Tribute to Franca Sozzani
Franca Sozzani broke the rules. This was the message that struck me most when I recently rewatched Chaos and Creation, the documentary detailing the life of the legendary editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia. From 1988 until Sozzani’s death in 2016, the magazine reflected the dreams and social issues important to the renowned fashion editor through provocative stories and inspiring imagery. Sozzani booted predictable commercial photography in favor of bold shots that told a story or took a stance on events and social movements happening in the world—a divergence from traditional fashion editorials that’s one of her greatest contributions to Vogue Italia and fashion’s global landscape. Franca Sozzani is an iconic figure, and her legacy inspires many who are compelled to celebrate fashion wholly—beyond “just the clothes”—and to squeeze the juice out of life. Today, in tribute to Franca, let’s remember her trailblazing spirit and distinguished personal style.
Fashion and rebellion went hand in hand for Sozzani from an early age. She looked to references like Yves Saint Laurent’s groundbreaking Le Smoking tuxedo suit for women and London’s Swinging Sixties cultural revolution for inspiration on avant-garde style. By contrast, fashion in Italy at the time was conservative, so Sozzani welcomed this liberating perspective—one in which women had freedom to reject traditional clothing conventions and explore new options like pantsuits, miniskirts, and thigh-high boots. Her formative experience didn’t stop there. After marrying young (and divorcing soon thereafter), she and a girlfriend hitchhiked across the United States in the ’70s while Sozzani was pregnant with her first child. The adventurous attitude that characterized Sozzani’s approach to life as a young adult would later be reflected in her trust in talented photographers at Vogue Italia, accompanied by a stubborn determination in proving herself capable of revolutionizing a women’s fashion magazine.
Sozzani started her sartorial career at Vogue Bambini, the children’s edition of Vogue in Italy. In Chaos and Creation, the editor-in-chief recalled that she did everything she could to get the job, and not without a little rule breaking: she lied that she was fluent in English. As a young single mother who had seen the world, she was motivated to work hard and demonstrate her creative vision in fashion. Vogue Bambini was a good starting point, even as “the assistant to the assistant” and despite not being too fond of children’s fashion. After a few years at Vogue Bambini and directing other publications, she went on to lead Vogue Italia’s creative direction in 1988.
Titled “Il Nuovo Stile,” Sozzani’s first cover for Vogue Italia inaugurated an untrodden path for the magazine under its new editor-in-chief. The stark minimalism of the cover, featuring a single line of text and a beautiful sepia-tone image, signaled to readers that she wouldn’t be following in the overly commercial footsteps of her predecessors. Under her helm, Vogue Italia spoke to a global audience, primarily through its strong images. Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, and Paolo Roversi are among the many talented photographers that Sozzani worked with. She recognized these photographers as “interpreters of dreams” and, as such, gave them significant artistic license to create. With them, Sozzani examined controversial themes in society and current events, determined to acknowledge fashion’s connection to art, politics, and life. No subject was too taboo for Sozzani. She explored topics ranging from domestic violence, plastic surgery fixation, and even the BP oil spill in 2010. Sozzani’s proudest moment, however, was releasing the Black Issue in July 2008. The issue came as a response to the lack of diversity on the runway and in fashion magazines, featuring an all-Black editorial and recognizing Black women in the arts and entertainment. Today, the Black Issue is a collector’s item, selling for thousands on sites like eBay.
Franca Sozzani’s many accomplishments reflect the life of a resilient and hard-working woman. Characterized by her peers as a stubborn nonconformist, one may find it surprising that the editor-in-chief’s life mottos were living with lightness and starting anew every day. But this was exactly the attitude necessary to confront animosity for living unconventionally and breaking boundaries within fashion journalism. In addition to her legacy at Vogue Italia, Sozzani led a variety of global philanthropic efforts. In 2012, she was awarded the Legion of Honour by French president Nicolas Sarkozy. Sadly, her impressive trajectory of achievement was cut short in 2016, when Sozzani died of lung cancer at age 66. This month marks the fourth anniversary of her passing, so let us remember and pay tribute to this iconic figure. Flip through your old Italian Vogues or watch Chaos and Creation (it’s on Netflix!), and then explore our selection of truly Sozzani pieces: items that possess elegance, intelligence, and creativity.