The IFDM interviews: Marva Griffin

Dreams, willpower, enthusiasm: a close encounter with the woman who invented the Salone Satellite. Who now celebrates with joy (and an exhibition at the Triennale) twenty-five years of her creation, passed without ceasing for one second to believe in the work of young people

Marva Griffin

How did the Salone Satellite come about?
In the latter half of the 1990s, what later became known as the Fuorisalone began to be created: companies that were unable to be at the Fiera created their own space and a new way to take part in the event was born. Among these were a number of young designers, some just out of school, they wanted to show their own creativity to the manufacturers. For them it was very difficult. Those who could afford it took over spaces in the most unthinkable places, like the slaughterhouse for example… Many of them, that I went to see when scouting for the magazines I was working for (American House & Garden, Maison & Jardin…), also knew I was involved in the Salone; I had organised the Salone del Complemento d’Arredo and other things with Manlio Armellini. So a lot of people asked me how to get into the Fair. I wanted to do something for, and with, them. One day Armellini called me and said “Marva, the Fiera has given us a pavilion for holding special events. See if it could be good for your project with the young designers”. That’s how Satellite was born. Now every fair has something similar but at that time no institution was looking out for the young.

How have the Satellite, the designers, the world changed in 25 years?
There hasn’t been a change. If anything an evolution, that we have followed and adapted to. Every day there is something new but creativity remains the same: you have it or you don’t. Now I see great freedom of choice: there are those who use digital technologies and those who ignore them, there are those that use AI and those who don’t want to know. It’s the same evolutionary path taken by the Salone del Mobile, that over the years has become something unique in the world.

What has determined the success of the Salone Satellite? 25 years is a lot…
It seems like yesterday to me. The manufacturers arrived early in the morning, they took an object, a chair, lifted it up, touched it, tried out a lamp. The relationship with a young designer started like that. And this worked especially with the Italian entrepreneurs. That are the ones that everyone wants to work with

First of all because Made in Italy is a guarantee. And then the approach that the Italian manufacturer has towards them is unlike anywhere else in the world. Konstantin (Grcic, editor’s note) told me that Eugenio Perazza, the founder of Magis, was like a father to him. Even with quite strident discussions: when Perazza asked him to design a chair he replied “I don’t want to do another chair”, something superfluous. And that clash gave rise to the wonderful Chair_One. I saw it first hand, working with Piero Busnelli (founder of B&B Italia, editor’s note): Tobia Scarpa arrived with a design and said to me, “Give it to Rolando” who managed the CRS, “tell him that next week we’ll come with Afra from Montebelluna and talk about it”. And then they met, Scarpa, Busnelli and Rolando, it was about give and take: Tobia came with the idea, Busnelli and Rolando worked out how to make it. This is what the young find with Italian manufacturers.

How many famous designers came through the Satellite?
There are so many, I’m not going to name any names because for me all 14,000 who have come through are of value.

Was there ever a moment when you said “What have I got into?”
Never. It’s been a dream come true. I come from a big family, with lots of brothers and sisters and cousins, I’m always around young people. And I still enjoy it a lot.

The best thing in these 25 years?
When I open a magazine and I see the work of one of those young people, or when I receive a letter of thanks from them. The satisfaction of seeing that their dreams have come true.

Marva Griffin
Marva Griffin

The most memorable moment?
There isn’t just one, there are so many.

What can you tell me about the exhibition organised at the Triennale?
I don’t know anything, like you I’ll see it at the opening. It’s curated by Beppe Finessi and the only thing that he has said is this: “I have done ten years of the Satellite exhibition, (The Avverati exhibition, a dream come true), in the Fiera: the one for 20 years of the Fabbrica del Vapore. Good things always come in threes but I won’t have an exhibition of products like the other times.” There will be materials, photographs, and products selected by him for the permanent collection of the Satellite, inside the new headquarters of the ITS Rosario Messina Foundation Wood Furnishing Training Centre at Lentate sul Seveso. A collection that is now going on display in Hong Kong.

It wouldn’t be bad if this collection found a location closer to the city…
No way! They have created the school, they’ve created the space. It is only right that it is there. You can go to Lentate, there’s a train. Even the foreigners go, they arrive by bus.

Plans for the future?
I live in the present. And hope to be able to make lots of other dreams come true.