"Vogue magazine will always exist..." Mira Duma interviews Franca Sozzani
A meeting of minds to celebrate Vogue Italia's 50th anniversary
Franca Sozzani is 64-years-old, yet looking at this smiling woman with long, mermaid-like hair she seems incredibly young looking, it is simply impossible to believe her real age.
Vogue Italia is celebrating its 50th year in business this year – half a century. Above all other versions of the title in the world, Italia is bright, independent, and perhaps even rebellious. And for more than half of its lifespan, Sozzani has guided it to be the true success it is today.
And thanks to its inexhaustible energy and fearlessness Vogue Italia remains at the forefront of the fashion world, the print media in particular.
Buro 24/7 founder Miroslava Duma sits down with the iconic editor to find out more:
You have worked with Vogue Italia for 26 years, and this year the magazine celebrates its 50th anniversary. Tell me about the beginning of your career there...
It was simple: Vogue Italia was a very respected publication already. We worked with all the major Italian designers of the time; Armani, Versace, Gianfranco Ferre, Valentino, and they supported me.
In one month we took the magazine and delivered another. It looked similar to a directory for advertisers before, with the same set of names from cover to cover. And when I came to the post of editor-in-chief and started to do something new – to expand the angle of editorial – it became a problem for many people. Some designers just did not understand what was happening and in what direction we were moving. And the first year and a half was actually very difficult in that respect.
Patrick Demarchelier for Vogue Italia December 1988
Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia January 2000
You worked with the Italian brands – which were localised then, but are now among the largest companies in the world. Now it is all international. You could say, that side-by-side, you helped to build the idea of Italian fashion and took it 'international'.
Yes, in the case of many of them we did literally "grow up together". For example, I took over at Vogue Italia the very same year that Miuccia Prada launched her first collection for Prada. We all understood that we all needed to elevate things to an international level. Not everyone speaks Italian or reads Italian, so I decided that we should speak to the international public through the images. Now, we have Instagram, but in a way I actually started it 26 years ago!
Do you think that the fashion industry in Italy receives sufficient support from the state?
What do you mean?
For example, in America they have over 50 years of strong government support for the fashion industry, built almost from scratch. There are financial contributions, grants, tax incentives, educational programs. And American designers such as Ralph Lauren and Michael Kors, are among the richest people in the industry...
No we didn't have anything like that in Italy.
Did not and still don't?
Sure, we have more assistance from the authorities more than before. In Italy, the situation is quite different than in America. Although is there really an American fashion industry outside of the huge brands? It's a big question. When we talk about American fashion, we think of Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Diane von Furstenberg, Donna Karan... But that's all.
"Bloggers now have no concept. They are given things; they put them on, take pictures, and then just disappear from sight. Who cares?"
But there is a second generation of designers coming through. For example, the so-called Asian-American designers: Alexander Wang, Thakoon, Derek Lam, Prabal Gurung, and Phillip Lim. Or take the Proenza Schouler – and they are quite successful?
I would not call them so much of a success. If you go around the world and begin to ask the people whom those names are, it is unlikely that many will understand what you are saying. People do not know them. They know Michael Kors, Ralph Lauren, Calvin Klein, Marc Jacobs, probably.
Steven Klein for Vogue Italia October 2006
Well, what do you think about the new generation of Italian designers? The kinds of brands that say, are equivalent to that of Christopher Kane, Peter Pilotto, and Mary Katrantzou in the UK...
At this level we have Stella Jean, Andrea Incontri, MSGM – they are all brands that continue to grow. Although MSGM is already, perhaps, a higher rank: they make a lot of money, they are a proper business. The rest are small. At this level in Italy there is a new generation, and what can be said for America? Well, who can you think of besides Proenza Schouler?
Derek Lam and Thakoon... Prabal Gurung?
You understand, they are at like a third level. There is a first level, there is a second level, and there is a third. These are people who we still cannot even say with certainty whether they will be successful or not...
MAGAZINES LIKE VOGUE WILL ALWAYS EXIST, JUST LIKE THE IPAD WILL NOT REPLACE BOOKS IN THEIR ENTIRETY
You know, I was recently in New York City and had an hour allocated specifically to go to Bergdorf Goodman. And it turns out that the previous shop-in-shop there for Marni, which was very spacious and beautiful, was closed. Instead in its place was a corner dedicated to Proenza Schouler. But it's not a financial issue, it is political: Bergdorf Goodman, as well as the rest of the American system, supports "their" designers, American fashion, even though foreign brands could earn them more money.
Yes, in America they are very careful about their talents, and support and protective of their local brands. Although Proenza Schouler can't truly be called one of those American brands in the low tier. It has been on the market for 14 years, darling, one of the designers is 45, and the other is 43. It is already successful. If you are not successful by 40 years old, then I don't think you ever will be.
In my mind, Proenza belongs to the same category as the Italian label Aquilano Rimondi: they are not so young either, over 40. Today everything is much faster, people are successful younger.
Magazines, and all print media, are becoming increasingly commercial. But I genuinely consider Vogue Italia to be an exception. I am a digital person and rarely read print media, but I do buy your magazine and collect it, like art.
