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A Reason to Celebrate the Return of 80s Design Trends

On the occasion of Memphis designer Ettore Sottsass’ 100th b-day, we seek out all the confetti, shoulder pads and champagne we can get our hands on

By Sara Cunningham

They’re here. Yes, you guessed it: the 80s are back.

Think power suits, palms trees, pastels, outrageous floral patterns, voluminous sleeves, pink flamencos and a lot of squiggles. In other words, all the trends that made the 80s so extra, all over again.

Fittingly, this year marks the 100th birthday of Ettore Sottsass, founder of the Memphis Group and champion of 80s Italian cool. His 100th b-day inspired retrospectives at the the Met Breuer in New York, an exhibition of his glasswork in Venice, and an exhibition at the Milan Triennial devoted purely to black-and-white monographs of the designer in architectural spaces.

Ettore Sottsass
Ettore Sottsass’ iconic table lamp set the tone for many whimsical 80s trends.

Active from 1981-1987, Sottsass and his team of designers and architects inserted loud colours, mixed materials (think metal beams and puffy upholstery) and satirical shapes into everyday settings. Their products and furniture confidently embraced garishness, turning the previous generation’s stuffy living room aesthetic on its head. One iconic item is the parrot-shaped “Tahiti” table lamp by Sottsass that features a pink head, red beak, yellow body, black claws, plus a bronze handle and an iconic ‘bacteria’ printed base — a pattern likely responsible for the current appetite for sprinkles.

Don’t believe us? Look no further than these playful fridge magnets from local act Alisa Maria Wronski:

At heart, Memphis subverted modernism’s buttoned-up idea of ‘good taste.’ And as the “Tahiti” lamp demonstrates, the familiar adage that form must follow function.

The Spring 2018 Pantone Colours signal a bright future.


As we shake off the sombre palette that attenuated our most recent economic nosedive, we see that same impulse creeping its way back into interior design. Case in point: you might want to dip your brush into the Pantone Spring 2018 trend report. It includes vibrant, Memphis-esque swatches with names like Ultra Violet, Lime Punch and Cherry Tomato.

Paper Display & Self-Expression Card Kit from Good Thing hits all the right notes for those in an 80s party mood.


It’s no coincidence that Toronto seems to be in the midst of an 80s design craze of its own: we saw soft pastels and confetti adorning restaurants such as La Palma in Toronto (watch out for our upcoming look book). We also saw terrazzo tiles bleeding from TTC platforms into trendy cafés – like Tiffany Pratt’s Café CanCan on Harbord St (pictured below), as well as in Tokyo Smoke’s Queen W location, albeit in a much more subdued form. And everywhere you look, we see tropical plants struggling to survive in dim indoor lighting (try Mulberry Bar on Bloor W for a refined taste of the tropics).

Ten years after Will Aslop raised the roof with OCAD’s colourful Sharp Centre for Design, a building that might just feel at home in a Memphis exhibition, Toronto’s threshold for fun has inched ever higher, much like the layers in the birthday cake inspired by 80s kid’s parties at Milkbar (pictured below).

A post shared by milk bar (@milkbarstore) on

Yup, our grey city feels ready to party again, 80s style.

Categories: DL Dispatch

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