George James Sowden (b. 1942) was a British designer. He was born in Leeds and active Italy. Between 1960-64 and 1966-68, he studied architecture, at Gloucester College of Arts.
He settled in Milan in 1970, joining the Olivetti studio headed by Ettore Sottsass, where he developed design ideas concerning information technology. In 1981, he was a member of Sottsass’s Memphis group and produced objects and furniture for its collections until 1988, when Memphis closed. He subsequently set up his studio, working independently and with his wife, Nathalie du Pasquier.
He lives and works in an old glass bottle warehouse on the Corso di Porta Nuova in Milan. He shares this with his wife, Nathalie Du Pasquier, a key figure in the Memphis movement herself, and an eight-member design team working for Sowden Design. The line which divides the life and work of Sowden appears to be wafer-thin. The terrazzo-floored studio and kitchen open into each other and almost every piece of furniture, whether it’s a dining table or an office chair, is of Sowden’s design. There is also a payphone in one corner of the studio space that Sowden built for IPM in the 1990s.
Use of Colour
Unlike many British designers, Sowden has no fear of colour. “People are still embarrassed by colour in Britain,” he says, “they seem to think it’s infantile.” If so, then Sowden has given his inner child free rein around the house and the studio; the file cabinets are brightly lit, the clocks are awash with colour, and a frieze of sparkling fabric designs hangs along the walls of the office. “I remember when I was young,” says Sowden, “someone said to me, `Art is all about light and colour’, and coming from Leeds I just couldn’t understand that.” Now, 20 years after he designed his iconic mustard-yellow, red and turquoise D’Antibes cabinet for Memphis, he’s still grappling with the manufacturers about the exact hue in which to make it. “It’s a form of communication,” Sowden said. “For me, colour communicates life.”
Sowden’s tableware designs for Bodum were widely published and famous, including his 1986 stainless-steel fruit bowl, whose pattern was produced by a sophisticated 12-stage stamping process. He had design clients including Lorenz (timepieces with du Pasquier), Olivetti, and Italtel in Italy and Shiznoka in Japan.
Member of the Memphis Group
The Memphis movement (which took its name from the lyrics of Bob Dylan) was, as Sowden describes it, an eruption of “latent energy” Work was so scarce in the bleak 1970s that the collective, which included Sottsass, Matteo Thun, De Lucchi and others, decided it was time to work for themselves. “It was a really a pure statement,” says Sowden, “with no clients questioning what we were doing, we could just express ourselves.” After a few exhibits that stirred up no end of excitement, anger and interest from the likes of Karl Lagerfeld, who furnished his entire apartment with a new look, the manufacturing company Memphis Milano was set up.
His initial 1981 Memphis designs included the D’Antibes cabinet, Pierre table, Oberoi chair, Chelsea bed, Acapulco, Excelsior, and American clocks. They were followed by the 1982 Metropole casement clock and Oriental bed, 1983 Palace armchair, Savoy cabinet, Quadro and Triangolo fabrics, 1985 Mamounia armchair and Potato ceramic platter, 1986 Liverpool and Gloucester armchairs, and 1987 George cabinet.
Hill, A. (2004, June 19). Design & Interiors: Our man in Milan; Albert Hill travelled to Italy to meet George Sowden, the British co-founder of Memphis design and pioneer of `friendly’ electronics. Independent.
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Memphis was a movement in interior design introduced at the annual Milan Furniture Fair in 1981. It consisted of a group led by Memphis guru Ettore Sottass of avant-garde Italian designers. With outrageous interpretations of traditional furnishings and accessories, Memphis shocked the traditionally quiet industry.
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