Marva Griffin – Design Is in My DNA

Marva Griffin – founder and irreplaceable organizer of Salone Satellite, mentor of hundreds of young designers around the world

Interview: Tsvetana Shipkova

She is one of the most influential names in the world of design, creator of the unique platform for launching young designers Salone Satellite which has not been ousted ever since its creation in 1998. Marva Griffin has been the face of the exhibition for 21 years and many popular designers are grateful to her for the support they receive at the start of their career. She was born in Venezuela, came to Italy as a student and soon started to work for Piero Ambrogio Busnelli, the founder of C&B Italia – one of the emblematic Italian designer companies which later became B&B Italia. Her work is a true design university – she travels a lot, communicates with legendary Italian designers like Mario Bellini, Tobia Scarpa, Renzo Piano. Then she became a journalist and naturally wrote about design in different international magazines. This was the natural path to her work for Cosmit – an organization which organizes the Milan Furniture Fair where her extreme erudition and good contacts with all actors in the field of design – artists, manufacturers, media, gradually led her to the work of her lifetime – Salone Satellite. 21 years later Marva Griffin is an influential figure, an artist who has won the biggest Italian prize in the field of design – Compasso d’Oro and the gold medal of her favourite city Milan – Ambrogino d’Oro.

MD: When you were a kid, what were you dreaming to become?

Marva Griffin: My dream was to work for a magazine and I did, exactly in the magazine I used to buy with my pocket money when I was 10 years old!!!

MD: How did you become interested in design?

Marva Griffin: It was a natural development – design is in my DNA. My taste for beautiful things which are also functional.

MD: How was the idea about Salone Satellite born?

M.G. In the late 1990s it was very difficult for young designers at the start of their career to build up contacts with furniture manufacturers. Some managed to rent exhibition space in a gallery or a little nook somewhere in Milan in order to participate in the events in the city – the so called Fuorisalone. They would spend loads of money without having any guarantee that they would meet and establish contact with manufacturers, journalists or any other interesting people. So, there would come a time when they would realize that their only chance is to be part of Salone where manufacturers could see their projects and prototypes. In November 1997 Manlio Armelini – the general manager of COSMIT ( the organization behind Salone) asked me to create an event which could help young and talented designers who are at the start of their career to meet in person those who come to the Furniture Salon – manufacturers, international specialized media, thousands of visitors. This was how ever since its establishment Salone Satelline turned into an observatory of international youth creativity without a match. Since then more than 10 000 young designers and 300 design schools and universities from around the world have met every April on this important stage.

MD: A number of internationally famous designers made their debut at Salone Satellite. Which names do you remember best?

M.G. There are many. A lot of young people started their career at Salone Satellite immediately after their graduation and today, they are well-known designers globally. Satyendra Parkhale from India, Oki Sato from Japan, Big Game from Switzerland, Diego Grandi from Italy, Sebastian Herkner from Germany, Xuberance Studio from China, Patrick Jouin from France, Harri Koskinen from Finland, Xavie Lust from Belgium and many, many others. I still meet many of them, they share their achievements with me and this makes me very happy.

MD.: Nowadays there are a lot of exhibitions of young designers organized all around the world but Salone Satellite is still a special place. What makes the Milan show such a special event?

M.G.: This is a Sallone event in Milan, which is the biggest furniture fair in the world, but I think that this is a question you should ask the designers. To our surpise the concept of the event was copied by several well-known trade exhibitions around the world which invite young designers to participate promising them gold. Salone Satellite, however, remains the most desired event because of its connection with the Italian furniture and lighting manufacturers who try to work with designers from all around the world.

MD: What, in your opinion, do young designers need today?

M.G.: I think that young people who want to build such a career should first of all choose a very good school and university where they start their studies in design and then continue, expressing their creativity.

MD: Last year there were Bulgarian participants in Salone Satellite for the first time. What did you think about their work?

M.G.: Yes, the “Cherga” design group participated in Salone Satellite in 2017 and presented interesting products in different styles but with common goals.

MD: How has design changed over the past years?

M.G.: It has changed and is still changing. Let me remind you that design is the oldest industry in the world.

MD: How have designers who participate in Salone Satellite changed?

M.G.: The quality of the exhibits has improved a lot. Designers are eager to learn. New materials get introduced. Some are interested in digital technology, others are focused on handmade products. All follow the trends and are well prepared! Many are organized like small firms and the products are made with extreme care. Naturally, designers are not permitted to sell their works during the fair but we collaborate with the big Milan department store La Rinascente which orders the best products they have and sell them by Christmas.

MD: You are a journalist – in our job there is no ‘former’ and you have been responsible for the relations of Salone with the international media. What is the cliché you hear about design?

M.G.: I guess that everything is design. This label has lately been stuck on everything in all areas but design should not be devalued. It should serve its specific goal. Design means looking for order in conjunction with good ideas.

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Published interview in MD 2/18

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