Cat Snodgrass remembers the first Memphis pieces she ever saw. “It might have been 2014,” she tells me over email. “I had a full set of four Memphis First Chairs by Michele De Lucchi. They’re not only the first chairs I acquired, their name is quite literally the Memphis First Chair. Those are a lot of fun.” She quickly became entranced, and the San Francisco native quit her job at a record label two years later to pursue her side hustle of buying and selling Postmodern objects and furniture full-time. Bi-Rite Studio was born, and enjoyed rapid-fire success thanks to its curated, curvy, and colorful roster inspired by her Memphis forebears.
Now, Bi-Rite will welcome Memphis Milano to its permanent roster, becoming a purveyor of the radical Italian movement’s array of furniture within North America. (Some ceramics can also be found atThe Future Perfect.) It’s a strategic move—Bi-Rite’s audience “is such a fan of Memphis, but so far only from a historical context,” Snodgrass says. “Most of our customers weren’t aware that these designs are still being produced today, so it felt like an opportunity to reintroduce Memphis as a contemporary brand.” That means getting your hands on highly coveted pieces—George Sowden’s eclectic Palace Chair and the vehicular Super Lamp by Martine Bedin are two standouts—is no longer a pipe dream for young Stateside collectors.
Her favorite find? The Mimosa Table, an eye-catching Ettore Sottsass piece whose delicate pastel blues, yellows, and pinks soften its rigid geometries. Lesser-known within the Memphis trailblazer’s oeuvre, the cubic table “is such a simple design, but has so much graphic impact that it almost looks like a rendering in person,” says Snodgrass, who strove to mix the classics with more obscure finds. “Mimosa was one of these unsung Sottsass designs that somehow stayed under the radar. You don’t often see these.”
That may be because the movement was relegated to near-obscurity when the members disbanded in the late ‘80s after Postmodern iconoclasm gave way to the following decade’s austerity and struggled to maintain commercial success. While the movement has enjoyed a major resurgence in popularity (thanks in part to the Met Breuer’s invigorating retrospective of Sottsass in 2017, ten years after he died), ownerAlberto Bianchi Albrici argues that it never quite fizzled out. Many seminal pieces have been in constant production for more than 35 years, and Memphis graphics were even embraced on the runway by Celine, Alexander McQueen, and Proenza Schouler in 2014—proof of the movement’s resounding influence on other creative disciplines, even if it wasn’t super visible within design proper during its off-decades. Younger aesthetes started gravitating toward Memphis and its influences even more during the pandemic lockdown, when infusing their staid living spaces with exuberant pops of color became top of mind.
Bi-Rite, of course, was there to deliver. Most of the company’s sales happen online, though Snodgrass is maintaining a bricks-and-mortar presence with an expanded showroom currently under construction in Bushwick, Brooklyn, that will serve as an ever-evolving venue to fine-tune ideas she’s been vamping on since the beginning when it opens this winter. Memphis pieces will appear alongside Bi-Rite’s standard fare of vintage 1970s finds and the brand’s recently launched in-house collection of tubular steel bookends and adaptable tables.
“We view design as an opportunity to be adventurous,” Snodgrass says. “That’s what Postmodernism was all about: rejecting the classical approach and stretching the boundaries of the audience it’s made for. Bi-Rite does this through concept and branding, while Memphis achieved this with a completely unique approach to design. What they were doing hadn’t been done before. And that’s my inspiration every day for Bi-Rite.”