Esprit was known not only for their athletic-inspired clothes and iconic logo, but also for their distinctive store designs. Bursting with bright colors, bold patterns, and layered textures, these immersive environments were the work of Italian architect Ettore Sottsass, a frequent Esprit collaborator and founder of the Memphis Design Group. He started the design house in 1980, with the goal of creating objects and structures that protested against the minimalist ideals dominating the period, which Sottsass had become bored with.
He brought together a group of like-minded architects and designers, developing an over-the-top aesthetic that became a signature of the ‘80s. Like Esprit, Sottsass was interested in creating a community around design, and worked with dozens of collaborators through the years. Their influence was visible across the cultural landscape, from Esprit stores to the sets of Beetlejuice and Saved by the Bell, and can still be felt today.
Below, we share an excerpt on Ettore Sottsass from Esprit’s 40th Anniversary Tome.
In 1981, Ettore Sottsass was part of a movement in Italian design that emphasized more of an emotional approach to design after the technically oriented designs of the seventies: Memphis. The name stood for the idea of melting high culture and pop culture. Doug Tompkins was so fired up about the idea that he had the group create complete shop designs for Esprit stores all over the world. According to Sottsass this was a revolutionary step, as it was not just another stylish concept, but instead stood as an existential metaphor for a whole generation.
Memphis made everything a design object: the legs of tables, umbrella holders, shelves, seats, the area around the cash register. Each piece got its own little column to shine on like a piece of art. Memphis worked with shapes and materials that had been thought of as bad taste before and it toyed around with popular culture, pop icons and punk. Memphis was loud, colourful, carefree, playful and consciously naive; it had an almost shocking presence. The Esprit stores became not only a focal point for fashionistas, but for a design audience all over the world.