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MILAN — Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani doesn’t shy away from controversy. Some might argue she courts it.
She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and her blog on vogue.it has helped the site jump to more than one million unique users a month, at the same time lifting sales of the magazine at newsstands. WWD caught up with the petite Sozzani, whose long, wavy blonde hair and azure eyes are fixtures on the fashion scene, where she has headed up Italy’s most experimental fashion magazine for the past 22 years.
This story first appeared in the April 27, 2011 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.
WWD: Who is the reader of vogue.it? And is it the same as the magazine’s?
Franca Sozzani: What still makes Vogue Italia different is that it tells its own stories, it does it in a way that is sometimes stronger than other magazines. I would say the strength of Vogue Italia is its creativity and image. To move all this onto the site was not really easy, because when the image is so creative and exclusive, it can be misunderstood by a larger public. The challenge was to bring this image and this quality to the site, but we succeeded. Not only did we bring our readers to the site, but we also added new ones, who weren’t regular Vogue readers. As a consequence, in some months, sales of the magazine grew 27 percent, and 2010 saw a 20 percent gain at newsstands.
WWD: So was vogue.it a commercial strategy to increase the sales of the magazine or a way to be closer to the public?
F.S.: No, nobody could have foreseen this. The success of the site was unexpected. We didn’t do the site to increase the sales of the magazine, but so that the idea of Vogue, and its quality, its contents, would be diffused on the site, to give an alternative to the reader.
WWD: What does this depend on and what parts are the most visited?
F.S.: I believe, graphically, it is very different from other sites. It’s rich in news, not only commercially, and it’s user-friendly. Well, my blog is the most visited, with 1,000 to 3,000 readers a day. We created alternatives, as we have pages nobody else has, such as “Curvy,” “Talents,” “Black.” And now we have added “Photo,” where you can upload your photos and build up a portfolio, which helps those who don’t have an agent yet. We launched it on April 4, and in two days we had more than 2,000 people uploading their photos.
WWD: You were initially criticized for your “Black” and “Curvy” pages.
F.S.: Oh, very much so, because some said it was becoming the ghetto of plus-sized, the ghetto of black, but it’s not true. These are very happy readers, happy that we are looking at them in different ways. In “Curvy,” they are superhappy with their sizes. We help them dress fashionably. We say: It’s pointless for you to buy leggings, take this because this will look good on you. We help them choose. We don’t talk about diets because they don’t want to be on a diet, but it’s not a ghetto. Why should these women slim down? Many of the women who have a few extra kilos are especially beautiful and also more feminine.
WWD: Do you believe that in your role you must be engaged in social issues?
F.S.: Yes. For example we have a petition against pro-anorexia Web sites and blogs. I believe it’s fundamental. There are 300,000 of these sites globally and if you read them, you feel sick. If someone says it’s absurd and hypocritical that Vogue is against anorexia, I say, “Why?” They say models are thin, but I can’t change all the shows, the world, walk the streets saying you have to do this or that. I’m not the Eternal Judge. I do what I can do; others then do what they have to do. We have this damn Photoshop, where 14-year-old girls are polished, they take away the stomach, the sides and they all seem thinner. And why shouldn’t one have wrinkles? I don’t understand — there must be a moment when one has to have something.
WWD: Do you use Photoshop, too?
F.S.: We use it less and less, increasingly so — actually recently I am very much against it. But now it’s part of daily use and you can’t blame it. There are few photographers who don’t use Photoshop, very few. But you can’t say fashion is the cause of anorexia — what about Twiggy in the Sixties? There were anorexics already, were they so because of Twiggy? Or Jean Shrimpton? There are psychological problems. I don’t feel a hypocrite at all and I couldn’t care less if they say I am because I am convinced that if I can do something to help.…Maybe these kids go on these pro-anorexia sites also because they feel lonely, we should help them not feel lonely. But this is an illness, I am not a professor, I can do things I find socially right, as when I organize Convivio to help fight AIDS. I can’t move the world and be Hercules with everything on my shoulders, I can only do some things. So 90 percent of people agree with me, then there is the 10 percent that say it’s absurd because they see Vogue as a fashion magazine and it shows thin models. But they forget the supermodel era — Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, they were not thin. When Kate Moss arrived , they all said, “Here is the anorexic model,” but she was 15. Now they are all against her because she has cellulite. But who cares? We would all like to have cellulite like she does. The problem is that many of these models are too young. This is the real problem; they are immature.
