Spotlighting Alessandro Mendini’s Memphis precursor

The Magic of Alchimia

By Wava Carpenter

The name Memphis has become a catch-all for radical 1980s design. But we’d like to take a moment to reminisce over Alessandro Mendini’s immense contribution to this iconic era—and his influential role in the design studio that spawned the Memphis phenomenon.

Studio Alchimia was founded in Milan in 1976—prior to the birth of Memphis—amid the “anti-design” (i.e. anti-Bauhaus design) atmosphere that took hold in Milan beginning in the late ’60s. Mendini not only joined the collective’s efforts, but also became its most active and articulate voice. Of course, soon-to-be Memphis star Ettore Sottsass also participated in Alchimia, but these two visionary and outspoken architect-designers began to butt heads over whether they should put their postmodern ideas into production on an industrial scale. Sottsass believed so; Mendini did not. And so they parted ways.

Both Sottsass and Mendini were fighting against the same soullessness they saw in modernist-era design. But Sottsass seems to have become the go-to reference point for this movement. And while we also can’t get enough of Sottsass, one mustn’t forget for a moment the massive imprint Mendini and Alchimia left on our collective design unconscious.


  • Text by

    • Wava Carpenter

      Wava Carpenter

      After studying Design History, Wava has worn many hats in support of design culture: teaching design studies, curating exhibitions, overseeing commissions, organizing talks, writing articles—all of which informs her work now as Pamono’s Editor-in-Chief.

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