“I was Destined to do What I do Now”

SCALE talks to Marva Griffin Wilshire, curator and creator of SaloneSatellite, a programme within the Salone del Mobile. Milano to facilitate the relationship between businesses and young designers preparing to enter the profession. Griffin is unwaveringly bound to design through her passion and her long association with the Salone and believes that this is what she was destined to do. By Sindhu Nair

When Maria Porro, President of the Salone del Mobile.Milano 2022, addressed the media, along with Griffin a day after the opening of the 60th anniversary of the Salone, the address was more heartfelt and nostalgic as both the creators and the reporters went down memory lanes, describing the journey they have had through the years of the Salone. Griffin was particularly emotional and overwhelmed that after two very difficult years due to the pandemic, they were finally doing what they do best: manage and bring the Salone, the world’s largest furniture exhibition, to its audience.

The SaloneSatellite, Griffin’s baby, was also a site at the Salone that saw maximum visitors with its overarching theme of “sustainable and inclusive design for our future” with over 600 designers from 48 countries, five of which – Cyprus, Congo, Cuba, Nigeria and Qatar – are SaloneSatellite new entries. “This is testament to the special powers of attraction and networking opportunities that have always distinguished what is regarded as the leading springboard for emerging talents on the international design scene participating in it,” says Griffin quite proudly.

In an exclusive interview with SCALE, Griffin gives us some insights into the curatorship of the SaloneSatellite, a property within the Salone that she created to help handhold the new designers into the design industry, one that has handheld many designers in their journey to make a name in the industry.

SALONESATELLITE: The outpost of creativity that occupied part of Pavilions 1 and 3 for the very first time at the Salone. Courtesy Salone del Mobile.Milano

SCALE: When did you ideate SaloneSatellite and how has it grown since?

GRIFFIN: It was 1997, when I talked about the request of young designers to be part of Salone del Mobile to be closer to the entrepreneurs to Manlio Armellini, CEO of Cosmit, the society organizer of the Salone del Mobile. Since then, it has grown a lot, and already after a few editions it has become the reference point of young designers as well as of the entrepreneurs who find here prototypes to produce and insert in their companies’catalogues. Many other fairs and cities have copied it in some way, but SaloneSatellite has the force and the privilege to have a Salone del Mobile, the most important furniture fair in the world, behind it.

SCALE: Your association with the Salone is legendary. According to you, is the key to any successful partnership to treat the job as a passion more than work?

GRIFFIN: Sure, passion is a driving force for good results. Then, of course, you need to work in an efficient and well-organized way. Passion alone is not sufficient, but passion can help you to overcome intense periods of work and to have the force to solve problems.

SCALE: What were the initial challenges for you being a Venezuelan woman in Italy in the design world?

GRIFFIN:  I had to learn everything from scratch!  I came to Italy because I loved the sound of Italian language and I wanted to study it. So, I started with that, then I answered to a job offer that a friend found on the major Italian newspaper, and after some interviews I ended up working in C&B Italia (now B&B Italia) with the famous entrepreneur Piero Busnelli. I became his assistant and translator, travelling all over the world in new markets and then I became the PR Communication of the company. Little by little I got in contact with this wonderful world and all the famous stars that at that time where simply young people working hard. I met Afra e Tobia Scarpa, Renzo Piano, Mario Bellini, Gianfranco Frattini… just to name a few.

SCALE: A lesson that you have learnt during your long association with Salone?

GRIFFIN: That if you believe in something you have to struggle in order to achieve it. I have also learned that working in a good team is essential.

SCALE: One advice to aspiring designers who wish to be part of the SaloneSatellite?

GRIFFIN: Be yourself, do not try to copy famous projects or the style of somebody important. Let your creativity flow, but study, study, study the history of design to understand it deeply. Also, be also humble and listen to people with more experience, and finally keep an eye on the society you live in and above all on its essential needs.

The theme of the SaloneSatellite is echoed by the artwork and general set-up of the pavilions, both entirely new, promising sensory explorations and turning SaloneSatellite into a welcoming design centre. Pic Courtesy: Salone.del Mobilo.Milano

SCALE: How do you find the most talented designers, what are the attributes you search for?

GRIFFIN: They have to be original, invent something that has the properties be realized, not mere fantasy projects. Every year, I invite to SaloneSatellite a Selection Committee composed by famous professionals of the field – from entrepreneurs, journalists, design critics – who get together at the end of October selecting the proposal. Quality is the most important thing.

SCALE: Designers whose work you always look out for at the Salone?

GRIFFIN: I look for SaloneSatellite participants who made it in the sector, because I feel like a mother who sees her children having realized their dreams. Then I pay homage to the Masters.

Griffin with other jury members of the design fratenity at the SaloneSatellite. Pic Courtesy: Salone del Mobilo. Milano

SCALE:If you had not been working with the Salone, where would you be, what would you want to be?

GRIFFIN: I have been a journalist and an exhibition curator, and I have become the International Press Director of Salone del Mobile.Milano and the curator of SaloneSatellite since 1998, when I founded it. I strongly believe that my destiny was only to what I am doing now!!!!!

SCALE: Design is a way of life, how do you align with this statement, especially post Covid?

GRIFFIN: Design is an ethical approach to life. Design needs to be functional but also a way to make the world better, especially in these new times where everything needs to be more sustainable and circular.

SCALE: Are you happy with this year’s Salone, did it surpass all your dreams?

GRIFFIN: I was very happy for the great success and for the participation of the young designers and interior design schools from 48 different countries, five of which – Cyprus, Congo, Cuba, Nigeria and Qatar – were there for the first time. This is testament to the special powers of attraction and networking opportunities that have always distinguished what is regarded as the leading springboard for emerging talents on the international design scene. The young designers where eager to be here again, after 2019.

Griffin with Mario Cucinella Architects and SOS – School of Sustainability Foundation, held a presentation of projects undertaken during the Academic Year 2021-23 to narrate new developments and visions for the future. Pic Courtesy: Salone del Mobile. Milano

SCALE: How do you view the winners of the Salone Satellite?

GRIFFIN:  I’m always very touched when I have to announce them. I wish all could win!

SCALE: Which year was it particularly inspiring to watch the new generation of designers?

GRIFFIN: I believe the first years because young designers were not as popular as now and for me it was inspiring to see them grow professionally.

All Picture Courtesy: Salone del Mobilo. Milano

Marvin Griffin Image Courtesy: Aurelio Magistà

SCALE will bring to you the winning designs of the Salone Satellite 2022 along with the interesting designs of the exhibition in our next post.