Among a selection of designs by Ettore Sottsass (1917-2007) recently sold at auction in the US and Italy is Murmansk silver centrepiece, c.1982, marked 230 VI and 800, 12in (30cm) high, $7000 (£5500), Freemans Hindman, Chicago, May 21.

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With Bob Dylan’s Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again playing on the turntable, a new collective was formed.

Memphis made its swaggering entrance at the 1981 Salone del Mobile design fair in Milan. Bold, brash loud and fun, it stuck two fingers up to brutalism, minimalism and contemporary notions of good taste. This was the start of post-modernism and you either loved it or loathed it.

As Memphis was relatively short lived (the group split after six years together), it was easy to dismiss as the Eighties turned into the Nineties and the Noughties. All those clashing colours and plastic laminates were probably best left to the soft-play centre. One critic memorably called them “a shotgun wedding between Bauhaus and Fisher-Price”.


Memphis Milano stained plywood, laminated wood, gilt and lacquered wood Freemont side cabinet, 1985, $4250 (£3350), Palm Beach Modern Auction, Florida, May 18.

However, as a nostalgia for the 1980s began to return, so Memphis Milano received a new narrative.

Sottsass’ designs in particular – the totemic Carlton room divider in 1981, the Murmansk centrepiece (1982) or his range of ceramic totems – had attracted a cult following.

Memphis Milano continued to manufacture many of the designs, and they sold.

Celebrity endorsement came from the worlds of fashion and popular music. Karl Lagerfeld bought the entirety of Sottsass’ debut collection while David Bowie had amassed more than 400 pieces of Memphis.

Coinciding with the movement’s 30th anniversary, the Victoria & Albert Museum held the exhibition Postmodernism: Style and Subversion, 1970-1990 in 2011, by which time collections assembled in the Eighties were beginning to return to the secondary market.

The Bowie/Collector sale at Sotheby’s in 2016 was particularly influential. While the pricing reflected a rock star provenance, it raised the profile for Eighties design and encouraged many to take a second look. Currently, the market for first iteration works created during the movement’s brief lifespan is particularly vibrant.