The founder of SaloneSatellite talks emerging talents and Milan

Marva Griffin

While the massive global design event that is Milan Design Week remains vital for top commercial brands, it has also emerged as a podium for cultural, institutional, and experimental entities. Joining the already enormous Salone del Mobile furniture fair is the rigorous Fuorisalone program: hundreds of exhibitions that infiltrate the entire city.

Cutting through this stratified cacophony are students and emerging designers. Many of whom make their debut in Milan. Though major schools like the Design Academy Eindhoven, ECAL, and the Royal College of Art have long exhibited their top pupils during the week-long event, the true and undeterred pioneer of this talent-driven focus has always been Marva Griffin.

Founding the SaloneSatellite in 1998, the P.R. and editorial doyenne established a new kind of platform. Still today, the Salone del Mobile annex showcase aims to promote work by young designers and recent graduates under 35. The event has showcased over 10-thousand creatives since its inception over 20-years ago. It has helped launch the careers of many industry leaders.

With a particular focus on food, this year’s SaloneSatellite featured close to a hundred furniture, lighting, and accessory designers from across the globe. This roster was selected by a robust committee including New York designer Stephen Burks, Italian design critic Beppe Finessi, Milan designer Francesca Lanzavecchia, Zanotta president Giuliano Mosconi, Pedrali CEO Monica Pedrali, and architect Ricardo Bello Dias. AN Interior spoke to Griffin about Milan, The SaloneSatellite, and how both have evolved.

In it's 22nd year, the SaloneSatellite presented work by over a 100 emerging talents from around the world. (Courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano)

In the past two decades, the event has helped launch the careers of many industry leaders. (Courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano)

AN Interior: In looking back at your 40+ year career on the design scene—having worked in all sectors of the industry—what significant changes have you witnessed?

Marva Griffin: I’m not nostalgic. However, I’m able to identify certain key evolutions in the design industry, especially when it comes to advancing technologies, new material generation, and a significant shift toward sustainability. Italian design, in particular, has opened its doors to designers and architects from around the world. This enthusiastic exchange between Italian know-how and the creative impetus of international talents has spawned fruitful innovations.

AN: How has the economic and cultural landscape of Milan altered in response to changes in the design industry?

MG: The city has improved enormously on both economic and cultural levels. What was once only the industrial capital of Italy—at the center of a region that produced almost everything but in particular furniture—has transformed into an attractive destination for design connoisseurs, fashion buffs, and other visitors.

In 2016, the SaloneSatellite expanded its international reach with a comprable program in Shanghai. (Courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano)

AN: Describe the evolution of the Salone del Mobile as still, the most influential global furniture fair.

MG: In 2018, we launched Manifesto, a new document that reevaluates the event’s goals, 57 years after it began. What it states is that the Salone del Mobile is driven by emotion first and foremost; that it aims to transmit positivity, empathy, and enthusiasm. Exhibiting manufacturers; furniture, lighting, kitchen, bath, accessory, and finishes brands, as well as the architecture and designer they work with, exude this approach in the designs and installations they present during the event. With the world’s eyes fixed on our program, it’s important that we carry a mandate of this nature. It is also why the Salone del Mobile is so much more than just a trade fair. It is a global experience that attracts professionals who are directly involved with the sector as well as people from outside the design business.

Within the space of a week, more than 300-thousand people converge on Milan: entrepreneurs, journalists, collectors, intellectuals, critics, designers, architects, creatives, purveyors of knowledge and nurturers of beauty. They come each year because they know they will be greeted with a great raft of opportunities. In its half-decade history, the Salone del Mobile has influenced the Fuorisalone—what is now called Milan Design Week—but also a slew of other annual design events, held throughout the world.

The theme of this year's SaloneSatellite was Food as a Design Object, exploring how new designs and systems could potentially change our eating habits but also how we produce food. (Courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano)

AN: At the helm of the SaloneSatellite for the past 22 years, what has been your main objective?

MG: My main role has been to assist emerging designers in establishing their careers by revealing their work to the industry, press, and general public present during the Salone del Mobile. I began this program in 1998 because of the sheer lack of young talents at the fair. In my prior capacity as a correspondent for magazines like Maison et Jardin, Vogue Design and US House and Garden, I always followed the work of young designers. During that time, there was no institutional support for emerging talents in this respect.

In the past two decades of SaloneSatellite exhibits, I’ve helped launch nendo’s Oki Sato (Japan); Lorenzo Damiani, Cristina Celestino, and Davide Groppi (Italy); Patrick Jouin and Matali Crasset (France); Xavier Lust (Belgium); Sebastian Wrong (UK); Pedro Paulo Franco and Ricardo Bello Dias (Brasil); Rodolfo Agrella (Venezuela); Cory Grosser and Sean Yoo (USA); Satyendra Pakhalé (India/The Netherlands), and Harri Koskinen (Finland), among a long list of industry leaders.

In recent years, I’ve also been able to carry this curatorial mandate to parts of the world with emerging economies and design scenes. In 2005, we started I Saloni WorldWide Moscow to promote overlooked talents from Russia and other former Soviet republics. In 2016, The Salone del Mobile opened a fair in Shanghai. I was asked to replicate the SaloneSatellite during this event and showcase young Chinese designers; while being careful to respect their culture and way of working. At both offshoots, we awarded three prizes. The winners are invited to exhibit at the main SaloneSatellite in Milan.

AN: What was the focus of this year’s SaloneSatellite?

MG: This year’s theme was “Food as a Design Object,” which put emphasis on the future of nutrition. Food is a design object, just as nature provides it and as man prepares it, according to Bruno Munari. Design relates to the entire universe that revolves around the production, cultivation, and consumption of food. Alternative practices and ingredients form the basis for experimentation that asks people to reconsider our nutritional habits.