I made this choice because I really had no choice. Before the crisis in Italy there were eight or ten weekly fashion magazines, and more than twenty monthly ones, the market was totally saturated. And if we were doing something that is the same as all of these magazines, something commercial, then in Italy we wouldn't have survived: I needed to make quality. Vogue costs five euros, and the others just one! So I avoid the commercial route.
Ugo Mulas for Vogue Italia July/August 1966
Helmut Newton for Vogue Italia March 2004
Are you familiar with Karina Dobrotvorskaya? She was formerly president and editorial director of Condé Nast Russia, and now the president and editorial director of brand development Condé Nast International. When she left Russia she gave the people at her party a very unexpected, but inspiring speech. She said: "I am a person who had a successful career in the press but I will tell you one thing: We live in a digital-era, and we all need to develop a line of digital." What do you think about the impact of modern technology?
We are in a new era, and if we turn a blind eye to that and cling to the old order – it would be like committing suicide, dooming your business to death. But magazines like Vogue will always exist, just like the iPad will not replace books in their entirety. You can go back to magazines, flip through them – to look at the details ... The Internet does not give any time to pay attention to the details. Therefore, if you want to stay in print, you must offer the customer a quality that he will never get from digital. Weeklies and newspapers – they are the ones that have problems. Weekly tries to tell you how to live, how to raise children, how to dress in the evening, but we don't need that anymore. Now you can open the Internet, and tens of thousands of people will advise you how to live. And you can choose the one you like. One is a slower life, and the other is faster, and there is no reason the two can't co-exist.
"If you are not successful by 40 years old, then I don't think you ever will be."
But do you think there really is an audience for bloggers; do we trust their opinion?
I think yes, every age has their own "blog" style craze that is appropriate, and something of their own. Teenage girls are raving about some Instagram-bloggers. But all of these online stars are like fireworks – they flash for a moment with glitter and crackle, and then disappear. None of the current bloggers have a true concept; everyone is doing the same thing. "Wear that sweater by such and such a brand, etc." Okay, so what? They are given things; they put them on, take pictures, and then just disappear from sight. Who cares?
Who, in your opinion, is really affected by "fashion stars" then? They become so famous, bigger than actresses and singers. Is it print press, designers, the digital world?
Still the main influence on fashion is a real star. Take Kim Kardashian, for example. You can love her or not, but I actually like her a lot – and for many people, she has become an icon. She is as known in Milan and Paris as she is in Detroit. But take these bloggers out of New York, Paris, London, Milan – nobody knows them. Even if they seem big, these bloggers are niche. But mostly new idols emerge from the world of music. Kanye, Rihanna, Nicki Minaj they are all the same – to be successful, you need to create and come up with your own image, only then will people remember. Actors also constantly be changing their image, and on the red carpet wearing a dress from the catwalks, perhaps that has less impact.
And so two completely different examples in this respect, we have Beyoncé and Rihanna. Rihanna was presented an award at the CFDA awards this year as a new style icon, appearing at the ceremony in a transparent dress that was discussed by the whole world. And then when it comes to Beyoncé, on the contrary, Vanessa Friedman has written in The New York Times, about why the singer cannot be considered a fashion icon...
Beyoncé is definitely not a style icon – she is something more – a real role model for millions. When I was in Ghana, I was asked: "Are you familiar with Kim Kardashian?" (Laughs) And then: "And Beyoncé?" And it's like, 'I got it' here we have the real icons of the world today.
Inez Van Lamsweerde and Vinoodh Matadin for Vogue Italia April 2007
Talking of the impact of the digital-world, actually at the CFDA ceremony I sat close to the table Rihanna was on. As we were leaving she saw me and waved, "Oh, I like your style, I follow you on Instagram!" And I stood there with my mouth open thinking, "Wow, that is what the Internet does for us today, it can connect 6 billion people who live on the planet..."
Yes, and that's exactly what I like most about digital. Therefore, for the 50th anniversary of Vogue Italia, we decided not to arrange another photo exhibition like we have done before, and instead digitize all the archives and make a multimedia presentation, and then put all on the web. Digital is not an abstract future; this is the moment in which we live now.
Which edition of Vogue Italia has become your favourite for all the years of work?
Of course, it has to be The Black Issue, which was released in 2008 – and the year of Barack Obama's victory in the presidential election. It was a huge success. We reissued it three times.
It is increasingly difficult to create something new in fashion. Now designers are working with archives to produce a collaboration between art and fashion, but nothing really 'new' is happening...
I fundamentally disagree with the idea that anything new is no longer possible to create – it would mean the end of the world, the collapse of civilization. And before us, I think, far away there is always a creative soul, a new talent – maybe new people will come tomorrow, maybe the day after tomorrow. They are all always appearing out of nowhere, like Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook, invented his own company while still a student. Everything is constantly changing, every day there is something new – maybe we just need time to understand the events of the last decade being really the turning point. A revolution that we have not noticed yet.
"I fundamentally disagree with the idea that AnYthing new is no longer possible to create"
Guy Bourdin for Vogue Italia October 1967