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Young designers find opportunity in Italy: Korean furniture maker credits the SaloneSatellite event in Milan for giving him his big break

Mar 08,2017
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Korean designer Jaehyuk Yang, co-founder and chief director of design and engineering firm Umzikim, left, together with Marva Griffin, right, founder and curator of SaloneSatellite, and Choi Kyung-ran, dean of the Graduate School of Techno Design at Kookmin University, center, talk about the power of Italian design and opportunities at SaloneSatellite for young Korean designers during the Italian Design Day event held on March 2 at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, central Seoul. [IICSEOUL]
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Marva Griffin, Jaehyuk Yang [IICSEOUL, UMZIKIM]
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Umzikim’s Bookstack, designed by Jaehyuk Yang, is one of the company’s most popular products. [UMZIKIM]
Milan is no doubt a sartorial hub, the home to many of the world’s most influential fashion houses such as Versace, Valentino, Dolce & Gabbana and Bottega Veneta, to name a few. But that’s not all the stylistic capital is known for. Every year, about 300,000 visitors from across the globe visit the city not for the latest haute couture, but to see the latest in contemporary furniture designs offered by designers from all over the world at the Salone del Mobile.Milano, the largest international furniture fair, which holds its 56th edition from April 4 to 9 this year.

Within the renowned Salone del Mobile.Milano, there’s an event for young designers called SaloneSatellite that’s been held concurrently with the fair since 1998. According to Marva Griffin, the founder and curator of SaloneSatellite, about 28 young Korean designers have had the opportunity to showcase their prototypes at the event over the past 20 years, giving them the opportunity to show their creations to an influential crowd.

One of those designers is Jaehyuk Yang, co-founder and chief director of design and engineering firm Umzikim. When Yang first participated in SaloneSatellite in 2013, he said he received offers from renowned companies such as Italy’s design-led manufacturer Alessi. Yang was able to participate twice more in 2014 and 2015, securing his position as one of the rising stars of furniture design. After seeing the potential of his creations upon numerous offers from renowned companies, Yang decided to manufacture products on his own through his company Umzikim. Currently, he supplies to stores throughout Europe including Le Bon Marche in Paris.

For the upcoming SaloneSatellite, Yang will be going to Milan as one of 40 designers selected among some 10,000 who have participated in the SaloneSatellite since 1998, to celebrate this year’s 20th anniversary.

“Although I’m a Korean designer, it was Milan’s SaloneSatellite that helped me to be where I am today,” said Yang. “I’m so grateful and honored as I will be standing shoulder to shoulder with renowned designers who made their names through SaloneSatellite, such as the Japanese design studio Nendo, which became famous after participating in SaloneSatellite about eight years ago.”

To mark the first Italian Design Day, which was on March 2, Griffin, who was selected as one of the 100 so-called ambassadors of Italian culture, visited Seoul and introduced the famous furniture fair of Milan as well as SaloneSatellite to Koreans at the Dongdaemun Design Plaza, central Seoul. Yang was also invited to the stage to talk about his experiences at the SaloneSatellite.

“Twenty years ago, there was no institution helping young designers. Young designers had to struggle to become known,” said Griffin. “Back then, it was becoming a trend for young people to study design so there were a lot of them. But they were struggling to be seen and to show their products.”

Before SaloneSatellite, Griffin said many young designers sent their prototypes to companies like young students submit their resumes, but they rarely received responses. While Griffin was a journalist, working as the Italian correspondent for a number of Conde Nast Publications including Maison & Jardin, Vogue Decoration, American House & Garden and American Vogue, she was asked by the management of Salone del Mobile.Milano to be a part of the team and she jumped in to create a platform to help young talent be seen.

“Young designers wanted to be a part of Salone del Mobile.Milano because it was the only possibility to be seen by all the furniture manufacturers and international press that come to the fair,” said Griffin.

“They form networks here, meet potential manufacturers, get a chance to be covered by international press and everything that’s necessary to get their products to market,” she said.

Thanks to Griffin’s SaloneSatellite, hundreds of now successful designers were able to launch their design careers including Matali Crasset and Patrick Jouin from France, Daniel Rybakken from Norway, Tomoko Azumi and Nendo from Japan, among many others.

“I also met a good friend through SaloneSatellite,” said Yang. “He’s an Italian designer named Marcantonio Raimondi Malerba, who is known in Korea as the designer behind the Monkey Light for the Italian homeware manufacturer Seletti. He was using the booth next to me at the SaloneSatellite and we became good friends. ”

According to Yang, it’s uncommon in Korea for a manufacturing company to pay royalties to designers to produce homeware like furniture as companies tend to employ full-time designers. But in Europe, this kind of system is standard and that it’s a “land of opportunity for young designers in Korea, which I believe is a wasteland in that sense.”

Griffin, however, said there’s great potential for young Korean designers as Korea is a leading country in technology development.

“The world is evolving increasingly towards a revolution of technology and since Korea is leading the world in that field, young Korean designers should take this into consideration and use their creativity to converge their creative design with technology,” said Griffin. “There, I see potential and I believe it will help young Korean designers to appeal to international audiences.”

BY YIM SEUNG-HYE [sharon@joongang.co.kr]