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Remembering Franca Sozzani

Tim Blanks remembers the fearless Franca Sozzani and her unquenchable appetite for image-making.
Franca Sozzani | Photo: Peter Lindbergh
By
  • Tim Blanks

MILAN, Italy — Franca Sozzani died today. 66. One more untimely notch in the belt of a demon year. But also reason to reflect on how fashion has been shaped by the editor's eye, and none as acute as hers: designers, photographers, stylists, models, hair and makeup artists melding their own expertise in the common cause of the magazines that Sozzani made.

It always struck me as vaguely subversive that the quirkiness, the idiosyncrasy of her vision insinuated itself into the wider world under the banner of Condé Nast. Lei, Franca's first command, anticipated so much that came afterwards that it has still never really received its due (and how could that even happen now with digitalitis?). But Vogue Italia will fortunately endure as a spectacular magazine monument to her unquenchable appetite for image-making of the highest order.

The iron fist in the velvet glove: who could hope for anything more from a fashion magazine editor?

Looking back on Lei and her early issues of Vogue, it's scarcely credible that something that seemed already so fully conceptualised could have sprung from the enterprise of a young editor, a one-woman band, unleashed in New York to find new photographers who could realise the changes she had in mind. Lindbergh, Weber, Meisel, Roversi, Ritts: it was much more than coincidence that brought all of them together under Sozzani's umbrella. I pushed her once on what her fashion epitaph might be. Reluctantly, she conceded this: "Franca Sozzani found the biggest photographers of today."

And not just photographers. She was unflaggingly generous in her support for the industry as a whole, always willing to stop for a soundbite, but also happy to barb that soundbite when necessary. The iron fist in the velvet glove: who could hope for anything more from a fashion magazine editor?

What I myself, as an ardent fan of fashion media, relished most was the fact that she bridged eras, from, say, the New York grunge of Meisel's earliest shoots for Lei to his controversial cinematic scenarios that shunted Vogue Italia into the evening news. Sozzani was like a movie impresario, building the studio, then allowing her auteurs free rein to blossom, with their own repertory companies of talent. There will never be another fashion moment as perfect as Evangelista, Turlington, Campbell et al. acting out the fantasies of Sozzani's stable of shooters. Editorial edged effortlessly into art (and, again, full appreciation awaits posterity's blessing).

On the wall of her office there was a photo by Bruce Weber on which he’d scrawled this: “When I sent all these photos to you, I would write on the package ‘personal.’ I now realise that I took them for you because you would be the only one who would understand.” The power in that kind of intimacy made Sozzani and the magazines she edited utterly unique, and infinitely cherishable. Pick up any of her issues, and she’s right there.

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