Franca Sozanni: "In America, Vogue is sold in supermarkets. In Italy – no way"
An interview with Vogue Italia's Editor-in-Chief
Vogue Italia has been in print for 50 years, and for half of that time period it has been run by Franca Sozzani, serving as the leader of one of the most avant-garde and provocative publications in the Vogue family of magazines.
Sozzani has been known to challenge racial prejudice and social stereotypes by way of fashion, and in turn has become one of the most controversial, and influential, editors of all time.
Buro 24/7 takes the opportunity to sit down with her during a recent talent spotting competition in Rome to find out more...
You have been at the helm of Vogue Italia for 26 years. How did you make this "purely Italian magazine" under the jurisdiction of the most prestigious fashion title in the world?
I was not afraid to take risks. Things did not always go smoothly – at first they refused to take on my ideas and what I was doing, very few people liked it. But I continued and insisted, because I was convinced I was right.
Do you remember your first issue of Vogue? What was it like?
Of course. I started with a total clean up. The idea was to start with a clean slate. So I put a model without any make-up on the cover in a simple white shirt on a terracotta background with the word "new". This was unexpected, minimalistic and absolutely contrary to what Vogue was doing at the time – for example: big jewellery, bright make-up, luxury dresses. It was a way to mark the beginning of a new era.
Do you have a favourite issue?
Perhaps, The Black Issue and Makeover Madness.
Do you think that sometimes you went too far?
Yes, more than once. I made a lot of mistakes. Slips happen and that's fine. When there is a clear concept, the idea that you believe in and errors happen – it is not end of the world.
You have helped to launch the career of many photographers – Steven Meisel, for example. Would you say that Vogue Italia's main component is the visual side of the magazine?
One hundred percent. I only had one way to tell the world what we were doing and that was through images. We only speak Italian in Ital – it's not English or Spanish, spoken by half the world. Pictures to me are a universal language, my way of communicating with the world. The world is becoming more and more visual – for example look at Instagram.
Pictures to me are a universal language, my way of communicating with the world. The world is becoming more and more visual – for example look at Instagram.
Do you use Instagram?
Yes, but not for myself. For competitions, auditions, and to search for young talents.
How do you rate Vogue in other countries? What is the main difference between Vogue Italia and the U.S. version?
American Vogue today is a phenomenal magazine for a mighty nation, and in this sense, Anna Wintour is doing unique work. The rest of us are more "local".
So you would say Vogue Italia differs from the Vogue U.S.?
Of course, it just as different from the Italian and American in real life. I can create a magazine about trends, and in the U.S. they are geared towards so many people, it is less niche. In America, Vogue is sold in supermarkets, in Italy – no way.
Does this mean that you think American Vogue is mass-market?
Mass-market at the highest quality, so to speak. This edition, which manages to combine high quality and a commercial component, is taking into account the country and its people – there is a huge variation.
Despite this, Anna Wintour is often accused that she promotes elitist fashion...
Fashion is elitist. If you publish a photo of the dress is worth $200,000 where is the democracy? This kind of work cannot be democratic. The so-called democratisation of fashion by 'fast fashion' with its low prices in fact only makes fashion more accessible in a negative way. Real creativity and quality cannot be cheap.
You are often compared to Anna Wintour. Do you agree with this comparison?
We're both open-minded, very open-minded. In this sense, probably, yes.
Yet you seem to be the more gentle person.
I am an open person. If I am stopped on the street and asked to take a picture it isn't a problem. Why not be pleasant, it's just a photo? But for some, such requests can be a burden. Everything depends on your character I suppose.
In one interview you said that beauty is too boring, and for shoots you want models to looked strange or even ugly...
I loathe a stereotypically beautiful appearance. If today's high fashion girl just has blonde hair and blue eyes, does it mean that, for example, in Africa there are no beautiful women? I do not think so.
There are interesting bloggers, and there are the absolutely meaningless. As in all things, there is a natural selection
You recently returned from Paris. What was your impression of Haute Couture Fashion Week?
I was very pleased. It seems that high fashion finally has something new. Couture was previously the prerogative of a very small category of wealthy ladies who were eager to show off their money. Today, high fashion is not just a dress for red carpets and events like the Oscars. Couture has become more youthful, everyday and less conservative.
You wrote recently that public fashion weeks have changed remarkably?
Yes. First, the audience has become more youthful. Second, it is also multinational. If fashion, especially Haute Couture, used to be mainly aimed at Western Europe and America, it is now Eastern Europe, and Asia. Fashion is becoming more universal. Of course, there is still a segment of the elite, but it is less significant.
What do you think of fashion bloggers?
There are interesting bloggers, and there are the absolutely meaningless. As in all things, there is a natural selection that will result in those who have something to say surviving.
Some designers want to limit the presence of bloggers at their shows...
I'm not against bloggers, I read many myself – but it's like a mass market, which allows everyone to be fashionable. A blog gives you a chance to speak – but if you write nonsense, then that is your problem.
What are the most annoying things in the fashion industry?
Stupidity and superficiality. This applies not only to the world of fashion.
Where do you see the future of fashion?
It's an evolution. What was fashionable yesterday, could be irrelevant tomorrow. The beauty of fashion is to always find new ideas.
What do you think the future has in store for Vogue Italia and print fashion magazines in general?
I have no idea. But I do not think I will read fashion magazines when I have left the industry...