Domestic violence in Vogue? Franca Sozzani takes a stand on fashion's glossiest pages

Editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani has dedicated issues of Vogue Italia to rehab, fighting racism, the 2010 BP oil spill and cosmetic surgery addiction. Her latest April edition takes a stand against domestic violence. Alexander Fury talks exclusively to Sozzani about rebellion, provocation and why fashion is more than just clothes

Franca Sozzani has big blue eyes and long blonde hair. She's slender, small in height and frame, a doll-like woman dressed in a full-skirted tweed skirt and striped mohair sweater, both of which seem to be from the Italian label Prada. She's 64. She looks about 12.

I hate it when people begin an interview by describing the interviewee's physicality. But Franca Sozzani is editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia – the influential, Milanese incarnation of the world's most powerful fashion magazine – so that analysis feels not only appropriate, but demanded, somehow.

Sozzani is also editor-in-chief of Condé Nast Italia, responsible for the editorial direction of 15 magazines and five websites, a role that she has held for 20 years. She has been working in fashion since the mid-Seventies, at the helm of Vogue Italia since 1988. Over the decades, she's created magazine issues that court controversy and provoke reaction. Each year, she devotes a cover and a lead editorial to a global issue she feels especially passionate about: sustainability, perhaps, or the prevalence of cosmetic surgery, or the rise of rehab as a fashionable pastime. In July 2008, she edited an issue featuring only black models, which became the magazine's bestselling edition. Sozzani says it was her proudest moment.

One suspects that Sozzani's pride had nothing to do with sales figures. Much is made of the publication's punch, far heavier than its circulation of just over 103,000 (or less than 10 per cent of US Vogue) suggests. Thirty per cent of its circulation is overseas, alongside more than 50 per cent of its web traffic. “Italian Vogue should not be only an Italian magazine,” states Sozzani. “You know, Italy is only a small country… we need to look abroad. We cannot only be focused on ourselves.” Put that in the context of the ferocious sense of Italian national pride – possibly best expressed on the football pitch – and the traditionally insular world of Milanese fashion, and it's tantamount to heresy.

Sozzani shrugs. I get the feeling that she shrugs a lot, shrugging off her critics and the condescension that still surrounds fashion. She was recently in Sydney, she recalls, where an Australian breakfast television show tried to caption her image “The fashion rebel”. Sozzani frowns. “I don't feel like a rebel. I feel that I have a vision and I want to go on with my vision and it is my work, this is my magazine so they give me the freedom to do it. I've always been supported by my publisher, my president, that's very important. I always had Jonathan Newhouse [Condé Nast chairman and chief executive] on my side. I think it's very important to have somebody with whom you work that really believes and really trusts you.”

Horrifying: the 'Vogue Italia' April edition has taken domestic violence as its theme (Steven Meisel) Horrifying: the 'Vogue Italia' April edition has taken domestic violence as its theme (Steven Meisel)
The latest controversial subject for Sozzani's proselytising is violence against women, featured in the cover story of Vogue Italia's April edition, on news-stands tomorrow. “The idea originally was cinematic,” Sozzani explains. “When you talk, for example, with young people and you see which kind of movie [they watch], [it's] all about horror, about things that we... I don't know, not the kind of movie that I usually look at. I don't know why they have this kind of attitude to see all these kind of films and so we started to think about that and I said to Steven, 'OK, let's do [one] about [a] horror show.'” Steven is Steven Meisel, the fashion photographer who has created every Vogue Italia cover for more than 20 years.

Appearing in a magazine whose raison-d'être is fashion, the images are bound to provoke a strong reaction. I ask her if she ever considered the idea of Meisel – a man – shooting images of male violence against women as a problem. “No, no, no. When I come out with an idea, or he comes out with an idea, we know how we start, we never know how we end… Steven, for me, is the fashion photographer.”

Sozzani continues. “Seeing the pictures when I was coming out of the shoot, it was everywhere on the TV in Italy, but even all around the world, how many women are every year attacked, abused and killed? You know, in a small country like Italy only last year [the figure] was 1,700 women and almost 130 that were killed, so it's huge: it's more than two women a week, you know, it's like a huge proportion, just killed. And so I said… why don't we give that message again, especially that the horror of life is bigger than the one that you can see in the movies. This is really a horror show, what we are looking at and what we see every day in every newspaper around the world is how fragile the woman still is today, and how she can be attacked, can be abused, can be killed.”

This may not make the images palatable to everyone, but Sozzani is quick to point out one thing. “It was not against men, it's about the fact that women have to be defended. And a lot of people are already doing something, because I know that even some other people in fashion are really committed to defending women and raising awareness, to empower women.”

