By Andrea Carloni e Carlotta Ferrati
Gabriele Salvatori is the creative director of the family company founded by his grandfather at the end of World War II. Throughout the second half of the last century, Salvatori Marmi continued to grow, becoming a reference point for many designers and clients who wanted to use natural stone in their projects. Countless are his collaborations with star system names like Kengo Kuma, Daniel Libeskind, Louis Vuitton and Salvatore Ferragamo, just to name a few.
With the arrival of Gabriele, the company’s prospects broaden and Salvatori Marmi becomes a design brand that uses multiple materials and proposes its lifestyle vision. This is the point that gave birth to the collaboration with John Pawson, Piero Lissoni and Michael Anastassiades in addition to the search for new designers like Elisa Ossino, all guided by that red thread that is the mind of Gabriele Salvatori.
Gabriele Salvatori – Photo: Veronica Gaido
How was Salvatori conceived?
This, like so many Italian realities, was conceived during the post-war period. It was founded by my grandfather together with a partner and after a few years, as soon as he finished school, my father came on board as administrator. The company was really small; in all they were about 5 or 6 people and trying to keep the books in the black was very difficult, so much so that during a period of crisis in the sector my father decided to take on the company together with my mother because his partner had decided to withdraw. Step by step the debts that had accumulated over time were eventually settled and the company began to grow. The activity, although still very small, grew progressively and my father was firmly convinced that in everything we did there should be a thrust towards research and innovation.
Can you give us some examples?
Some of the first innovations were various modifications to the machines used to cut the stones that allowed us to halve the production times. Another invention was the “spaccatello“, practically, using a kind of guillotine it was possible to hit the block in such a way that the weaker veins yielded to obtain slabs with a visible split finish. In the early years they didn’t sell a single piece, but at a certain point it took off and they suddenly found themselves with close to 100 employees who worked day and night on the orders that arrived continuously from various parts of the world. My father was not only concerned with creating new products, but also with the assembly and it was thus, that inspired by the technique of Byzantine mosaics, he developed a system to sell small loose marble tiles, but attached to reticular sheets to speed up the process of their application by the installers. When I was still a teenager I used to come to the company after school, where I often saw my father talking with associates about some of the new techniques. At that time, taking inspiration from the ceramic lines, which had very high production volumes compared to ours, we set up machines that allowed us to make 10×10 cm bevelled natural stone tiles with a thickness of only 7 mm.
To produce this type of stone, I imagine you need special machinery…
Since we have always experimented and have often had to adapt the machines to our needs, we equipped ourselves, several years ago, with an internal mechanical workshop. I remember that at the end of the 80s we wanted to emulate the natural process of stone erosion. We used a cement mixer for the first experiments with marble tiles and water inside. Within a short time, the stone became rounded and looked as old as those we see in churches. From these first experiments we created specific machines for such processing.
What happened after your entry into the company?
I joined the company as a worker when I was still in school. Once I’d finished my studies, I dedicated myself completely to this activity and one of my first steps was to open our showroom in Zurich. In 2006 we opened another showroom in Milan and that gave rise to a new lease of life for the company.
In what sense “a new lease of life”?
Milan was where we met Piero Lissoni and John Pawson with whom we began collaborating with the objective of developing projects together. This was the first time Salvatori had used external figures to develop something new. I must make a premise, ours is a valuable material and one of the main problems has always been the large amount of material that we weren’t able to utilise. In 2009 after much reflection on this issue we started a series of experiments that in the end we resulted in being able to create very large marble slabs simply by using the off cuts. Given the great innovation of this achievement, I asked some architects to come up with a project using this material and from here we began our collaboration with John Pawson, who created House of Stone for the Think Tank exhibition that was organised by Interni.
Salvatori Marmi – Designer: John Pawson
Salvatori has been involved with many world-renowned designers over the years. How do you usually relate to designers in product development?
Yes, it is true, over the years we have had the opportunity to work with many important designers and this has allowed us to investigate various topics. I would like to emphasise that we choose designers based, not on their celebrity, but on how they see the world around them and what they think. What we like is a quiet, elegance that is not loud, just simple and honest. We give the designer a very detailed brief with clear guidelines. For example, we require the use of natural and environmentally friendly materials. During the development of a new project my presence is constant, and I try to make my contribution by providing an indication of the feasibility of his ideas and directing him in order to achieve what he wants.
Could we almost call them four-handed projects?
Our projects use very specific craftsmanship and without our ongoing contribution it is impossible to get them across the line. So, my consulting has an important role in the development of the project.
Salvatori over the years has become an industry, how important is the artisanal aspect?
It’s critical. I remind all new employees that Salvatori’s soul is that of a family-run artisan company. This, among many other things, means that we discuss issues in an open way and that our works are of the highest precision because they are done with artisan skill. We are not the company for a customer whose interest is in quantity.
Talking about Salvatori means talking about working with marble. How important is it for your corporate identity that Salvatori products are associated with this material?
Over the years we have become good at working with other materials such as wood, fabric and metals and even incorporating lighting and olfactory essences to match our products. To say today that Salvatori is an activity that processes natural stone would be limiting, I think it is fairer to say that Salvatori is a design company.
In addition to producing your own line, you work with many international brands. Can you talk about it?
Salvatori was conceived as a company that produces custom-made products designed by others over the years, and particularly since my arrival, Salvatori is becoming a brand that has various sales points and showrooms in the world.
You are very attentive regarding communication of your content and you use contemporary media in a professional manner. Can you talk about it?
I would say that we are almost obsessive about everything that comes out of our company. To give you an example, I personally hold meetings with the photographers involved in the shooting to decide together the angle of light refraction. Regarding marketing, we currently have seven units, each specialising in one sector. To do the shooting we set up a real movie set that must perfectly respect, not only the placement of the objects with respect to the project in which it was created, but also the position and softness of the shadows.