Ettore Sottsass – The Godfather Of Modern Design

Ettore Sottsass – The Godfather Of Modern Design Image

It is hard to talk about Italian design without mentioning the name, Sottsass. This is a man who did everything there possibly is to be called a visionary. If it is about rules, he broke each one of them and curved his own niche to produce visually stimulating things on which his legacy is built.

Sottsass Early Life 

Ettore Sottsass was born in Innsbruck, Austria in 1917 to a professional architect, Ettore Sottsass Sr. Inspired by the desire to have his son become a successful architect Sottsass Sr saw it fit to raise his son in the architecture-rich Turin so that he could be surrounded by much needed knowledge. So in 1929 he moved the family to Turin, Italy. However, the young Ettore, already a ‘voracious photographer and drawing maker’, had other ambitions of becoming a painter but eventually gave it up in favor of his father’s plan to make him an architect.

Ettore Sottsass – The Godfather Of Modern Design Image
Amaltea, Astemelusa And Ananke Executed By Campania Vetraria Muranese  For Memphis – 1986

Mid-life And Later Career

Eventually Sottsass did join Politecnico di Torino and graduated in architecture. But as soon as he was out, he was unwillingly drafted into the army where he ended up in a prison camp for the most part of World War II. In the aftermath of the war, Sottsass went back to his father’s firm where he worked until he moved to Milan in 1946 to start a design exhibition. He remained passionate on anything creative; from curating to designing theatre sets and painting to writing for design magazines, he was for anything he could get his hands on.

The Move To New York And A New Inspiration

In 1956 Sottsass made the one decision that would completely change his life and inspire a revolution in design fraternity. With his wife, Fernanda Pivano, he went on a trip to New York that where he spent a month working for designer George Nelson. It is Nelson who influenced Sottsass to devote his career to product design.

Ettore Sottsass – The Godfather Of Modern Design Image
Olivetti Valentina Typewriter By Ettore Sottsass For Olivetti – 1968

On his return to Italy, architect and designer Ettore Sottsass worked on several projects and while he designed some of the most iconic electronic products Olivetti, ho fame for his role in leading the Memphis collective a group who adopted clean bright colors and sharp geometric shapes in all their objects. The Memphis style would peak in fame in the 1980s and permanently be associated with the time and the designers of the time.

The Memphis Collective 

Sottsass led the group of younger architects and designers who included; Martine Bedin, Michele De Lucchi, Aldo Cibic, Marco Zanini and Matteo Thun. The group aimed to unshackle designers from the obvious tyranny of mainstream design practice of the earlier part of the twentieth century.

Memphis Group | Splendid, Colorful And Alluring image
Memphis Group | Splendid, Colorful And Alluring


The curtains came down on Ettore Sottsass’ prolific and transformative career on the 1st of January, 2008 aged 90. He devoted his entire life to creating useful objects that inspire people in both the present and the future, making unrivalled contributions to modern design in a way that immortalizes him. It is for a good reason he is called the godfather of modern design.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *