MILAN — It’s not easy to keep up with Franca Sozzani. Her rapid-fire repartees and quick wit mirror her role as Vogue Italia editor in chief and humanitarian — her appointments as Goodwill Ambassador for Fashion 4 Development and U.N. Ambassador Against Hunger display those efforts.
Her latest endeavor is the design of an apartment and its interiors in Zurich, at the Hard Turm Park complex as part of the “Design Scouting Talents” project. Sozzani’s fee will go toward a scholarship in support of new talent in design and architecture — always a priority for the editor, whose blue eyes brighten when discussing young creative minds. Her magazine has been supporting the Who’s On Next talent search in Milan for years, among other initiatives, and Sozzani grows animated talking about new photographers discovered through Vogue Italia’s Web site.
Here, Sozzani talks about talent, magazines and more.
WWD: How has the visual element evolved since you first started at Vogue Italia and how important is it compared to the written word?
Franca Sozzani: It’s gone from 40 to 100 percent. Think of Instagram. Journalism will continue to exist, but communication is now visual. This is a choice I made 26 years ago when I joined the magazine. Vogue was in Italian but I wanted to speak to everyone so I thought of creating images that were made to talk. Today it’s normal. Photos used to be a support to the text, but we turned things around, reducing the words to a minimum. When we launched our site around five years ago, I had already started this process on paper. We are now building an enormous portfolio of photos, we’ve uploaded two million photos and we have three people that review them. We’ve created a community and these images will live on with exhibitions, postcards, projections. We help them gain more exposure. Instagram already works as a selection. It’s my curiosity into the world of youth, what they do, what they buy.
WWD: How do you view the flurry of digital activity today?
F.S.: I write my blog each day [on vogue.it]. Social media are fundamental to communicate and understand what happens in the world. It’s a point of view and an immediate commentary. What worries me is that now, communication is virtual. As for Instagram, I follow about 100 people, but I am not interested in what a designer is doing or what a friend of a friend is doing. I upload my photos on Instagram.
WWD: Magazines are finding their bearings as they compete with the advance of digital media and communication. What is your opinion on this subject?
F.S.: There’s been a selection. What happened was caused by the Internet, but it hit more functional magazines, weeklies or dailies. [Helping you on ] how to wear makeup, where to go, that has lost its value. You just click and you get 18,000 screen shots on how to apply lipstick, for example, but there will be the same selection that has taken place in paper in digital, too. [Italian magazines A or Myself] did not close because they were not good, but because they lost their value. They’ve been replaced by the Web. Vogue is not a practical magazine, it provides sensations, feeling, moods, you like the photos.
You can look up “heart” and get 100,000 voices, but slowly the ones at the end are no longer credible, so there will be a selection in Web sites, too. Credibility is a must. Think of all those bloggers that kill us with photos outside the shows — there will be a selection there, too. Not because some are less good, but those that do not impose a style will have fewer requests. Instagram has been around for what, maybe a couple of years? Already it has shut down some small blogs — it’s a collector of others and those most followed. It’s already a selection. I imagine this further selection will take place in the next two years. It’s going to be very fast.
WWD: What do you think of brand extensions? Would they work for Vogue Italia?
F.S.: I don’t see this happening in Italy very much, it’s difficult. It depends on the value of the brand, there are many magazines and only a few brands. But you can’t think people have that much time. There are already computers, telephones, etc. After years of quantity, there will be a recovery of quality, there will be a watershed. All you do to bring awareness is good, but you need credibility and quality.
WWD: What media do you favor? Do you watch television?
F.S.: I don’t have time, I watch movies, or shows people are talking about. Television is the medium I use the least; I’d rather use my computer, iPhone or iPad.
WWD: Do you read on paper or Kindle?
F.S.: Paper books. Also the light of the screen annoys me.
WWD: How do you feel about foreign investments in Italian fashion?
F.S.: I am very favorable to the Bourse, to a sale, to what is useful to grow, maintaining jobs, the Made in Italy. It doesn’t make any sense and it’s parochial to think otherwise. Investors can be French, Russian, as long as they help a business grow. I don’t understand “The Little World of the Past” [a reference to the title of the book by Antonio Fogazzaro] that is destined to die.
