Marva Griffin

Quitting is not in my DNA, but you never know…!

Marva Griffin established the SaloneSatellite in 1998 and since then has made it possible for over 13,000 young designers to present their work to an international public at Salone del Mobile. She talks to us about what motivates her, her love of design and tells us about her current plans.

Anna Moldenhauer: Marva, as a result of your commitment to the development and expansion of SaloneSatellite, you have paved the way for the careers of numerous young people who thanks to Salone Satellite are now established designers. Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator at MoMA, once called you the “great godmother of design.” What was and is your motivation to make the work of young designers visible?

Marva Griffin: First and foremost, I’m a mother. I have a son and come from a very large family with many nieces and nephews, in other words I was always surrounded by young people. The idea for SaloneSatellite came about while I was working for the magazines “Maison & Jardin” and “American House & Garden”. I contacted a lot of young designers while doing that and at the same time I was organizing an exhibition for Salone del Mobile. When the young designers found out about it, they asked me: “Mrs. Griffin, can you get us into the Salone del Mobile”? So I spoke to the management, to Manlio Armellini, who was CEO at the time, and asked whether it might be possible. The young designers could never had afforded to book a booth at the exhibition and that meant they were often overlooked by furniture manufacturers. Back then the sole purpose of the Salone del Mobile was to act as a platform for selling and exporting Italian design. Then one day Armellini did in fact call me and said: “Marva. We have a space, come and see what you can do to showcase the work of young designers at the Salone del Mobile.” I feel for young people and I wanted to help them. That was and is my motivation.

You studied interior design in Caracas and started learning Italian there. Then you moved with your son Gustavo to Perugia, where you attended a language University for foreigners. With your degree in hand, you then went to Milan and signed on with Piero Ambrogio Busnelli, the CEO of C&B Italia, now B&B Italia. What attracted you to the design scene in Italy back then?

Marva Griffin: There were eight of us kids and we lived in El Callao, Venezuela in a big house with my mother, my grandmother and my father. My mother spent most of her time in the kitchen cooking and baking, and my four sisters helped her. But I have no idea how you bake a cake because instead of helping in the kitchen I devoted myself to decorating the house. When I was young, I was always rearranging the furniture. We also had two large gardens – one with lots of flowers, the other with mango trees and banana trees. I tended to decorate the house with the wonderful flowers. My sisters felt that went over the top and laughed at me, but I continued undeterred and even spent my pocket money on buying the magazine “House Beautiful” in the only store in our small town. Years later, when I began as a freelance journalist to write articles for that very magazine my mother could hardly believe it. Interior Decoration always appealed to me and so Italy was the ideal place for me to go. A day after I arrived in Milan a friend told me she’d read in the newspaper about two job vacancies – one of them doing PR for C&B Italia.

And what happened?

Marva Griffin: I got the job and for me it felt like going to university all over again. I learned an incredible amount about design at the time. Rather than having me sit in an outer office Piero Ambrogio Busnelli simply put a second desk in his office. So I was always in the midst of the action, there were no secrets. I was also responsible for translations as Busnelli didn’t speak any English and also had a strong dialect. So I met all the designers who worked with C&B Italia like Mario Bellini, Afra and Tobia Scarpa, Richard Sapper, Gaetano Pesce, young Antonio Citterio and many others. Over the years I traveled to five continents with Piero Ambrogio Busnelli and Cesare Cassina and interpreted for them – it was an incredible experience!

Anna Moldenhauer, Head of Editorial Department at Stylepark Magazine, in conversation with Marva Griffin, founder and curator of the SaloneSatellite

You've already mentioned that family and the collective have been important for you from the very beginning. SaloneSatellite is also a community, a network. Why is community so important in design?

Marva Griffin: I see the young designers as my protégés and treat them as such. I think that community in design is very important. Especially now in these times that demand so much of us. We need to interact, share our thoughts, our ideas. After all, communication is the only way to bring to the surface the potential that lies within you. If you don't talk to each other, it remains hidden.

