Monday, November 12, 2007

1980s Furniture Design, via Miami Vice


"I like it, I like it a lot, Izzy," says an English con artist played by Phil Collins to a small time crook who procured him new furniture in an episode of Miami Vice called "Phil the Shill" (1985).

That furniture included the Casablanca shelf unit designed in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass and his Memphis design group and pictured below in a scene from the episode.

"Makes you feel like you're in Florida," says Izzy.

"But we are in Florida, Izzy," replies Phil.
The Memphis design sense seems very south Florida today. But the Memphis group was Milanese. It was founded in 1981 by Ettore Sottsass and Michele De Lucchi. Architect Michael Graves was involved, which shouldn't surprise anyone -- his design sense hasn't evolved much.


According to Claudia Neumann's Design Directory: Italy:
"The group, which found an enthusiastic sponsor in Ernesto Gismondi, the head of Artemide, came upon its name by accident -- Bob Dylan's Memphis Blues was playing on the stereo during one of their informal meetings. They initially focused on producing objects in small series and questioned criteria such as feasibility, usabilty and profitability. But Memphis did not remain anti-indsutrial for long. The "Memphis style" was soon widely imitated and heavily marketed."
The group broke up in the late 80s, but the furniture has made a sort of a comeback from its status as dated design kitsch -- at least in the sense that it's being pursued by serious collectors now.

The look was not entirely new -- it all sort of resembles the Dutch De Stijl movement from the late 1910s, and in particular, Gerrit Rietveld's Red and Blue Chair from 1917 (pictured at left).

Memphis, at least on the surface, may be seen as continuation of the De Stijl aesthetic -- if it was taken to a whimsical and intentionally un-practical extreme. The chairs around the glass table in front of the Casablanca shelf unit look a lot like Reitveld's chair. I couldn't identify them.


If there's an heir to Memphis, it's Droog, a Dutch collective that started in 1993. It was founded by Gijs Bakker and Renny Ramakers. The 'You Can't Lay Down Your Memory' Chest of Drawers at right was designed by Tejo Remy.

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