Today (December 22, 2016), the fashion community mourns the loss of one of its most admired and fearless members: Vogue Italia’s editor-in-chief, Franca Sozzani. The Milan-based editor was responsible for some of the most progressive and controversial fashion stories in the pages of Vogue Italia, where she was editor-in-chief for nearly three decades.
(October 30th, 2016) When news broke earlier this summer that Franca: Chaos and Creation—a documentary about Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani directed by her son Francesco Carrozzini—would premiere at the Venice Film Festival in September, it came as a surprise to those closest to her. Unlike her fashion counterparts, Sozzani has always kept a low profile, shunning the limelight and preferring that the groundbreaking fashion shoots that appear in her magazine speak for her.
A staunch believer in the power of images, throughout her 28-year tenure at Vogue Italia, Sozzani has been nothing short of fearless, orchestrating controversial shoots and themed issues that have gone on to become the stuff of legend. Exploring plastic surgery, domestic violence, and racism with images, Sozzani’s never been afraid to tackle issues that usually have no place in the pages of a luxury publication.
You’re a very private person but you opened up for this film. Was it hard for you?
Francesco [Carrozzini] and I didn’t start out to make a film, but to preserve a memory because his dad was dying. My son asked me if he could film me while I answered some questions that he’d never had the chance to ask his father before he died; he wanted to keep this as a memory of me. Everything that was shot is very authentic because I’d never thought that it would be made public. But slowly, this family project turned into something bigger after he suggested that we add something about my career. At first, he was a bit confused about what to do with all this footage, but then he met Baz Lurhmann who said to him, “Make the movie that only you can make because only you know your mother so well. Try to find a good mix between her private life, which only you know, and her career.”
Would you have done it if someone other than Francesco had been behind the camera?
Never. I would never have done it for someone else. I was actually reluctant to present myself like this to the public. I don’t have the desire to show myself to the world. I have to be out there for my job—but it’s because I earned it, not because I go around with a feather on my head or a tail on my back.
Do you believe that the images you publish in Vogue Italia speak louder than words and that the focus should be on your work?
Absolutely. I often joke that I invented Instagram 28 years ago because even back then I believed in the power of images. My limit at Vogue Italia has always been the language—Italian —because it’s only spoken in Italy; so I had to rely on images.
What do you make of the fact that Vogue Italia, and you as its editor, are better known and appreciated in places like New York and Tokyo rather than in Italy?
“No man is a prophet in his own land,” is just a saying, but it’s the truth. There’s a lot of envy and jealousy in Italy because I’m the only Italian journalist known around the world. That’s why I was scared of being in this film. I’m a journalist, not a celebrity so many journalists could have said something like, “She thinks she’s a star now.” But then you have the endorsement of The New York Times and the Venice Film Festival… There have been some mean comments about me and the film but it’s normal because everything you do creates some jealousy and animosity; but I have to say that the negativity has been a lot less than what I had expected.
Were you very hands-on in the post-production of the film?
I saw the first cut and I wasn’t happy, so I sent him [Francesco] a cold email, saying that it was very mediocre. For a few weeks I was very cold and distant because I felt that if he was going to work on this, it had to be done well. He then started working with two very good producers in L.A. I actually saw the final cut at the premiere in Venice, like everyone else.
What was your reaction?
At certain moments I was shocked because I couldn’t even remember a lot of things, such as when I got angry and I was a bit upset at first because I would have preferred if those parts hadn’t made it in the film. But then I realized that in every relationship there’s also that side. I was sitting next to Colin Firth and I kept asking him, “Is it boring?”
In the film, you recall how your father wasn’t happy about your career and saw fashion as very frivolous. Why do you think that fashion is still considered superficial?
