Design: Wild Beat of Memphis

Bizarre new furniture sets trends, but makes the critics carp

Whether turning out sleek cameras or sophisticated cars, Italy has been the acknowledged capital of industrial design for a decade. Products penciled on Milan drawing boards seem to appear in museum collections even before they reach the assembly line. Now, thanks to a furniture group called Memphis, Milan is also the focus of the design world's hot new controversy.

The informal consortium of some 30 designers from eight countries has provoked some of the fiercest skirmishes since 1926, when U.S. Customs agents pondered whether...

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