As the Memphis group celebrates its 40th anniversary, we explore the iconic movement from the eighties that celebrities and design lovers adore
Tall, pink and wavy. You’ve probably spotted this iconic mirror nearly everywhere gracing the homes (and Instagrams) of numerous celebrities from Karl Lagerfeld, Bella Hadid, Frank Ocean and Elsa Hosk to G-Dragon and Blackpink’s Jisoo. It’s none other than the Ultrafragola mirror, which translates to “ultimate strawberry” in Italian.
Framed in a millennial-pink vacuum-molded acrylic with cast fibreglass, the statement piece is said to pay homage to women and femininity with its sensual curves that resemble the waves of a woman’s hair. The soft neon glow—courtesy of the embedded neon tubes within the mirror—transforms the mirror when illuminated, adding another layer of charm.
The origins of the Ultrafragola mirror dates back to 1970. Designed by famous Italian architect Ettore Sottsass, the six-foot-tall mirror debuted at Milan’s Eurodomus 3 trade show later that year.
With its bright, whimsical design and playful pattern, the mirror is a tangible artefact of Sottsass’ design ethos. It was part of the Mobili Grigi series, a bedroom collection designed by Sottsass in collaboration with Florentine manufacturer Poltronova. The Ultrafragola would ultimately be the only piece in the collection to move beyond its prototype phase.
The mirror, currently still being produced in Florence by Poltronova with the original 1970 mould, also fashioned the precursor to what some have named as Sottsass’ greatest accomplishment: the formation of the Memphis Group, a Milan design collective that focused on bold and quirky postmodern designs.
Founded by Sottsass on the evening of 11 December 1980, the Memphis group consisted of notable designers the likes of Nathalie Du Pasquier, Massimo Iosa Ghini, Alessandro Mendini, and Shiro Kuramata. The iconic group, active from 1981 to 1987, took the design world by storm. In an era where minimalism reigned, the Memphis group challenged the status quo with their eccentric creations.
They became an influence to designers, artists and even luxury fashion houses like Dior and Missoni, which designed ready-to-wear collections based on the group’s original work. Characterised by punchy colours and geometric shapes, the Memphis Group spawned a maximalist design movement that’s still popular and influential today.
Want to learn more about these iconic designs from the Memphis movement, or shop for these striking designs? We pick out the notable exhibitions, books, and online stores to check out for decor inspiration:
1. Memphis: 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance exhibition
In celebration of the group’s 40th anniversary this year, the Vitra Design Museum has launched an exhibition honouring the influence of the Memphis movement. Titled Memphis: 40 Years of Kitsch and Elegance, the exhibition kickstarted in February this year and will run from now until January 2022. It showcases a range of creations, from furniture, lamps and bowls to drawings, sketches, and photographs that give insight into the world of Memphis design. The exhibition also includes the notable works of several co-founders of the movement, including Sottsass himself.
The museum, which recently reopened in May, is also hosting a series of design talks online; find out more about the movement and other upcoming exhibitions on their Instagram account.
2. Saint Laurent Rive Droite boutique displays
French luxury fashion house Saint Laurent is also celebrating the group with an exhibition that will be hosted across its Rive Droite concept stores in Paris and Los Angeles. Running from now to June 23, the exhibition will display a curated selection of noteworthy pieces like the ring bed designed by Masanori Umeda to the Carlton room divider by Sottsass.
Even if you can't visit the exhibitions abroad, you may still shop the look soon—creative director Anthony Vaccarello has also designed an exclusive capsule collection consisting of hoodies, dresses, sneakers and a shirt. A large selection of home decor, ceramic objects and rare books representing the history and works of Memphis will also be available to be purchased.
3. Alessi 100 Values Collection
While several of Sottsass’s most recognisable designs are in the first Memphis collection, the Italian architect’s other product creations outside of his Memphis designs are estimable as well. Italian manufacturer Alessi hosts several of his kitchenware creations. The retailer also carries the works of other Memphis designers, such as the late Alessandro Mendini’s playful homeware pieces.
To celebrate its 100 year anniversary, Alessi is also rolling out its 100 Values Collection, a special project that introduces new products every month over the course of a year. The first collection kicked off in May 2021 with the inaugural Industrial Craftsmanship series. Featuring a reissue of the Twergi collection, the project features Sottsass’s reinterpretation of kitchen classics with vibrant colour combinations.
The following monthly releases will include further collaborations with other leading designers including Alessandro Mendini, Enzo Mari and Philippe Starck.
4. Collectible books
Reading is the key to knowledge and there's no better place to turn to than books when it comes to discovering more of the Memphis design movement. Philippe Thomé’s Ettore Sottsass, published by Phaidon, is an illustrative showcase of Sottsass’s most prolific works. Thomé, a scholar in the history of architecture and design, explores Sottsass’s entire career spanning the 1940s to 2000s. With more than 800 illustrations and five essays, the book displays a definitive look at Sottsass’s oeuvre, from architecture and product design to his jewellery, sculpture, and graphics projects.
Author and design journalist Claire Bingham has also released a book titled More is More, which explores the Memphis spirit in interiors. Featuring interviews with Memphis group founding members Peter Shire and George Sowden, the book revists the early days of the collective’s beginnings and its legacy today.