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Fashion statement

COVER LOOKS: Franca Sozzani's Vogue Italia used an oil-soaked model to send a message about the fragility of nature, dedicated a special issue to black Barbie, made a splash with a four-cover Black Issue and delivered a tribute to Africa in sister publication L'Uomo.
COVER LOOKS: Franca Sozzani's Vogue Italia used an oil-soaked model to send a message about the fragility of nature, dedicated a special issue to black Barbie, made a splash with a four-cover Black Issue and delivered a tribute to Africa in sister publication L'Uomo. (Vogue Italia)
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Sozzani's activism, while modest in the great history of social upheaval, nonetheless is noteworthy because of the social climate in which this global industry is operating and because of the outsize role that fashion occupies in the culture at large. Questions about public and personal identity are at the root of a host of international antagonisms. Italy is wrestling with immigration phobia; France is busy banning the burqa; and the United States is analyzing its "post-racial," obese self. At issue in each case is how individuals define themselves in the public space and how they want the world to see them.

And within the porous confines of the fashion industry, race has, in the past months, inspired public protests, self-conscious self-analysis and debates about what constitutes racism and sizeism and what should be classified as ignorance.

In the midst of this storm of fretfulness and rebuke stands Sozzani, a diminutive, 60-year-old white editor who grew up in the northern Italian city of Mantua.

"She's creative, but she's also open," says Hardison, a former model and model agency owner. "There's a lot of creative people out there and they don't do this.

"She's a crusader," Hardison says. "She probably doesn't think so, but she is."

The Black Issue

As the editor of Vogue Italia - and the head of its Italian siblings that report on menswear and jewelry - Sozzani makes up one-third of fashion's holy trinity of Vogue czars. The others are French Vogue's Carine Roitfeld and Anna Wintour, the devil who doth wear Prada. Roitfeld enjoys the smell of cigarette smoke, lurks behind a side-swept curtain of brunette hair and favors pencil skirts, stilettos and tight-fitting jackets - a wardrobe that would best be described as painful.

The mythology surrounding the publicly inscrutable Wintour is such that few bat an eye when she arrives at fashion shows flanked by a rotating detail of beefy bodyguards. One of them favored a black-leather duster like a character out of "The Matrix." Another had a gold tooth. The most recent pair included a fire hydrant with a buzz cut and a Jean Reno doppelganger.

Sozzani travels from show to show without her own muscle. She is petite and waif-thin, with golden Rapunzel waves that reach well below her shoulders. Her features are strong and her eyes pale blue. She has an unhurried manner that calls to mind the phrase "comfortable in one's skin."

Told that she is photogenic, she observes that "sometimes I take a beautiful picture that I love. Sometimes, I see a picture of someone who looks like me but" - and she shakes her head in dismay over how a photo can go so wrong - "I think, 'Who is that?' "

Her style is unfussy, but by no means minimal. One particular afternoon in the middle of fashion week, she is dressed in an olive silk military-style shirt and a knee-length navy skirt, both by Lanvin. She prefers significant jewelry, low heels - today's reptile versions are by Manolo Blahnik - small clutch handbags and an iPhone.

Of her Conde Nast compatriots, Sozzani is closest to Wintour. The two have become friends over the years, and Wintour notes, quite simply, that "Franca is magnificent." They have worked together on the global orgy of shopping, Fashion's Night Out, as well as on finding ways to support young designers. In their tete-a-tetes, diversity on the runway is a topic that regularly comes up.

"Right now, it seems as though we are experiencing a wave of Asian models, and while there is certainly a strong African American presence with Joan Smalls, Jourdan Dunn and Chanel Iman, sadly we don't see as many African American models as we could," Wintour says.


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