The fashion world mourns the death of an innovator
Franca Sozzani, the Editor in Chief of Italian Vogue, has died.
Franca, an ageless 66, was born in Mantua. Her father, a classic Italian patriarch, was an industrial engineer who did not approve his daughter’s early ambitions to study physics. She studied literature and philosophy at university in Milan instead, and married soon after, although she knew, as she later admitted, that the marriage was doomed before she walked into the church. (Franca would later confess that romantic relationships were the one weak link in her formidable arsenal of triumphs.) The couple divorced three months later, and the free-spirited Franca went to India to find herself—“I thought it was time to do something good with my life.” Time spent in Swinging London further nurtured her creative spirit.
When she returned from her odyssey, she stumbled into a job at Vogue Bambini (as “assistant to the assistant to the assistant,” as she playfully remembered). By 1980, she landed the editorship of Lei, aimed at young women, with Per Lui, its male counterpart, following in 1982. She transformed both these titles into showcases for the most dynamic trends in international fashion and lifestyle image-making. When Oliviero Toscani, her key photographer, moved on from her magazines, she began nurturing a dazzling talent roster of emerging photographers including Mario Testino, Paolo Roversi, Herb Ritts, Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber, and Steven Meisel, all of whom were attracted by the unprecedented editorial freedom that she gave them, and her passion for photography.
Her first issue, for July/August 1988, with the single cover line “Il Nuovo Stile,” and a sepia-washed black-and-white image by Meisel of the pillowy-lipped model Robin MacKintosh wearing a plain white Ferré blouse, signaled that she was not going to be playing by anyone else’s rules. Meisel has shot nearly every subsequent cover for her magazine. As she had at Lei and Per Lui, Franca soon created a powerful visual language for the magazine, drawing on the talents of a core group of photographers—Weber, Roversi, and Lindbergh among them—whose collaborations with her would set the bar for fashion imagery through the decades and launch and mold the great models of the age. “Before fashion,” she said, “I love images.” In the process, she turned Italian Vogue into a magazine powerhouse with a reach and influence far beyond its relatively modest circulation. By contrast, the first-person blog she launched five years ago discussed contemporary issues in an endearingly forthright and revealing way.
As well as promoting young designers and encouraging other industry types to support them through her Who Is on Next? initiative, Franca also took an active role in social issues beyond the pages of her magazines. She was the creative director of Convivio, the AIDS initiative that Gianni Versace launched in 1992, and also founded Child Priority with Jonathan Newhouse, to provide work opportunities for underprivileged children. She was appointed global ambassador against hunger for the United Nations World Food Programme, with a particular focus on the empowerment and education of women and girls, and as their goodwill ambassador for Fashion 4 Development, she worked in areas including poverty and gender equality, through the medium of fashion-based initiatives. In this capacity, she traveled extensively through Africa meeting both far-flung villagers and heads of state in a concerted effort to understand the issues and find solutions, and subsequently raised global awareness—and funds—to support the projects.
Franca passed away peacefully with her only son by her side.
“I cannot live without dreams. If you have a big dream you can make it”. – Franca Sozzani