Since 1946, Salvatori has been providing product and design expertise to some of the world’s leading names in retail, hospitality and private construction. From boutiques for Ferragamo, Louis Vuitton, Giorgio Armani and Donna Karan, to hotels including St Regis, the Intercontinental and Radisson Kempinsky, along with private villas at some of the world’s most exclusive addresses, Salvatori is renowned for delivering beautiful stone and luxurious environments. Known above all for its innovative design and techniques, the Tuscan-based company has won a host of awards including the coveted Premio di Premi presented by the Italian President for its outstanding contribution to industry, and was also recognised as the single most innovative brand in the stone sector in Italy in the 20th century.

On 27th March, with the scale of the Coronavirus crisis becoming apparent, the organisers of the Salone del Mobile decided to cancel this year’s edition of the world’s largest design fair, due to be held in Milan in April. Fuorisalone, the series of events that normally coincide with the fair, decided however to persevere, and a series of digital events were organised to run between 15th and 21st June – including a presentation of new Salvatori collections produced in collaboration with designers Piero Lissoni, Yabu Pushelberg, Elisa Ossino and Federico Babina.

With the relationship between the digital and the physical being cast into sharp relief by this new approach to Fuorisalone, here CEO Gabriele Salvatori reflects on the impact of new technologies on the design industry, communication strategies in the age of social media, and Milan’s role as a international centre for contemporary design.

Read the interview

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Design Week

How would you describe Milan's role in design?

Milan is fantastic – it’s really the most important city in Italy for design; the designers who live and work in the city, the brands that are based here. Although I live in Tuscany, and I was born there, and it’s where Salvatori is based, I have a house in Milan and go there on a weekly basis. At night you can go out, just for an aperitivo, and meet photographers, architects, designers – all the people in the design industry that you would want to hang out with. There’s a real concentration of creative minds and, in very organic way, it produces some really interesting ideas and collaborations.

Do you see the function of a showroom as a display window or a multifunctional space? Do you see that changing after the current crisis?

It will take time for us to recover and go back to the same experience that the showroom offered before. At the moment, we have to take your temperature when you come in, you have to wear masks and gloves, and because you cannot touch things, it has changed how you interact with our products.
I would love eventually to use this space as the place where brands and architects and consumers actually meet – not just to look at our products, but to better understand what everyone else is doing. For that reason, I think the role of the showroom is really to express what the brand is all about, the culture and the values of the brand, rather than to just present the products, which today you can see well online. I want to use our space to show, for example, the skills of our workers, to even have them work from the showroom.

What role does the Salvatori apartment play in communication?

When we did the apartment, I wasn't thinking about communication. When I work long days at the showroom, I don't generally go further than one block to go to the bar or buy groceries, and I definitely don't go beyond half a block to eat lunch or dinner – and so I wanted an apartment that was close by. Plus I had been after that apartment for sometime because it was just beautiful. I had been invited to a party there once, some time ago, by the family who were living in that apartment and I fell in love with it, especially with the terrazzo floors, and the light: it faces south and is on the top floor, and in the evening you can watch the sun set.
When they moved out, I leased it and we did a beautiful job restoring it. Elisa Ossino did the interior design and in the end it was so beautiful we couldn't not share it, especially because we finished just around the time that Salone del Mobile was starting. We decided to open it up to people, just for three hours in the afternoon, and every day there was a line going down the street to see the apartment. And then of course it became the afterparty spot, and once the Salone closed for the day, people would head back to the apartment; customers and designers, artists and journalists – who would later come to write about the apartment. It became the talk of the town!

How do you see the relationship between physical showrooms and digital changing, especially in light of the current crisis?

With the advances in technology, every year now seems to counts for ten. Machine learning, neural networks, artificial intelligence will all come to have an huge impact on every sector, and design is no different. I'm sure there will be some real surprises in how our industry will change in the next few years.
In the omnichannel experience we have now, we are expected to connect the dots. When before we had a separate printed strategy, marketing guidelines, store, website and social media channels, today, whatever we do, we always begin by thinking in an omnichannel way. We need to understand the nuances of each medium, but there has to be an effort to be more consistent.
So we will need to adapt, but I'm confident we can adapt in the most healthy way possible – where we don't become just software houses, and retain the focus on design and the importance of craftsmanship – in order to provide the most engaging experience for our clients.

© — All rights reserved. — Published on 07 July 2020