The founding member of the Memphis Group is riding a wave of nostalgia for the postmodernist pioneers, reworking 1980s patterns and launching new textile designs
“It begins in the simplest of ways – there is a piece of paper and little by little it gets filled,” says Milan-based French artist and designer Nathalie Du Pasquier. We’re standing in front of a series of columns covered in Du Pasquier’s patterns, in the showroom of Anglo-Danish brand Wrong for Hay.
“It is not so different to a doodle really – I just have a sense to cover a surface. It is the same with the colours – I don’t think about it, I just do it.” It is a humble description, considering Du Pasquier’s “doodles” have a place in design’s history books. The designer moved to Milan in 1979, around the time that Italian designer Ettore Sottsass was rallying together a group to launch an attack on modernism, armed with brightly coloured laminate and asymmetric forms and patterns.
In 1981, this revolutionary collective launched as the Memphis Group, and Du Pasquier – among the founding members – collaborated with her boyfriend, British designer George Sowden, to design textile patterns and furniture. In 1987, as interest in the postmodern movement waned, Du Pasquier forged a new career as a painter, gaining success in the Chinese art market.
“But actually at the moment it has become extremely difficult to sell paintings – I have moved back into design mainly for economic reasons,” she says. The designer was preparing a book about her work in the 1980s when Wrong for Hay creative director Sebastian Wrong first visited.
“There were all these sheets around with old patterns. This is what he wanted, so I said, ‘Yeah, why not!’” As well as reworking former patterns, she has since developed new printed and embroidered textiles for the brand. Her resurrection did not pass without a few cynical murmurs: why bring Du Pasquier back into the design world now, with the same kind of work she was making in the 80s?
Was this just an opportunity to exploit the Memphis brand name? What does this turn to postmodern styling even mean today, stripped of the original movement’s political context? But the questions were best answered by the sheer numbers of people walking around Milan sporting tote bags adorned with Du Pasquier’s prints.
It seemed that fair-goers, like Wrong for Hay, were game for a little Memphis nostalgia. Du Pasquier has also designed a line for US fashion label American Apparel and products for Australian brand Third Drawer Down. What does she make of this renewed interest? She meets the question with a bit of a shrug. For her, it is quite simple: across her work, there is an occupation with representing volumes.
“I’m interested in the form of things – I’m not interested in telling a story,” she says. Depending on the outcome – design or painting – she says her mindset is different. “I have two sides of my brain. It is the same side that makes the patterns and the 3D pieces,” she says, referring to what she calls her “constructions”: painted wooden blocks assembled into compositions that are sometimes useful, often useless, and vary from the size of a room to something for a tabletop.
“I draw shapes, I cut them out, I try them on different grounds, like a collage,” she explains. Whether the collage is materialised flat, as a pattern, or built in 3D wooden blocks simply depends on her mood. While Du Pasquier’s patterns are eventually fed into a computer ahead of production, her working process is entirely hands-on.
“This pattern is very architectural” – she points to a column covered in what looks like a game of Tetris with brutalist buildings. “It’s sort of a bit wobbly,” she says, referring to the hand-drawn lines. “I thought maybe it should all be with straight lines, so I tried with a ruler. But I preferred this one.” “I’m enjoying it,” she reflects on her return to design. “My work is about these two things – building completely abstract things, and then representing them in paint, because I like the quiet of painting. I don’t want to destroy this balance. It is my secret to felicity.”