Franca Sozzani: Shaking up Fashion Communication

Portrait of Franca Sozzani, Fashion Icon.Franca Sozzani was a smart, driven and daring woman whose “incredible contribution to fashion will be missed” quoting Marc Jacobs’ post on Instagram. That’s because she truly shook up the fashion communication codes. And not only because she could, being editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia for 28 years, she was considered one of the most powerful journalists in the fashion industry. But because she was utterly talented, professionally fearless and absolutely groundbreaking but most of all she was willing to take the risks. She believed that “fashion is not only about a piece of fabric”, but a truly contemporary matter imbued with social, economical and political inferences. So “why not use fashion to communicate?”. At some point it seemed pretty natural to use her favorite tool in order to record and analize the times.

When she was appointed editor in chief at Vogue Italia, what Condé Nast wanted and readers expected, was “girls jumping, laughing”. But that was not what she wanted. Sozzani was envisioning modern fashion followers having a deeper understanding of history, and most of all that fashion stories could deliver better contents. That’s why she started feeding her bewildered readers with shocking and nearly outrageous stories like Steven Meisel’s 70-page “Makeover Madness”.July 2005, “Makeover Madness” Editorial by Steven Meisel.

Unlike her competition, her Vogue had to be visually catchy and razor-sharp interesting.  As she said, “Vogue was in Italian but I wanted to speak to everyone so I thought of creating images that were made to talk” cause language is no barrier for a photo story. Moreover she believed that “all the magazines can have the same clothes. We go to the same show, with the same models… So if you don’t change the point of view, you are just another catalogue. We don’t need another catalogue”. That’s how she ended up in editing a magazine not interested in conforming, whose main focus was establish a reputation for being the most creative one: a magazine that no fashion house wants to ignore.

At that point, even Jonathan Newhouse, Chairman and CEO of Condé Nast International had to give up and admit that Franca Sozzani was right and that she was able to disturb readers “better than anybody”.

Sozzani has championed photographers now considered the best in the world – Steven Meisel (her favourite), Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh, Ellen von Unwerth, Paolo Roversi, Tim Walker. She spotted their talents when many of them were pretty much unknowns and used them to present a whole bunch of whimsical contributions and social themes in a challenging and somehow prophetic way.

It was in 2006 that Steven Meisel’s Makeover Madness graphically covered the matter of cosmetic surgery. In that special issue, featuring super model Linda Evangelista one could face pretty unsettling scenes showcasing bloody bandages, liposuction tubes, syringes and scalpels.July 2005, “Makeover Madness” Editorial by Steven Meisel.

July 2005, “Makeover Madness” Editorial by Steven Meisel.July 2005, “Makeover Madness” Editorial by Steven Meisel.July 2005, “Makeover Madness” Editorial by Steven Meisel.Her following special and most sensational success was the so called “Black Issue”. July 2008 Vogue Italia’s cover and magazine was all about fighting racism. It made a huge mark on fashion history cause fot the very first time a fashion editor produced an issue that featured only black models. It had to be reprinted three times to meet demand.

July 2008, The Black Issue.

Her August 2010 edition was about the BP oil spill in the gulf of Mexico, with model Kristen McMenamy shockingly portrayed as a miserable beached creature all befouled in black and slicked oily material.

August 2010, " Water & Oil" Editorial by Steven Meisel.Again the Curvy Issue in 2011 about real women beauty canon and prototypes followed by one of her most debated and less well received choices: a straithforward issue about domestic violence. It was April 2014 and according to the news “in Italy, every three days a woman dies, killed by a relative, husband, boyfriend,” said Sozzani. “Probably the fact I credited the clothes was a bit too much. At the same time, to make a statement I have to use the tools I have. My tool is a fashion magazine.” Actually the deepest interest she put in the creative side of storytelling often diverted from the traditional model of a fashion magazine: it was like the clothes were there to propel the story more than the story was there to sell the clothes.

July 2011, The Curvy Issue Cover

April 2014, Steven Meisel for Vogue Italia.
As usual she had employed formula was fusing fashion with social issues in such a way that stories flirt with the news are only part of the formula she has developed. Often it seems the clothes are there to propel the story more than the story is there to sell the clothes.

So, thank you Franca for all the innovative, relevant and quality job you did. We’ll keep on treasure it and  remember you in your delicate and elegant figure, so simply iconic with your blonde wavy hair and those piercing blue eyes. We’ll keep in mind how effortlessly stylish you were, looking always so polished and absolutely stunning. But most of all, thank you very much for having taught us the ultimate style tip: “you have to think and fight for the big things. The dreams should be huge. Of course you can dream to have a bag, but that’s a small dream.’

Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief Vogue Italia


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