis Design group, including the Mitzi Sofa, pictured here.

14. Arata Isozaki

Born in 1931, Arata Isozaki started thinking more closely about the meaning of a home after the catastrophic effects of World War II. The Japanese architect and designer founded Arata Isozaki & Associates in 1963. Although it's a bit tougher to find information on his Memphis Design contributions, there are a few archival images of his "Fuji" work that exemplify the movement's experiments with color and shape. Isozaki's work has been exhibited everywhere from Tokyo to Italy; he designed well-known buildings like the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA) in Los Angeles. In 2019, he received the prestigious Pritzker Architecture Prize.

15. Shiro Kuramata

If Memphis Design was adept at using unexpected materials and experimenting with shapes, then Shiro Kuramata was one of its foremost experts. Born in 1934, the Japanese designer studied architecture, interior design, and traditional woodcrafting before starting a career designing for Japanese department stores. He worked primarily with industrial materials, transforming them into imaginative objects. His designs seem contemporary, like this terrazzo table from 1983. His work is part of major collections, from the Museum of Fine Arts Boston to Kyoto's National Museum of Modern Art.

16. Javier Mariscal

Born in 1950, Spanish artist and designer Javier Mariscal's ideas fit right into the Memphis Design approach to shaking things up in design. In 1989, he founded Estudio Mariscal and started making a name for himself. He works across mediums, from architecture to graphic design to interior design, and gained the nickname "the Peter Pan of Spanish design," according to Design Within Reach. His 1981 serving trolley is part of the Victoria and Albert Museum's collection.

17. Alessandro Mendini

Aside from creating his own objects, architect and designer Alessandro Mendini also helped push forward the conversation around design as a journalist and editor. Born in 1931, the Italian designer and architect served as the managing editor of Casabella magazine before founding Mode; he went on to work as managing editor for Domus, completing an illustrious career. Mendini crossed paths with Sottsass and De Lucchi at Studio Alchimia before joining the Memphis Design group. Side note: This corkscrew might look familiar to decor fans, too. His work is part of collections at institutions like the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

18. Masanori Umeda

You might've come across a photo of Memphis Design group members chatting and lying on top of each other. They're sitting on Japanese designer Masanori Umeda's Tawaraya boxing ring, pictured here, circa 1981. This quirky conversation pit merges Memphis sensibilities for bold colors and unconventional lighting with Japanese conventions like Tatami mat floors. One of these boxing rings even sat in Karl Lagerfeld's apartment. Born in 1941, Masanori worked as a design consultant Olivetti for most of the '70s and has won multiple prizes for his work. The Tawaraya boxing ring currently goes for around $55,000.

19. Gerard Taylor

Gerard Taylor continues to have a fruitful career in design, and he was a part of Memphis Design's evolution, too. Taylor previously worked with Sottsass designing for companies like Knoll. His Memphis Design work was part of David Bowie's personal collection. In 1991, he founded Gerard Taylor Design; he also works as the creative director for the London manufacturer Orangebox.

20. Marco Zanuso Jr.

As an architect student, Marco Zanuso Jr. actually wrote his thesis on radical architecture, focusing on figures like Sottsass and De Lucchi. Born in 1954 in Milan, Zanuso Jr. would later make objects for Memphis Design before founding his own studio in Milan in 1990. The designer has continued experimenting with materials, including upcycled wood, in his pieces.