WWD: In February, you expressed pleasure at the arrival on the scene of prime minister Matteo Renzi. Some of his views and strategies have been criticized of late. Have you changed your mind?
F.S.: I am a great supporter of Renzi, he is young, he knows how to communicate, he’s our great hope. I say let him work. He took over a country that was in disarray, not florid. And not the other way around.
WWD: Milan is gearing up for the Expo next year and the fashion industry is also preparing for this event. How do you feel about it all?
F.S.: I think very highly of Expo and all is going well. We’ve seen big problems with [corruption] scandals [at local government level], but it is going forward, with the highest number of participants ever expected. The pre-sale of tickets is much superior to what was expected. The problems have been unveiled. It’s not as in other countries where maybe at the last minute, banks go down.
WWD: Things are changing in Milan. There is also the new Porta Nuova area, where Vogue itself has held events and shows will take place.
F.S.: Yes, Milan is showing a new and different face. At Porta Nuova, too, when they started construction, everyone was up in arms, saying Milan was going to lose its character. But what is Milan’s character? Let’s not be closed in by our provincialism.
WWD: Speaking of Milan, what do you think of the five-day fashion week held in September?
F.S.: We lack an organization that will support fashion week. The five-day week shows a lack of vision and that we are not able to command respect. I am not saying it’s anyone’s fault in particular, it’s our fault. We have the highest concentration of brands, how can we accommodate everyone in four or five days? In New York there are between four and six big designers, and the shows last one week. There is something wrong here. It’s our fault. We can’t stand up for it. They take our ads, don’t they? Why don’t they want to stay longer in Milan? Why do we have to comply? We have the most beautiful brands, they are Italians.
WWD: A number of executives had taken it upon themselves to improve fashion week, including Prada’s Patrizio Bertelli or Gildo Zegna, for example.
F.S.: Yes, but they are individuals who are superbusy, traveling all the time. You can’t think they will have the time to attend all the meetings. It was a great sign, though.
WWD: Fashion’s Night Out in September was held the evening before the first day of the shows. You have decided to continue to hold this event, while others haven’t.
F.S.: It’s only one city that hasn’t [New York]. I try to renew and create something new every time. You can get tired of anything, everything turns old, but I want to give people the possibility to share a Vogue party. It is up to the brands to participate to make the event interesting. I am satisfied, but it’s important never to stop.
WWD: You are also engaged with several humanitarian activities.
F.S.: Yes, it all happened by chance, on a trip. I was doing the Black Issue in 2006 and then went to Africa for Uomo Vogue. I’ve worked with Gucci and Fendi, committed to create jobs. Fifty percent of those ads went to non-government organizations in Africa. [Nelson] Mandela was on the cover, it helped create attention. I started entering in a series of problems I had never occupied myself with — water, production, employment. I am learning. You can do so many things. However, I don’t feel guilty for living well here. Fashion has always been very generous. Think of what it has done for curing AIDS. The challenge is to grow local economies in those countries. There are designers there, we have to think of production, but I am not changing Africa. But if we all do something together….We have to know our limits, I don’t have the pretense I can change the world. And I don’t want to set up events [to raise money]. Because what happens if the following year they don’t have an event, they won’t eat?
WWD: What are your expectations for Vogue going forward, your plans and ideas?
F.S.: I never program anything, I decide at the last minute, I feel what is in the air. I go with my instinct.
WWD: You have said that you don’t want to court controversy, but several of your stories have stimulated debate and discussions over the years. Were you ever taken aback by anything in particular?
F.S.: The only time I was really surprised was the reaction to the [shoot dedicated to the] BP oil [spill in 2010]. I didn’t expect it at all. It was for the August issue, perhaps one of the less relevant months, but there was so much buzz. It was picked up all over the American television, but I defended my position. I don’t understand those that say that a magazine such as Vogue should not talk about these things. Fashion is a mirror of the era in which we live. Why should the magazine be disconnected from reality? It’s not like in the past.