Ettore Sottsass was born in Innsbruck in 1917 and studied architecture in Turin from 1935 to 1939. He worked as an architect and designer after WWII. He was artistic director at Poltronova, the furniture and lighting company, in the 1950s. Later on, he started a collaboration with the equipment manufacturer Olivetti, for whom he designed typewriters. The Olivetti Valentine typewriter (1969) is now considered an iconic object and designer classic. The Olivetti Elea (1959), one of the very first mainframe computers, was created by Sottsass.
Before he created the Memphis Group, Sottsass had joined the avant-garde Studio Alchimia, to which the furniture designers Alessandro Mendini and Andrea Branzi belonged, at the end of the 1970s. Together with other like-minded designers, such as Matteo Thun and Michele de Lucchi, he founded the Memphis Group. They advocated for a new design, gave emotions and expressive forms a key role and turned their backs on the at that time prevailing, functional design. The function as light source of Ettore Sottsass'lights stays in the background, while they are expressive designer objects with a decorative character even when their light is turned off.
The Ashoka light, a complex colourful construction, seems to be randomly equipped with incandescent lamps and features a shape unlike any other known light fixture. For Artemide, Sottsass designed Callimaco, an uplighter composed of three, coloured, metallic elements. Artemide Callimaco is now considered a designer classic in Memphis style and on display at the Museum of Modern Art in New York. The Artemide Pausania table lamp with a green shade dating back to 1983 has a high recognition value. Sottsass left the Memphis Group in 1985 to focuss more intensively on the Sottsass Associati architecture and design group where he worked in collaboration with designers like James Irvine and Johanna Grawunder.
Sottsass' designs and works of art owed him numerous successes. Beside numerous prizes, he earned the renowned Compasso d'Oro three times. His works have been honoured with exhibitions in his lifetime and still are, for example in the London Design Museum or in the Vitra Design Museum in Weil am Rhein. Many classics designed by Ettore Sottsass are also displayed in design collections of famous museums.
Sottsass died, aged 90, in 2007 in Milan.