Influential, inspirational and controversial. These three adjectives perfectly describe and define Franca Sozzani, the editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia, who died today in Milan after a year-long illness.
Jonathan Newhouse, Condé Nast Chairman and Chief Executive, announced her death stating: "This is the saddest news I have ever had to report to you." He added in his message to Vogue readers and fashion fans all over the world: "Franca was one of the greatest Editors who ever made a magazine. She was by far the most talented, influential and important person within the Condé Nast International organisation. She made Italian Vogue a powerful and influential voice in the worlds of fashion and photography by publishing ground-breaking photography and journalism. In doing so she expanded Vogue beyond what had been the traditional model of a fashion magazine and often courted controversy by doing so. The greatest fashion photographers looked to Franca as the creative leader who would give them the freedom and the scope to produce their best work and they did so, month after month."
Born in 1950 in Mantua, Sozzani studied literature and philosophy in Milan, marrying shortly afterwards. She divorced three months later while pregnant with her child, Francesco. A stint in Britain allowed her to taste the freedom of the Swinging London scene and, upon her return to Milan, she applied for a job at Condé Nast. She worked as a secretary, and then moved to Vogue Bambini. By 1980, she became editor of Lei (an early version of Glamour magazine) and then of Per Lui (aimed at the male market).
Appointed Editor in Chief of Italian Vogue in 1988, she became in 1994 Editor in Chief of Italian Condé Nast. Sozzani revolutionized Vogue publishing controversial shoots by her favourite photographers to whom she gave editorial freedom. She knew indeed that powerful images would have helped the magazine circulation, reaching out to a wider audience of readers and fashion fans who didn't speak Italian.
She therefore proceeded to transform the magazines she directed through exclusive shoots by famous photographers such as Mario Testino, Paolo Roversi, Herb Ritts, Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber, and Steven Meisel, who became one of her closest collaborators.
Throughout the years Sozzani became the centre of controversy for editorials that provoked debates as they focused on the modern obsession with plastic surgery ("Makeover Madness," July 2005), reinterpreted the 2010 BP oil spill, or opposed domestic violence while showing women stalked by killers and murderers (Steven Meisel, April 2014; the shoot looked more like a nightmare out of a Dario Argento film rather than a way to comment on domestic violence, it was indeed entitled "Horror Movie"...).
In 2008 she produced an all-black issue featuring only black models, followed by a plus-size issue and featured Kim Kardashian on the cover of L'Uomo Vogue in 2012, opening the doors of the fashion world to the superficial icon before US Vogue embraced her.
Sozzani embodied a trend that started after the '80s when magazines became extremely respectful of the fashion houses advertising in their pages (this trend contributed to damaging the Italian fashion scene lacking integrity and criticism). Sozzani was also criticised for multiple conflicts of interests: her niece Sara Maino (daughter of Franca's sister, Carla, founder and owner of concept store 10 Corso Como) works at Vogue Italia; she favoured her son, Francesco Carrozzini, who for years was the only Italian photographer working for the magazine, and her partner, Vogue Italia/L'Uomo Vogue art director Luca Stoppini who also directs an advertising company and takes care of the campaigns of quite a few fashion houses and brands appearing on Condé Nast magazines.
In more recent years Sozzani appeared at public events (she addessed Harvard's student union on fashion's approach to body image), wrote (in a quite often bland and superficial way) about a variety of issues in her blog on Vogue.it and supported the competition for emerging fashion designers "Who's on Next?", in an attempt to prove Vogue Italia wasn't just siding with famous fashion houses, designers and brands (with advertising budgets...) but was also interested in younger talents.
Sozzani became the creative director of Convivio, the AIDS initiative that Gianni Versace launched in 1992, global ambassador against hunger for the United Nations World Food Programme and UN goodwill ambassador, and president of the European Oncology Institute, founded by Italian oncologist Umberto Veronesi. She received the Swarovski Award for Positive Change at the 2016 British Fashion Awards that took place in London at the beginning of December.
She is survived by her son Francesco Carrozzini, who shot a documentary about her, "Franca: Chaos and Creation" (a title inspired by a description of her approach by Bruce Weber), screened at the Venice Film Festival in September. Carrozzini is dating Bee Shaffer, daughter of Anna Wintour, US Vogue editor and artistic director for Condé Nast.
Bets are now open about who will take Sozzani's job: it will indeed not be easy to find another powerful figure like her and, while it would be interesting to see where Vogue Italia would go without anybody related to Sozzani at its helm, the magazine risks to remain "a family affair", with Carrozzini, Shaffer and Maino in pole position as potential candidates.