Some might say with the current state of affairs as they are, we’re living out a sort of 1980s surrealist dream. Trump is president, relations with Russia are tense, it’s a weird time. So, we may as well party like it’s 1987!
The surrealist Palais Bulles (Bubble Palace) designed by architect Antti Lovag, completed in 1989.
revival of the 80s
The Memphis Group
They say history repeats itself, and no place is that truer than design. The 1980s are often thought of as the perfect decade to forget. Throw out the clothes, hair, and politics to start from the cool - if slightly angsty - 1990s clean slate. But there is a lot to learn from a decade marked by vivid colours, bold patterns, and overall excess. Much like the world at the time, designers were entrenched in questions about accessibility, disposability and mass production. Few answered this call more spectacularly than the Memphis Group. In 1981 a young, rebellious collective of Italian artists and designers sat around listening to the Dylan song on repeat until an idea occurred, one that was undoubtedly produced during that perfect axis between early hours and substances: let’s make some whacky sh*t. Led by Ettore Sottsass, the group produced an exuberant, bold, and ultimately divisive body of work until they disbanded a short 7 years later in 1988. Critics panned their aesthetic as juvenile and gaudy, while taste-makers like Karl Lagerfeld filled entire French apartments exclusively in the group’s arresting designs.
While some of the geometric prints and kitschy colours stayed in the 80s, the group's influence has never fully faded, and in fact became a cultural touchstone most millennials would recognize. The beloved Max’s Diner on Saved by the Bell was inspired by the Memphis Group. Nathalie Du Pasquier, a former Memphis member, has designed a collection for American Apparel in 2014, and inspired a line at West Elm in 2015. Alessandro Mendini, who debuted with the collective at the Milan furniture fair in 1981, designed a set of skateboards for Supreme in 2016.
Surprisingly the groups philosophy - although translated into big, loud, plastic furniture and installations - was heavily inspired by Sottsass's time in Southern India, where he ruminated on the local’s relationship with the items in the home, often placing more value on the objects’ contribution to one’s life over some sort of monetary value. He wanted to create items with the emphasis on how they made their users feel, over their functionality or price. The irony is he found an audience in the newly rich Miami crowd.
Throughout the 1980s Miami's Art Deco District enjoyed a revitalization period, facades were restored and painted in pastel hues.
1980s Miami proved to be a perfect backdrop for a budding aesthetic shift, producing the kind of chicken-and-egg dynamic that often exemplifies the early days of a movement. The place influenced the people and the people influenced the place. Money poured in and with it demand for novelty, sophistication, and style. Designers flocked in to answer the call, working with the city’s existing art deco architecture but loosening it up with pastel paints for day and neon lights for night. Television shows like Miami Vice - with their cheery colours, and penchant for jungle prints - made it impossible for anyone to get away from a look that started to creep into mainstream consciousness.
80s Revival in Retail and Hospitality Design
And in the mainstream, it has truly remained. Warm brass, cool pastels, and geometric prints all rule contemporary design. Retail and hospitality reap the benefits of these designs to create clean, minimalist spaces that exude a retro-charm while keeping an arms-length cool. And in a way, even Sottsass's seemingly contrarian philosophy of how the objects in our life make us feel rising over the noise of the materialistic 80s era mirrors our own contemporary duality. We try to fill our spaces with things that bring us joy, while simultaneously filtering our most Instagram-able angles against the jungle-print walls of Toronto’s local restaurants.
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written by: Alona Glikin
edited by: Ania Trica