7 months ago

Francesco Carrozzini Remembers his Mother, Franca Sozzani, Legendary Editor of Vogue Italia


To her son, Francesco Carrozzini, her colleagues and her friends, the late FRANCA SOZZANI, trailblazing editor of Vogue Italia, was an extraordinary woman …

In 2010, I started making a film about my mother, Franca. It wasn’t until I was finishing it, five years later, that I realised she was not going to live much longer. We rushed to get the movie into the Venice Film Festival, where she and I watched the world premiere of our film together. After the lights came on, we looked at each other and shared a private moment of pride, understanding and love. She died four months later.

After the documentary came out the following year, I was left not only with grief but with the feeling that the film captured just a small part of who my mother was and what she had accomplished. I wanted a physical object that reminded me of her where I could show the world more than what I was able to in the film.

I went to her apartment in Milan several times and started sorting through pictures, pieces of paper, and objects. She kept everything, from notes from Diana Vreeland to movie ticket stubs and every single Christmas card I’ve ever written to her. It was like putting together a puzzle of which I remembered the shape but not the colours.

Looking through all of her life, I remembered moments I had forgotten, learned more about her work, and, most importantly, came to the realisation that the love she had given me was the most complete form of love anyone could receive. She was not just my mother but a mentor, a confidante, and, above all, a friend. I would give the world to have her back, but what she left behind, both physically and emotionally, will always guide the way I live my life, and the dialogue with her will never end. In the past two years of my life, the most beautiful surprise was to realise that she was a mother not only to me but also to many others who dearly miss her light and guidance in their lives. I hope that by opening my book, both the people who knew her and those who didn’t can find some of that light.

FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: Grace Coddington, Marina Schiano, Franca Sozzani, Carlyne Cerf de Dudzeele.

Anna Wintour, Editor-in-Chief, US Vogue

Franca Sozzani and I were hired to lead magazines the very same week, and so we were thrown into each other’s lives quickly. Both of us were independent spirits and neither quite sure of what to make of the other. But it wasn’t long before I understood – after seeing one extraordinary issue after another of Italian Vogue – that Franca was a brilliant editor, with a generous and playful imagination, and someone I was determined to get
to know.

Our friendship came slowly, show by show and season by season. Ultimately it would go on to sustain itself for 30 years. In private, she was warm, clever, funny, and someone who could give the Sphinx a run for its money when it comes to keeping a confidence. She was also the hardest-working person I have known and made everything she worked on appear effortless.

Her imagination drew on drama, irony, history, ambition, and a feeling that fashion meant more than clothes on a runway. She was fearless, too, imbuing Italian Vogue with deep, often controversial, moral purpose. Think of her portfolio on domestic violence. Or her pioneering issue featuring only black models. Or her plus-size cover. She was not just ahead of our time. She was ahead of our courage in so many ways.

I have many brilliant generals on whom I rely to help set Vogue’s standards – I trust their ideas and vision far more than my own. Franca, as far as I could tell, was a one-woman show. She trusted her artists implicitly – visionary photographers like Lindbergh, Meisel, and Weber. But the risks she took, the vision guiding each issue, were hers alone.

After she became ill, I began visiting her at her home in Milan. Her mind and spirit were undiminished as we discussed every topic under the sun, from the fall of Matteo Renzi to her amazing work with women in Ghana to our children’s miraculous love affair … (That she and I would ultimately become family seems the final turn of destiny in our relationship, and one for which I’ll be forever grateful.)

Trust, and be, yourself. That was the enduring lesson Franca taught me, and it is her courage I most remember to this day. In fact, she is vivid in my memory, alive in my mind and my heart: clever, stylish, beautiful, never self-pitying, full of irreverence and wit and life.

Franca with her sister Carla Sozzani.

Suzy Menkes, Editor, Vogue International

“Anyone could have done it – but I was the one who did it,” Franca Sozzani said to me about her all-black Italian Vogue issue in 2008 that stunned the fashion world and required an unprecedented reprint of the magazine.

Her words summed up the imaginative daring that made Franca’s 28 years at the head of Italian Vogue such a roller-coaster of soft elegance and hard punches.

A maverick editor but an ethereal, fragile beauty, Franca left a trail of controversial issues that took Vogue Italia way beyond glamour into striking and polemical areas – especially when it came to her work with photographer Steven Meisel.

They included the “Makeover Madness” images in 2005, when Meisel visualised, through Linda Evangelista and other models, the new millennium’s obsession with plastic surgery; and the dark rage of an issue contending with the 2010 BP oil spill by depicting model Kristen McMenamy covered with tar from a polluted ocean.

But Franca, who had studied literature and philosophy and absorbed the cultural depth of her hometown, Mantua, was far more than a fashion editor or a magazine creator. She interpreted her role as a dynamic director who nurtured talent, especially the now famous photographers such as Peter Lindbergh, Herb Ritts, Paolo Roversi, Mario Testino, and many more, including Meisel. Their freedom and her imagination made a powerful fashion statement.

“Fashion isn’t really about clothes – it’s about life” was her mantra. And the film of Franca’s own life, Chaos and Creation, made by her son, Francesco, gave to the world her vision inside and beyond fashion.

For all that she achieved for a glossy and ever-changing Vogue Italia, Franca gave so much more. I worked with her for a decade on Who Is On Next? – a constant search for new fashion blood and new designers in Italy. Then there were her worldwide issues: taking on the scourge of AIDS with Gianni Versace; being an ambassador for the United Nations projects against worldwide hunger in children. Faced with requests to support projects in Africa and beyond, her answer was always yes.

With her waves of Renaissance curls like a Botticelli painting, Franca had a fragile beauty – but a strength beyond measure.

Franca’s office

Linda Evangelista, Model

I first met Franca back in the days when, on a shoot, a suitcase of clothes from Italy would arrive, and as the stylist unpacked the pieces, the entire team would stand about and start dreaming up the scenario for what would later be shot. Who were we? Where were we? And why were we wearing these clothes? Back then, there had been no prior creative meetings, no memos outlining what needed to be shot with an attached inspiration board. Instead, the photographer, the stylist, the hair and make-up team, and the models had simply been given the clothes to play with …

And Franca encouraged play.

Vogue Italia didn’t have large budgets like other magazines – but it didn’t need large budgets, because it had Franca. What made Franca completely different from anyone else in her position and with her power was that she gave 100 percent creative control to the people she worked with. Without putting stipulations or boundaries on people, Franca allowed everyone to do their best work because mutual trust and respect were palpable.

At the collections, there were only a handful of people I would search for while walking down the runway, and Franca was one of them. I’m not sure if I was looking for a familiar face to provide reassurance, or perhaps I was lonely up there, but I would see Franca, make eye contact for even a split second, and we would smile. Franca made me love my job and the work that I created for Vogue Italia. On the pages of her magazine, all of us became co-conspirators in the art of play, and Franca was the ringleader. In her eyes, an image was more than a model in a gorgeous dress, beautifully made up and well lit. For Franca, images were a conversation about current affairs, the beauty of being “other,” the power of age, the fearlessness of youth …

A few years ago, I was in Milan when Vogue Italia celebrated its 40th anniversary with an epic exhibition and party. Afterward, Franca hosted an intimate dinner where we toasted the magazine, which became a celebration of Franca’s creativity, vision, and tenacity.
As we parted for the evening, I congratulated Franca, and she smiled, simply saying, “It was nice, wasn’t it?” Yes, Franca, it was nice, and thank you for letting me play in your world.

Franca: Chaos and Creation, Assouline, €250, is out now.

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