Unfortunately, fashion editors who want to become stars have ruined the image of the fashion industry and therefore people see only that stupid side of fashion. The public at large looks at Instagram and sees editors showing their asses at the shows and laugh. The public doesn’t realize that behind every single collection, or even a shoot, there is an incredible amount of work. It’s also reached a level of vulgarity that is not what fashion is about—because there are many intelligent people in fashion—but people see only what goes on at the shows. If you noticed—for the last two years—I’ve stopped going to the shows from the main entrance because I want to avoid all that. Sometimes I get in from the car park because I don’t want to be photographed by four kids who put your photo online and you have to force a smile and pose for them. It’s ridiculous, but right now it’s all about appearance, and people only care about that. There’s nothing wrong with being an opinion leader, but you can become one if you actually have an opinion—not because you put feathers on your head. Also, next season there will be many new 20-year-olds to compete with, so it’s a race, and you end up losing because it’s never ending. One day it’s all about millennials; the next day a study comes out saying that millennials don’t care about luxury brands so fashion houses are confused and are scrambling and don’t know what to do. This is also due to the fact that most designers now are not that young anymore so they’re afraid to be out of touch. They try everything and see what sticks on the wall. It’s not that they’re not smart, but they are fumbling and trying everything at once.
Do you think that the fact that nowadays we’re bombarded with images has diminished the power of images?
We’re so bombarded with images right now that oftentimes we fail to understand the real nature of an image. You take what you see without thinking that the picture could have been much better. There’s a group of photographers who are very prolific, but their quality is very mediocre. They just copy and reference the work of Steven Meisel or Bruce Weber, but they’re the photographers of the moment. It’s like TV: if you lower the standards, everyone wants to become a showgirl; if you raise the bar, people will also do better. It’s also because online there’s a lot of opinionated people who think that they can say if something is beautiful or not. They can express their opinion because everyone is entitled to it but unless you do your homework and know what’s behind an image, you can’t say certain things. It’s not just bloggers, though. Many designers do the same. They may have the gift of making amazing products and beautiful collections, but that doesn’t mean that they can create beautiful images or recognize one when they see one.
Why do you think you’ve been given so much freedom with your shoots at Vogue Italia, whereas other magazines seem to be more limited in what they can do?
It’s the market that forces you to limit yourself. I’m never affected by the choices that the market imposes on others and I’m still unaffected. I follow my own path but I had the luck to be supported by designers and brands and by my presidents like Jonathan Newhouse, who gave me the freedom to continue. In the documentary, he says that he was on the verge of firing me more than once. I kept telling him that he would have made a mistake because what I was doing was for the future, so it would have been a waste to throw out all that work.
Running a magazine is ultimately a business. How do you keep your advertisers happy?
I have great respect for that, absolutely. The numbers count in the end and every month I have to deal with them too. I always try to deliver more and do better, but when it comes to the images in the magazine, I am in charge and I don’t compromise.
Do you still get excited when you receive the images of shoots from the photographers you work with?
Yes, I still get that emotion every time. I just received images shot by Bruce Weber for the December issue and I felt emotional. If you lose that spark, it’s time to stop. Also, there’s nothing like that feeling because you feel really involved.
Is there an issue of Vogue Italia or a shoot that’s very close to your heart?
Watching the film, I couldn’t help thinking of the Black Issue because it was a time of global change. Obama had just been elected president, and it felt that all the stars had aligned. It was historic; it was the only issue in the history of [Vogue] magazines—not only Vogue Italia—that we had to print twice for the US and three times for the UK. But guess what? In Italy we didn’t even sell an extra copy, which shows that in Italy they’re afraid of breaking the rules. You need to go deep when you tackle these issues. They were thinking that issues of black identity have nothing to do with Italy, but it’s a worldwide issue, like climate change or plastic surgery. You need to address issues that speak to the world and not just to four bloggers based in Milan that no one cares about.
Finally, can you tell me about your long-term collaborations with your loyal photographers?
Nowadays, everyone uses the same models, the same clothes, and the same photographers. But if you want to build an identity, you have to rely on certain good ones and keep them. I believe in the power of images but also in the power of those who interpret those images. It’s easy for me to say what I like for an issue, but then my task is to find someone who can interpret what I like and what I want to do. You have to have trust in other people’s creativity; you can’t just rely on your instincts. My mission is to add to that the element that’s missing—to add the dream.