HTSI editor’s letter: designing a brighter future

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HTSI editor Jo Ellison © Marili Andre

Memphis Milano, the design movement beloved of ’80s obsessives, shows no sign of going away. And why would it? With its playful shapes and primary colours, its daring, positivity and spirit, we are still irresistibly charmed.

Founded by Ettore Sottsass, who brought together the collective of designers and makers known as the Memphis Group in 1980, the gang first showed together in Milan in 1981. The look – kitsch, bright and modern – caused a sensation: the group’s significant collectors included Karl Lagerfeld and David Bowie.

The group disbanded after only eight years but the legacy continues to be keenly felt, not least on the pages in this week’s spring design special. Forty years after Memphis’ invention, a series of exhibitions, as well as a recreation of a Sottsass-designed Milanese apartment, have opened. In our own homage to the designer, photographer Bruno Staub and stylist Giovanni Dario Laudicina have worked on a cover story inspired by his designs. Menswear this season has already nodded to the ’80s – Bruno and Giovanni have merely added some Memphis pop. If nothing else, it makes me happy. And how often does a bedside light do that?

Carretto trunks and ceramic Sole Collection plates © Stefan Giftthaler

More colour, more exuberance and more Milano mayhem come via designers Domenico Dolce and Stefano Gabbana, who have launched their debut homeware range. They have split the looks into animalia (Zebra and Leopardo), Carretto and Blu Mediterraneo – nodding to Italian tropes that have long defined the brand. Looking at their zebra-flocked sofas and folkloric painted tables, I’m surprised the move has taken them so long. For a label that has always luxuriated in la dolce vita, it makes total sense that the designers’ devotees would want their shoes to match their drapes.

Errol Michael Henry at the piano at Air-Edel Studios © Benjamin McMahon
Dior silk canvas shirt, £1,050, and cotton CD 1947 jeans, £880. John Smedley knitted T-shirt (just seen), £120. Cecilia Bringheli leather Doppio belt, €205. Colonel Moutarde wool socks, €10. Marco Zanini plastic laminate, metal and fabric Dublin couch, 1981, €10,850. Memphis: Plastic Field (Editions Norma, 2019), €39 (published for the MAD Museum Bordeaux’s exhibition Memphis Plastic Field, June 2018 to January 2020) © Bruno Staub

This issue is also an opportunity to celebrate designers who have had to work harder to have their voices amplified. When FT writer Yasmin Jones-Henry told me the story of her father, the sound designer and music producer Errol Michael Henry, I knew immediately that she should share it in HTSI. Errol, the son of Windrush immigrants who arrived in postwar Britain from Jamaica, was early identified as a music prodigy: he began his career in sound design aged 15, and went on to define a distinctive British-Caribbean sound. One of a minority of black designers, in music or in any other industry for that matter, he became a true sound pioneer. He is now using his influence to help other black designers find their sonic truth.

Mimi Shodeinde in her London studio © Adama Jalloh

It’s a similar story with the female designers featured in this issue. Although many new names are now emerging, it’s chastening to realise that only 22 per cent of the design workforce is female (and only five per cent in product or industrial design). Thankfully, the numbers are shifting, often because these designers proactively find opportunities to promote other women in their fields.

Lastly, who wants to plant themselves a meadow? According to Clare Coulson, it might be easier than you think. While natural meadowland across the globe has been terribly eroded, a number of initiatives are being pitched to encourage superblooms in urban fields. It’s especially popular in small urban spaces and rooftop gardens, where they can be easily pollinated by the local fauna. Who knows? If successful, you might even be able to make some meadow honey in a few harvests’ time.

@jellison22

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