Tuesday, 1 January 2008

The death of the cool

Architect and designer Ettore Sottsass, 1917 - 31st December, 2007

He once said, "When I was young, all we ever heard about was functionalism, functionalism, functionalism. It’s not enough. Design should also be sensual and exciting."

On the 11th of December 1980 Sottsass organised a meeting to form a design collaborative. It would be named Memphis after the Bob Dylan song 'Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again', which had been playing during the evening. The irony that Memphis was not only once the cultural cradle and capital of ancient Egypt, but also the name of Elvis Presley's birthplace was not lost on the group.
Love it or hate it, Memphis helped to set the tone for the 1980s and created a new aesthetic that is still evolving today. A reaction against the slick, black humorless design of the 1970's. The Memphis Group offered bright, colourful, shocking pieces that attempted to revitalise Radical Design and blur the boundaries between high and low culture. The ironic use of mundane materials elevated the pieces into a new art fad. Making Memphis the byword for downtown chic.

Carlton cabinet for Memphis, 1981

Valentine, portable typewriter - Ettore Sottsass, 1969.
In the permanent design collection of the Museum of Modern Art, New York

Abat-Jour Table Lamp
B&B Italia

Now playing: Bob Dylan - Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again
via FoxyTunes

Now playing: Simply Red - The Death of the Cool
via FoxyTunes


Mrs. Blandings said...

A great post - and a new subject for me - thanks for the continuing ed.

The Peak of Chic said...

Definitely the end of an era. Unfortunately I was too young to have been exposed to Memphis during its heyday, but I do have an appreciation for it. Did I just read that Kelly Wearstler has a Carlton cabinet?? Perhaps we'll see a Memphis revival?

Paul Pincus said...

A truly great post. Over the past couple of years we have begun to see a Sottsass / Memphis revival!...especially in the work of Jaime Hayon.

What is wonderful about the great life of Sottsass is that his work and eye was appreciated during his life...and that is the most important gift we can give to the creative visionaries among us!!!

R.I.P. Ettore!