'Water & Oil', another compelling photograph by Steven Meisel, who has created every 'Vogue Italia' cover (Steven Meisel) 'Water & Oil', another compelling photograph by Steven Meisel, who has created every 'Vogue Italia' cover (Steven Meisel)
If any woman can make a case for female empowerment, it's Sozzani. She's a great example, having risen to the top of her game. Alongside Anna Wintour, she is the longest-serving editor-in-chief of any Vogue title. And as she points out, there are other fashion-based schemes that seek to empower women, most notably Gucci's Chime for Change initiative, launched at TED2013 and led by the label's creative director Frida Giannini, the singer Beyoncé and the actress and long-time female rights activist Salma Hayek Pinault.

Nevertheless, many question how appropriate it is to tackle the kind of major global issues Sozzani takes on – racial prejudice, violence against women, environmentalism, drug rehabilitation – through the pages of a glossy fashion magazine. Even more fundamentally, questions are raised as to whether the images can avoid trivialising or glamorising these issues. “We are aware that it's happening, and so we are together against it,” states Sozzani, unequivocally. “I'm with you, not against you.”

For Sozzani, it's an issue of exposure – for the issue at hand, not the issue of the magazine. “Especially today, fashion is approachable by everybody. Everybody knows about fashion through the internet, everybody can become a blogger or fashion critic, so fashion is part of the life of everybody today, more than it was in the past. So, to use fashion in a way to communicate something else, I think, is very interesting.” Sozzani, however, is patently aware of the arguments for and against her ideas. “We sell the dream because we are a magazine; we are the dream, no? Vogue... But at the same time, we can give people the opportunity to have a voice, for awareness.

”It's not about provocation, at all,“ says Sozzani. ”I'm conscious that all the time I take risks, I am very conscious about that, I have a lot of conscience about that. It's not that I don't care, it's because I think that fashion is such a good medium, that if you use fashion in the right way, you can talk to everybody. I joke that I invented Instagram 25 years ago, as I was only talking through images... because who speaks Italian? – Nobody. So images are the only way in which you can talk to everybody.

“For me, they were my tool. So, that's why probably some of the images, they really look very strong, but I have no other choice but to talk worldwide; to talk to everybody. And I think that fashion is not only about dresses, but about culture, it's about where you live, it's about social movement, it's about economical movement, it's about racism, it's about everything.”

Ageless: 'Vogue Italia' editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani, aged 64 going on 12 Ageless: 'Vogue Italia' editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani, aged 64 going on 12
Despite the fact that both Franca Sozzani and her elder sister both work, highly successfully, in fashion (Carla, 66, is an Italian gallerist and the founder of the concept boutique 10 Corso Como in Milan. The sisters Sozzani are often seated alongside each other at the international collections), neither comes from a fashion background. Franca, for example, studied Russian and German theology at university, and describes her entry into the world of fashion as happening “by chance. Personally, I loved it… but I never thought to work only in fashion.”

Hence the fact that her fashion magazine isn't so preoccupied with fashion, and her approach isn't that of a traditional editor. Of all the Vogue heads around the world, Sozzani is the only one with her own blog, often used as a forum by her to raise issues and discuss the controversies that sometimes surround her editorial decisions.

“They argue,” she grins, talking about the audience on the magazine's website vogue.it. “Sometimes I argue. I argue with their answers, with their comments, which are sometimes very mean, but in a way I think that it's very interesting… it's a very good way to talk to people with different points of view, because when you do a monthly magazine, you only think about your point of view. It's very interesting to see things how they see them.”

Considering that Sozzani has showcased images of everything from models doused in crude oil (a comment, she says, on climate change, rather than the 2010 BP oil spill they unfortunately coincided with) to cosmetic surgery (a 2005 story called “Makeover Madness” starring Linda Evangelista, “about the way this abuse of Botox and everything has become ridiculous and makes people look ridiculous”), the obvious question is if there's any issue she wouldn't tackle in the magazine? “Not for me. I think that anything could be in the magazine,” says Sozzani.


“The only thing that I don't like is vulgarity. Some people could take offence [with] some of these images.” She taps the Meisel “Horror Show” editorial. “But it's their problem, it's not my problem. I don't care about the people in fashion,” she adds. Then she smiles – Sozzani smiles a lot, perhaps that hasn't been made clear. She isn't dour or confrontational or unhappy with her place in fashion. She revels in it. So she backpedals a little.

“I care, of course, but it's not that I only do the magazine thinking about them – this person, that person, that designer. No, I think about not what could make the magazine different, but what could make a good issue, that people will remember. Anyway, I'm using fashion! I'm using what everybody else is using. I'm more or less using the same girls that everybody's using. I'm very politically correct in this way, but in the other way, I feel that we can use fashion in a different way.”

