The Memphis Design style of clothing in the 1980s is really a unique look that we’ve all seen but not necessarily know much about. The design is instantly recognizable, but did you know there is a complex history behind the fashion as well?
1980s fashion is characterized by neon bright colored clothing, outfits with big shoulder pads, glitter, glam, and everything in your face. One of the biggest fashion trends of the decade was known as the “Memphis Design” fashion style, considered by many to be the defining look of the 80s.
People commonly today refer to this look as “80s retro print”, however the correct name is actually “Memphis Design”. Regardless of how you reference it, the fashion was everywhere in the 1980s, and it was glorious to behold!
Featuring big bold patterns, bright contrasting colors, simple geometric shapes, and kitschy patterns that didn’t make sense, the Memphis Design style was the perfect epitome of the fashion spirit of the time.
Joyful, unique, and challenging the conventional norms of what was considered “good taste,” the style wasn’t just popular in the 80s, but it has even re-emerged as a trendy fashion style today.
Memphis Design Style
The Memphis Design movement was first introduced into the design world in 1981 by a group of artists, headed by Australian-born Italian designer, Ettore Sottsass.
He gathered together a group of artists who came from different parts of the world in his Milan apartment, where they discussed holding an exhibit featuring furniture and sculptures that defied the status quo of minimalism and functionality.
The group of designers wanted to challenge the popular Bauhaus art movement at the time, which had the philosophy of “form follows function.”
The goal of the group was to shake up the art world by challenging design and style norms that were considered to be of “good taste.” And the result was a collection of 55 pieces exhibited at the Salone del Mobile in Milan in 1981.
The Memphis Design movement was rejected commercially for its outrageous and goofy take on design. However with the use of unconventional materials, contrasting colors, nonsensical take on patterns, and bold renditions of practical things, it did create a cult following.
Some of the movement’s fans were fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld, who purchased Sottsass’ full first collection, as well as legendary artist David Bowie, who collected over 400 Memphis Design artworks in his lifetime.
Why Memphis Design Fashion Became Popular
While the movement was a commercial flop, it boomed in popular culture. Memphis Design became a multi-disciplinary inspiration for artists, architects, and fashion designers.
Soon, clothing was printed with bold black and white prints, such as polka dots, zigzag prints, stripes, as well as neon colors that contrasted each other.
The spirit of Memphis Design has always been about fun and joy, and the colors and patterns represented its exciting soul. And these patterns could be found on anything from t-shirts, pants, hats, accessories and more.
The “Memphis Design” was also made popular by MTV who regularly used it in their logos as well. MTV of course was the most popular TV channel for the younger generation during the 1980s, so it was only natural that people would begin creating clothing that featured the “Memphis Design” so often prominently featured by the network.
Though the Memphis Design movement as an art collective waned in 1985, the design became a true style movement that overflowed into many disciplines making it the true epitome of 1980s fashion.
With a radical approach to fashion, it represented the big and bold approach to clothing in the 80s, complete with Art Deco geometric inspirations, 1960s pop art colors, and 1950s kitschy patterns.
Is Memphis Design Style Clothing Still Popular?
Though the Memphis Design style of fashion waned in the 1990s when minimalism became popular, it has enjoyed a resurgence in modern times. Contemporary designers are incorporating the style into their couture collections, such as what Christian Dior did for their 2011 Fall collection.
We also see celebrities from time to time rocking the fashion. For example Katy Perry wore a “Memphis Design” style outfit from the aforementioned Dior show while she accepted an MTV VMA in 2011.
Some of the original Memphis Design movement founders are still active today, creating collections for American Apparel and the famous streetwear line, Supreme.
Fashion is cyclical and although there’s a major love-it-or-hate-it take on Memphis Design, it can’t be denied that the style truly encapsulated the spirit of the 80s.