Saint Laurent’s New Memphis Collab Harnesses the Weird Magic of Italian Design

The new collaboration between Yves Saint Laurent and radical design and architecture collective Memphis Milano seems at first an odd pairing. Launched for Memphis’ 40th anniversary, the partnership—crepe de chine shirts, ceramic and glass vases, ties, ashtrays, fruit bowls, even some denim—purports to tie in Memphis’ clashing maximalism to Saint Laurent’s sometimes body-hugging, always burnished kind of design.

Memphis, which disbanded in 1987 but has seen a major resurgence in recent years among folks who either like big pastel mirrors or hate mid-modern furniture, has always had a foothold in fashion—Missoni and Dior have built off their patterns—but Saint Laurent, known for its skinny black suit, isn’t the first name that would come to mind for a partnership. But while creative director Anthony Vaccarrello’s designs have traditionally been sharp, and uncomplicated, his spring 2021 menswear collection is, as Rachel Tashjian noted, “something else,” a departure from his old slinky garments and a jump from that pencil tie aesthetic. The collab hints at a lot of things: Vaccarrello’s evolution as a designer, Memphis’ deep influence in just about everything, the strange, beguiling ways furniture and fashion interact.

A party shirt from the new capsule.

Saint Laurent

Memphis, centered around Italian designer Ettore Sottsass and named after a Bob Dylan lyric, launched 40 years ago as a rebuke to modernism. The group’s designs are about the furthest thing imaginable from a black suit. Their innovations—bright color shocks, distinctly unuseful shapes, ornate, punchy details, terrazzo—were almost cartoony. The most immediately recognizable pieces (the exploding, ornate Carlton bookcase and the Tawaraya bed, the size and shape of a boxing ring) were less furniture than reproaches to it, arguments against function and utility.

Gaudiness and color jump out from the capsule collection, too. Two colorblocked hoodies, based off Sottsass’ Tahiti lamp, put an unusually luxurious spin on TikTok mansionwear. Others shine. An ashtray shaped like the Tawaraya bed is likely the only way to get that design in your home; a couple of pitch-perfect ties are affordable entryways into the look. The vases, even the one built a little bit like a toilet brush, are all well-considered: they’re pared down plays on the group’s sculptures, smooth and easy in the way good capsule collection pieces should be. There is a tote bag that’s just about perfect, a shirt that plays superbly off Sottsass’ old Bacterio squiggles, and a couple pairs of loud, squiggly sneakers that look somewhere between the brand’s SL24 and old Troops. The shoes might not win the hearts of hypebeasts, but they’re the purest encapsulations of Memphis’ design risks: Is this stuff good, or is it bad?

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