That is possibly Franca Sozzani's legacy, and the single linking theme of these “controversial” Vogue Italia issues: a different way of using fashion – the physical clothes, certainly, but also the visibility of the entire fashion system today. “We always consider fashion to be something, let's say, superficial,” she says. “For me, it's a pity, because fashion can have so many kinds of expressions. It's not only about clothes, it's not only about one dress. If it was only about that, it would be boring.”

For more information, visit vogue.it

Voices
Lucerne’s Hotel Château Gütsch, one of the lots in our Homeless Veterans appeal charity auction
charity appeal
Sport
Raheem Sterling of Liverpool celebrates scoring the opening goal
footballLIVE: Follow all the latest from tonight's Capital One quarter-finals
Life and Style
A woman walks by a pandal art installation entitled 'Mars Mission' with the figure of an astronaut during the Durga Puja festival in Calcutta, India
techHow we’ll investigate the existence of, and maybe move in with, our alien neighbours
Arts and Entertainment
Tony Hughes (James Nesbitt) after his son Olly disappeared on a family holiday in France
tv
PROMOTED VIDEO
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
News
people

Jo from Northern Ireland was less than impressed by Russell Brand's attempt to stage a publicity stunt

Arts and Entertainment
Sir Ian McKellen tempts the Cookie Monster
tvSir Ian McKellen joins the Cookie Monster for a lesson on temptation
Arts and Entertainment
Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels ride again in Dumb and Dumber To
filmReview: Dumb And Dumber To was a really stupid idea
News
i100
Life and Style
tech
Life and Style
Sebastian Siemiatkowski is the 33-year-old co-founder and CEO of Klarna, which provides a simple way for people to buy things online
tech
Voices
Jimmy Mubenga died after being restrained on an aircraft by G4S escorts
voicesJonathan Cox: Tragedy of Jimmy Mubenga highlights lack of dignity shown to migrants
News
Not quite what they were expecting
news

When teaching the meaning of Christmas backfires

News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Angelina Jolie and Sony Pictures co-chairman Amy Pascal at the Golden Globes in 2011
film
Extras
indybest
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Fashion

    Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst

    £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: An established media firm based in Surrey is ...

    Ashdown Group: Java Developer - Hertfordshire - £47,000 + bonus + benefits

    £40000 - £470000 per annum + bonus: Ashdown Group: Java Developer / J2EE Devel...

    Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Director - London - £70,000

    £70000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Head of Finance - Financial Controller - Fina...

    Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Nationwide - OTE £65,000

    £30000 - £65000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This small technology business ...

    Day In a Page

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton: The power dynamics of the two first families

    Jeb Bush vs Hillary Clinton

    Karen Tumulty explores the power dynamics of the two first families
    Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley with a hotbed of technology start-ups

    Scandi crush: Stockholm is rivalling Silicon Valley

    Th Swedish capital is home to two of the most popular video games in the world, as well as thousands of technology start-ups worth hundreds of millions of pounds – and it's all happened since 2009
    La Famille Bélier is being touted as this year's Amelie - so why are many in the deaf community outraged by it?

    Deaf community outraged by La Famille Bélier

    The new film tells the story of a deaf-mute farming family and is being touted as this year's Amelie
    Calls for a military mental health 'quality mark'

    Homeless Veterans campaign

    Expert calls for military mental health 'quality mark'
    Racton Man: Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman

    Meet Racton Man

    Analysis shows famous skeleton was a 6ft Bronze Age superman
    Garden Bridge: St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters

    Garden Bridge

    St Paul’s adds to £175m project’s troubled waters
    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament: An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel

    Stuff your own Christmas mouse ornament

    An evening class in taxidermy with a festive feel
    Joint Enterprise: The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice

    Joint Enterprise

    The legal doctrine which critics say has caused hundreds of miscarriages of justice
    Freud and Eros: Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum: Objects of Desire

    Freud and Eros

    Love, Lust and Longing at the Freud Museum
    France's Front National and the fear of a ‘gay lobby’ around Marine Le Pen

    Front National fear of ‘gay lobby’

    Marine Le Pen appoints Sébastien Chenu as cultural adviser
    'Enhanced interrogation techniques?' When language is distorted to hide state crimes

    Robert Fisk on the CIA 'torture report'

    Once again language is distorted in order to hide US state wrongdoing
    Radio 1’s new chart host must placate the Swifties and Azaleans

    Radio 1 to mediate between the Swifties and Azaleans

    New chart host Clara Amfo must placate pop's fan armies
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'It's life, and not the Forces, that gets you'

    The head of Veterans Aid on how his charity is changing perceptions of ex-servicemen and women in need
    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Torture: It didn't work then, it doesn't work now

    Its use is always wrong and, despite CIA justifications post 9/11, the information obtained from it is invariably tainted, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Rebranding Christmas: More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence

    Rebranding Christmas

    More public bodies are refusing to give the festival its name for fear of causing offence. They are missing the point, and we all need to grow up