Memphis Is Back: A New Pop-Up and Exhibit Storms Into Seattle

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By Anna Squier
Memphis Milano at Nordstrom's flagship store revives the bold, postmodern design movement of the '80s with a curated exhibition and gift shop.

A reaction against the subdued designs of minimalism, the Memphis movement transformed cheap, affordable materials into vibrant furnishings and daring decor. Formed by designer Ettore Sottsass and a group of young designers in Milan in 1982, the movement stretched the creative limits of the design industry—introducing colors, patterns, and shapes in wacky, exuberant ways. 

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Memphis Milano pops up in Nordstrom's flagship Seattle location. 

Memphis Milano pops up in Nordstrom's flagship Seattle location. 

Today, the hallmarks of Memphis design—think squiggles, geometry, and unrestrained color—are back in full force. The most recent evidence of this can be seen at the flagship Nordstrom in Seattle, which is hosting a curated exhibit and pop-up shop of iconic Memphis pieces and contemporary, Memphis-inspired designs. For the event, Nordstrom vice president of creative projects, Olivia Kim, brought in assistance from Keith Johnson, one of the Memphis movement's original collectors and founder of Urban Architecture

Riviera by Michele De Lucchi (1981)

Riviera by Michele De Lucchi (1981)

Park Lane by Ettore Sottsass (1983) and Bel Air Armchair by Peter Shire (1982)

Park Lane by Ettore Sottsass (1983) and Bel Air Armchair by Peter Shire (1982)

In tune with the Memphis notion of fun, the exhibit titled Memphis Milano is nothing short of that. It is a new, exciting experience for shoppers that blurs the line between the modern retail scene, and art and design. The exhibit displays as many designers as possible from the original collective, including key pieces from Peter Shire and Michele De Lucchi. In the gift shop, an assortment of enamel pins, paper products, and home decor items offer modern Memphis design at an affordable price. 

Ashoka Lamp by Ettore Sottsass (1981)

Ashoka Lamp by Ettore Sottsass (1981)

Shop the Look
MEMPHIS Milano Carlton Mini Room Divider
MEMPHIS Milano Carlton Mini Room Divider
A miniature version of Ettore Sottsass's iconic Carlton room divider, this vibrant handcrafted piece combines a space divider, shelves and drawers for a sculptural, avant-garde effect.
MEMPHIS Milano Tahiti Lamp
MEMPHIS Milano Tahiti Lamp
Designed by Ettore Sottsass in 1981, this exuberant lamp features a bright, pivoting ducklike head mounted on a confetti-patterned base.
MEMPHIS Milano Small Tomato Ceramic Serving Tray
MEMPHIS Milano Small Tomato Ceramic Serving Tray
Designed by Michele de Lucchi in 1985, this striking ceramic server pairs bright spots, cool patterning and curvy sides for a bold graphic effect.
Carlton by Ettore Sottsass (1981)

Carlton by Ettore Sottsass (1981)

"Retailers need to rethink the way they are engaging customers," says Kim. "Nordstrom continues to be a relevant and constantly developing company that strives to educate, inspire, and excite its customers." Memphis Milano captures a magical moment in design history and celebrates its modern-day influence through a collaborative display of fun, radical design. 

Titicaca Small & Ladoga Small by Matteo Thun (1982)

Titicaca Small & Ladoga Small by Matteo Thun (1982)

Ginza Cabinet by Masanori Umed (1982)

Ginza Cabinet by Masanori Umed (1982)

Memphis Milano runs at Nordstrom in downtown Seattle through October 28. Ready to liven up your home? Shop our Memphis-inspired style guide.