What advice do you have for the participants of SaloneSatellite?

Marva Griffin: Each of the 13,000 or so young designers I've had the pleasure of meeting through SaloneSatellite so far has had their own way of designing and thinking. You need a feeling for what you want to do in life and it then it evolves over time. Digitization has also changed a lot. I always advise them to read a lot and to be out and about a lot – to look at our world. Visit museums, go to the movies, read every magazine, every book you can get hold of, because you learn from everything, it enriches you and your perspective.

You often say “design is the oldest industry in the world,” but at the same time its immense importance to our lives, to our everyday lives, is often underestimated by those outside the industry. Why is that?

Marva Griffin: Not everyone is aware of the importance of design, but basically everything is design: from the glass we drink from to the bed we sleep in. It often depends on how well the importance of design is communicated and whether it is part of the culture in question. In cities like Helsinki, for example, you notice that people there grow up with design and therefore have an awareness of it. It’s up to the respective country itself to what extent it wants to educate the population about the importance of this topic.

What I really appreciate in a person in your position is your down-to-earthness, your clarity and warmth. You don’t judge people by their title or by their usefulness to you. What grounds you?

Marva Griffin: Anna, I am an open book, un libro aperto. I judge people by what they give me – and for me it is about giving and taking. After everything I have experienced and seen, I judge people only by what they do and how they treat other people. Titles don’t tell the whole story. I need to talk to you to find out who you are. I don’t want to read about a career, I want to meet the person and see what they stand for. When I was younger, I often judged people superficially, but it wasn’t until I had a conversation that I often found out what that person was really like. That taught me to approach such things gradually and not make judgments too quickly.

Every year you invite a group of outstanding members of the design scene to jointly select the young designers who will be allowed to exhibit their work at SaloneSatellite. Can you reveal who will be part of the jury this year?

Marva Griffin: The selection committee will choose the applicants at the end of October 2022. To this end, the designers will send us photographs of their work. The committee always includes producers, architects, designers, former participants of SaloneSatellite as well as regional and international journalists. In addition, there is also the SaloneSatellite Award. This prize is awarded by an international jury to three participants. Since the first edition, it has been chaired by Paola Antonelli, Senior Curator of the Department of Architecture and Design at MoMA and curator of the XXII Triennale di Milano. This time the jury will include, among others, Giulio Cappellini.

Is there a project that you would like to realize in the next few years, such as another international location of the SaloneSatellite?

Marva Griffin: That doesn’t depend on me, but on the management of the Salone del Mobile. Currently, the SaloneSatellite in Shanghai and in Moscow have been put on hold because of the pandemic and the war. But if, say, the Salone del Mobile decides to focus on Singapore, or any other country, then I will organize a SaloneSatellite there for the young designers, in case I am still here!

It would be wonderful, don’t you think, if a SaloneSatellite were possible in Venezuela. Do you see a chance of that happening?

Marva Griffin: There is a lot of creativity and a vibrant arts and craft scene in Venezuela - the potential is incredible. My dream would be to have a SaloneSatellite in my home country but that is not possible right now. Some time ago I had already started to organize a design weekend in Caracas, but I had to abandon the project because of the difficult political situation. Nevertheless, I am committed to the extent that it is possible with the designers there, realize many small projects or motivate them to apply for the SaloneSatellite.

In my research for this interview, I kept coming across one phrase: “Marva, we need you.” However, considering everything you’ve accomplished with SaloneSatellite, you no longer need to answer that call. What is your strong connection to the Salone Satellite and the Salone del Mobile?

Marva Griffin: I really don’t know how to answer that question. I’m very passionate in everything that I do – that’s just the way I am. And besides my work for the Salone I have a lot of other projects. There are always a lot of things that keep me busy. Quitting is not in my DNA, but you never know. Some day…!