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Marva Griffin Wilshire

The Venezuelan mastermind behind the world’s largest furniture fair is an outspoken friend to the undiscovered.

Marva Griffin Wilshire illustration by Jonathan Puckey

In 1998 you launched SaloneSatellite, the portion of Milan’s Salone Internazionale del Mobile that’s devoted only to showcasing designers under the age of 35. What was the impetus?
There was a such an incredible need—in those days no one was taking care of the young designers. I knew many of them because I was the Italian liaison for many international design magazines, and I was con- sulting for Salone. The younger designers all wanted their prototypes to be seen by manufacturers. So I talked to management on their behalf, and finally they said “OK, so, see what you can do.”

SaloneSatellite in Milan
A look at the SaloneSatellite exhibition.
Now, 15 years later, SaloneSatellite receives thousands of submissions from all over the world, and has launched countless careers. But what was it like in the first year?
I called my friends, ex-colleagues in Paris and New York, and said, “Listen, I am doing this. Spread the news.” Then it got bigger, and then I thought if we asked schools to participate, maybe those same students would submit their work during the next year’s fair. And that’s exactly how it works.
You began your career by working for Piero Ambrogio Busnelli at C&B Italia, which later became B&B Italia. Is that where you learned the business of design and furniture making?
Yes, working there was like going back to school. All the great designers at the time were involved—Magistretti, Scarpa, even a young Renzo Piano, whose first commission was our office building! I was Busnelli’s assistant, public relations office, and interpreter (he spoke no English). We traveled the world. It was incredible.

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