AS FRANCA SOZZANI, Editor In Chief of Vogue Italia entered into the room, her ethereal beauty, and graceful demeanor were striking. Elegant, in the welcoming way, and brimming with wisdom, Sozzani, shared with us how she has inadvertently become one of the most powerful women in the world. During our interview, we found proof that she is in fact human in just how well she understands humanity itself.
A fuzzy in college, Sozzani pursued Philosophy and German literature. She never expected to go into the media industry, let alone the world of fashion, but for Sozzani, one thing led to another, as they often do when one has a knack for something. She found herself working for Vogue Bambini, LEI Magazine, and then shortly after she was promoted to the honorary position of Editor In Chief of Vogue Italia, the more laid-back yet cheekier counterpart to Anna Wintour. Although her academic nature and her professional career seem incongruous, she explained that her passions grew into each other, like ivy – wrapping together into entirely new modes of expression for Sozzani, her writing in particular.
Sozzani has achieved with her editorials, a perfect balance between creativity and caution. If you can read Italian, or have heard whatVogue Italia is all about, you probably know of its boldness in addressing big issues, feminist ones especially. The choices it makes are incredibly audacious and could-be-controversial, yet handled with such taste and grace that it always seems to work. About these choices, Sozzani says that “you never really know if something is correct, if it is good, if something will work out...” Despite the unpredictability of human nature (and how it fickly perceives issues addressed in fashion magazines in particular), her intuition has been spot-on. Take for example the Black Issue, circa 2008. The first magazine ever to feature all black models, it was reprinted three times in the US. Modestly capturing the gravity of her work, Sozzani says quietly: “It hadn’t happened before, and it won’t happen again.”
That success is never guaranteed is something Sozzani constantly reminds herself when it comes to the media industry – another example of how Sozzani keeps herself in check. There’s a fine line between what people find interesting and what they find outrageous, which makes your readership generally unpredictable. Vogue Italia’s April 2014 “Cinematic” editorial focused on domestic abuse featured models with terrified expressions and blood-stained Prada garments. Readers condemned the spread for its glamorizing and its shocking insensitivity to the realities of domestic violence. Despite the controversy, Sozzani stood by her work. “You don’t know what people could get from your message. Some people, they get what you don’t want to say, they see it in a completely different way, and distort it.” Some people may paint a different picture altogether. When this first began happening to her, Sozzani was offended. Now, she just answers criticism with one bold (and badass…) statement: “I don’t care.”
Another bold move Sozzani has made is to trust the youngains. She explains that most big-shots in the magazine industry don’t want to invest in new talent; it costs money and time, and it risks getting nothing in return. But Sozzani is adamant about supporting up and coming creative intellectuals. She has opened up her doors to over thousands of students seeking advice and guidance in the fashion industry.
But Sozzani, of course, is picky about who she thinks has got it. “Anyone can make a collection, a good dress, or a beautiful picture, or write a good article – once.” Once is the key word here. To Sozzani, people either have vision or they have a moment, and she’ll be able to decide which one it is pretty quickly. For her, when she meets someone with vision, she can sense that the taste and the talent are practically instinctual. That’s when investing in someone’s vision is the most interesting. “You know that there is not only a fire that will eventually be put out, but something that is more long term.”
Sozzani’s visions are timeless, as they grace the pages of Vogue Italia, and hopefully for many more years to come. Her vision, boldness and persistence are beyond admirable, yet she continues to remain grounded. A creature of wisdom and genuine brilliance, it’s clear that Franca Sozzani has lit her own eternal flame.
Photography by: Ameeqa Ali and banner image courtesy of Forbes.com
Special thanks to the Stanford Arts Institute and Fashion At Stanford for this incredible opportunity