Saint Laurent Flirts With Memphis

Creative director Anthony Vaccarello drops a capsule collection that melds the fashion house’s classic Parisian sensibilities with the uninhibited, ultra-graphic patterns of the Italian design group.

Tawaraya Ring (1981) by Masanori Umeda. All photography courtesy of Saint Laurent

At first, the hallmarks of Saint Laurent—skinny black suits, sharp tailoring, and a Parisian chicness—seem like a far cry from Memphis Milano’s electric colors and ultra-graphic patterns. While the two indeed make for an odd pairing, the French fashion house’s creative director Anthony Vaccarello has found more common ground in the two than we ever thought imaginable. The label recently unveiled a capsule collection of bold garments, graphic sneakers, and glass vases that melds the fashion house’s Parisian-chic sensibilities with the Italian design group’s clashing maximalism. “I’ve always been attracted by the distinctive non-ordinary forms of Memphis artworks; their colorful and playful design breaks the standard rules,” Vaccarello tells Vogue. “Memphis was ahead of its time. [Its] design mocks its serious ambitions, reversing common preconceptions with irony.”

The radical design collective, which was centered around Ettore Sottsass, first launched four decades ago as an antidote to understated, clean-lined modernism, which had dominated design in the decades prior. The group’s most memorable pieces skewed cartoonish and purposely nonfunctional—the totemic Carlton Bookcase and the boxing ring–shaped Tawaraya Bed being key examples—to elicit an emotional response and carve out new possibilities for how design should look and feel. Though the short-lived group disbanded in 1987, its aesthetics have proven widely influential, even within the fashion realm; Memphis informed both Dior’s 2011-2012 haute couture collection and Missoni’s 2015 ready-to-wear winter collection. And recently, while most of us were confined to our homes during the pandemic, Memphis experienced somewhat of a resurgence among those seeking playful, eccentric alternatives to spice up their lackluster living spaces.

Vaccarello’s capsule collection dials into this energy with gusto. The fashion house’s classic models prove an ideal conduit for the electric spirit of Memphis to thrive, no matter how unexpected the collaboration may seem. Two colorblocked and checkered hoodies draw directly from Sottsass’s Tahiti Lamp; his Bacterio squiggles, meanwhile, festoon a hot pink buttoned shirt, pleated sun dress, and Lavallière-neck dress in a sultry silk. Glass and ceramic vases by the likes of Nathalie du Pasquier, Matteo Thun, and Masanori Umeda round out the offerings—even when, as GQ notes, some might be shaped like a toilet brush. And out-of-print books about the movement, such as founding member Barbara Radice’s exhaustive 1988 tome Memphis: Research, Experiences, Failures, and Successes of New Design were reissued for the occasion.  

In addition to the collection, Vaccarello is hosting an exhibition at Saint Laurent Rive Droite’s two outposts in Paris (213 Rue Saint Honoré) and Los Angeles (469 Rodeo Drive). Some of Memphis Milano’s most recognizable pieces, along with a curated selection of homewares, ceramic objects, and textile accessories will all be available for purchase. The exhibition runs through June 23.

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