WWD: You know your own mind. Is it important to be self-assured? How do you feel when your blog gets negative reactions?
F.S.: I respond, “They can go to hell.” I say that I’m sick and tired and I won’t write my blog anymore, then they say, “Oh, continue.” I write what I think and we can’t all agree; if we all did, where would controversy be? If there is no controversy, there is no opinion. If there were controversy, we wouldn’t have [Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi, right? We would maybe have someone else. So the beauty is to have controversy. Unfortunately, we don’t have it in Italy, and for this reason our political situation remains what it is. I don’t need to prove anything to anyone, because I’ve been head of a magazine for 22 years, and I find that I can express my ideas the way I want to. Then if you don’t agree, we can discuss it. I didn’t say I’m right, I say what I think. This is why it’s fundamental to talk to our readers. They are so diverse, and it’s important to understand what they think.
WWD: You have always been reserved and communicated through images. How do you feel about all this writing?
F.S.: What bores me the most is to write about fashion shows, because I’ve always experienced them at a visual level. To put it down in words is much more difficult, I enjoy it less and it interests me less. What I like is to tackle different topics.
WWD: How do you feel about Italian fashion now?
F.S.: With several brands, Italy is going through an especially magic moment. In no other country in the world is there such a concentration of names and famous brands. And they are influential. Over the past two years, Italy has pushed the creative envelope.
WWD: Following Bulgari’s recent sale to LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, there is a lot of talk now about international companies taking over Italian brands.
F.S.: I don’t find it wrong. I think that if a big group, whether it is American, French, English or German, buys an Italian brand and creativity and production remain Italian, the image remains Italian anyway. It’s not Bulgarì [with an accent on the last i] because it’s owned by [Bernard] Arnault. It doesn’t become French. Bottega Veneta is owned by PPR and remains an Italian brand, even if it is designed by a foreign designer. As is Fendi. The same with companies that go public. I think we should see the world in its totality, because it’s a way to see globally.
WWD: A question you are asked at breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, at least here: What kind of a relationship do you have with Anna Wintour?
F.S.: We are absolutely independent from one another but we are very much on the same page. It’s never happened that she proposes an idea that I don’t like, and vice versa. And we are both very quick, so it’s boom-boom-boom, in five minutes we do everything.
WWD: In fact you have a similar way to answer questions — very precise.
F.S.: Yes, we are very precise, very direct. And that’s exactly what I very much like of her. There are no games, it’s all very transparent. When Anna says something, it’s that, she is very reliable and also very fair. And I do the same with her.
WWD: Are you already working on Fashion’s Night Out?
F.S.: Yes, we are. It’s a project that is working very well because people feel involved. It’s democratic because it’s open to everyone. Fashion is democratic in this sense, but a runway show will never be democratic, because there is not enough room to invite everyone or to have free entry. I think that a show in a square is mock-democratic, unless it’s a really big designer. If you show a second line of a designer, who is not even the most important, I think it’s a joke. I think that to be democratic, I must give the same quality I give to people I care for. I can’t be democratic with scraps.
WWD: I read that you find runway shows somewhat boring?
F.S.: I do get really bored at shows. Shows must be creative, without becoming ridiculous, otherwise a showroom presentation is best. And also I’m bored with what has emerged around the shows.
F.S.: Not even that. It’s all these photographers, all these blogs, these magazines, you don’t even know who they all are. You get stopped and if you don’t stop you are rude, they must photograph you to end up who knows where. I don’t know — I feel it’s a pointless distraction. But as with magazines, there will eventually be a selection.
WWD: Your blog about bloggers didn’t go down well with some.
F.S: Yes, because I said enough with all these blogs, because it’s the quantity, anyone can take a photo, put it on a blog, say I like it, I don’t like it. Anyone can do a blog. I would rather people found their own style. I find Scott Schuman is a genius, because he created The Sartorialist, and he created a concept. After him, how many were born? Millions, but he remains. My blog about that really got lots of negative reviews.
WWD: Which blog was most popular?
F.S.: The one where I said that parents should not hinder their children’s creative process. Everyone today still wants their children to become doctors, lawyers, engineers, but what is the problem if your son wants to become a designer, or a creative? Maybe in the rest of the world it’s very different, but in Italy there is still this thing that if you say that your son wants to become a designer or an art director, they automatically think he must be gay. So what, even if it were the case? We are in 2011, who cares?