The IFDM interviews: Brigitte Silvera

Brigitte Silvera is the director of the Silvera boutiques at Rue du Bac in Paris, part of a design empire that extends to Lyon, Marseille, Bordeaux and London with 16 points of sale. We met her to talk about Milano Design Week: “the most important event of the year for us.”

Brigitte Silvera

Milano Design Week is just around the corner. What is the role of Milan in the worldwide design system?
Coming to Milan and visiting the Salone del Mobile is essential for us. The entire range of premium design brands we offer in our stores is concentrated here: from Poliform to Minotti, Flexform to Baxter and Living Divani. About 80% of the brands belong to Made in Italy; then there are our Scandinavian brands like Gubi, &Tradition, Carl Hansen. With respect to other events, such as Maison&Objet, for example, which range towards other worlds, Milan is truly about furniture. The Salone is the main opportunity to meet our brands, and we are happy to observe the full impact of their creativity. 

Besides the fair, will you also visit the city?
Since we have just a few days, the fair remains essential for a complete overview of all the collections. But we will undoubtedly also follow the activities of our brands in the city, where extraordinary things happen. In this way, we can discover not only the products but also amazing buildings or places that could not be seen otherwise.

Do you have a particular memory of previous editions?
Last year there was the exhibition by Gubi in the splendid context of the Bagni Misteriosi, and then the presentation of the first outdoor collection by Poliform, displayed on the black gravel of the 15th-century cloisters of San Simpliciano.

At the next edition, is there an event you are looking forward to in particular?
We are excited to have been invited by Baxter to take part in an exhibition at Baxter Lago, the villa from the early 1900s on Lake Como, where the company has shown its collections for a few years now.

In your view, what are the less successful aspects of Milano Design Week?
For me it is all quite positive; perhaps there should be a greater focus on places not to be missed and the best events outside the fair, for people who don’t have much time.

Has the world of design and furniture always been part of your life?
I was born in Antibes, and my grandfather worked in the field of furnishings. Though at first I studied computer sciences, I soon felt the need for a more creative approach. So I studied design at the Institut Supérieur de Marketing du Luxe of the company Cartier, concentrating on cult objects for my degree thesis. After the encounter with Paul Silvera, who was already immersed in the panorama of design, I kept one foot in the world of computers, but in 2000 I accepted his proposal to work on the management of a monobrand Maxalto boutique on Rue du Bac. The next boutique was that of B&B, and then we evolved into a multibrand center with Silvera. Today I also focus on the Poliform store on Rue du Bac.

Today Silvera has 12 points of sale in Paris, two in Marseille, two in Lyon, one in Bordeaux and one in London. What is the main ingredient behind all this success? And how did the idea of the opening in London come about?
I think it is fundamental to devote time to clients, offering advice and a diversified selection. The French, like the Italians, like to live in spaces that express character, personalization, not like a cut and paste version of a magazine ad. Our typical clients are also fans of flea markets, and they love to discover new talents. We open a door for them so they can explore a mixture of different brands, by famous creators or less well-known designers. Through our e-shop we offer the more affordable brands that are not always on view in the store, but still offer interesting design. This enables our customers to set a budget for the main feature, and then indulge themselves with more affordable pieces. The choice of opening in London was not guided by rational motives: a member of our team wanted to explore the city, and convinced us to do it.

Silvera is also a maker of design editions, as in the case of the pieces designed for you by Sam Baron: where does this idea come from, and will it lead to new creations?
In Sam’s case, we realized that among our offerings we were lacking consoles: we like his work very much, so we decided to ask him. We have also collaborated with Coedition, a French producer of editions. But we represent so many brands that it is difficult to launch our own editions: that is a different profession.

How has your public changed since the founding of Silvera?
We still have a strong presence of clients in the 7th and 16th arrondissements, and we still work often with developers and architects. Nevertheless, and I notice this especially with Poliform, the clientele that once was made up of design lovers who wanted to invest in high-quality furniture is now a minority with respect to customers who with the evolution of the economy, and especially in the wake of the pandemic, have high buying power and are willing to spend, but do not necessarily have much knowledge or interest in the field of design. These people often look for external advice, to help them make their decisions. Personally I think this trend is rather a shame.