Franca Sozzani’s interview with New York Times

The following is an article and interview on Franca Sozzani taken from The New York Times (link here), by Eric Wilson. Although Wilson has taken a sarcastic approach and appears less than impressed by her, I cannot express how brilliant I think this woman is. She cracks me up.

Franca Sozzani, the outspoken editor in chief of Italian Vogue for 23 years, has been in the news a lot lately after publishing issues with provocative themes, like one with only black models in 2008, or the so-called curvy issue this summer. She also pushes a lot of hot-topic buttons on her blog and Twitter accounts.

With her newsmaking quips, she’s practically become this season’s Carine Roitfeld or Karl Lagerfeld, telling Newsweek that Dior should “hire back John Galliano,” and Time that Silvio Berlusconi “gives the impression that Italy is one big casino.” (Ellen note: The Italian word for casino is “casino'”, with an accent on the ‘o’. Without the accent, the word means “brothel”. I suspect that Franca Sozzani said that Silvio Berlusconi gives the impression that “Italy is one big brothel”. Which sounds much more likely. Thanks MarianD)

While she is savvy to recognize the ability to draw attention to issues she cares about through her pages and words, Ms. Sozzani also knows that it is not only what you say, but what you do. On Monday, she was named a goodwill ambassador by the United Nations for its Fashion 4 Development initiative, which is looking at ways that the fashion industry can promote economic growth in developing countries.

In an interview this week, Ms. Sozzani described her desire to help improve manufacturing skills in those countries, possibly by bringing Italian craftsmen to teach certain techniques. Her plans are still being developed, she said, and if you haven’t read enough Q&A’s with Ms. Sozzani this month, here’s some highlights of our conversation:

Q. What is the role of a goodwill ambassador for fashion?

A. I have never been a political person. I only say what I think. Through the people I know, I think we can really make a project that can be adapted to other countries. If we only go somewhere and promise to do something, we’ll never do anything. Basically, my project is to start with a small number of people that can learn a job. We should make a small laboratory, and after that we can find some way to make production.

We should think about where to make the distribution, and step by step about how to give them the dignity of the work, but also the respect of the human being. Otherwise, if they don’t have the right salary, things only change for the people who can make business.

Q. Where will you start?

A. I will start now with Africa, but first I have to go to Korea, probably in the middle of November, to talk about fashion and to see what is going on. I want to learn how they started. Through them, I will get in touch with other governments, probably in Africa.

Q. Is this symbolic of what you have been trying to do in your magazine, to make the industry changes that are more positive?

A. No, just to be honest, these two things are different. But they could become connected. For example, for L’Uomo Vogue, I did an issue on Africa, and all the income from the issue went to different organizations.

Q. Do you think the industry has changed at all as a result of the issues you have raised in your magazine?

A. Not all of them. We did an issue on extreme plastic surgery, and yet I am more and more shocked at how much people have changed. Since then, I don’t think I have seen so much Botox around the world. We didn’t stop anything.

Where we did good probably was with the black issue. Not immediately, not like everybody said after the issue, “Now I want to have black girls.” But I see, step by step, there are more and more black girls on the runway.

Part of the problem is with the agencies. You don’t have so many American girls, you don’t have Italian girls, you don’t have French girls. The scouts only go to the eastern part of Europe now. Is it possible that all of the other countries do not have beautiful girls? I cannot believe that. I was so bored to see all these faces. They all looked alike. To make all the girls the same — blond, blue eyes, long legs — at the end, all of the clothes look alike.

I am not trying to be provocative. Everybody is looking at the collections, and immediately after you get bored. Fashion is experimentation; it is even eccentric. It is to break rules. We try to find a good reason when we want to do something. We try to follow what is happening in the world, but through the point of view of Vogue.

Q. Speaking of what is happening here in this country, how can you reflect the reality of the economical crisis in Italy in a fashion magazine?

A. It is not only an economical crisis. We also have an image crisis. As far as economical, I hope we find the right solution. We have always been talking about a financial crisis, forever. This crisis will probably be less shocking than it was in 2009, because we know this could happen. We know we are a little bit less safe.

But I think the image of our country doesn’t reflect at all what we are made of in Italy. When you look in magazines, it looks like all women are vulgar and involved in a sex scandal. This is not Italy, and we should not accept it. I don’t recognize my country in this way.

Q. The role of the editor seems to have changed from being an observer of fashion to being a participant. Are you surprised by that change?

A. I think the job has changed completely in the last 20 years, as fashion has become faster and faster, quicker and quicker. And then in the last 10 years, it has changed completely, for designers, too. With the great distribution of Zara, H&M and Mango, all this has changed the point of view. I think this is fantastic, because everybody can be part of the fashion world and they can be dressed in a fantastic way. The limit is that it becomes so global, so the same, that it is very difficult for a designer to find a new way of existence. For them, it becomes more and more difficult to find a new way to be.

It’s not like I do these issues because I feel provocative. I do it because I feel it. Let’s say I go by instinct. That is for sure. I can change the issue even 10 days before it is out, because if, by instinct, I feel that is not good, or boring, or I don’t like it, then it is not good for us and I change it.

Q.When was the last time you did that?

A. August. And even for September. And everything is closed in Italy because people were on holiday. We asked photographers to reshoot. We moved stories from October to August. One story I rejected, the idea was to make something very chic, but that was in a way modern. But it became very boring. Sometimes chic is very boring. To find a way that this can not be boring is very difficult.

Q. I’ve read at least four interviews you’ve given in the last week. Why are people fascinated with magazine editors?

A. I think it has happened for different reasons. It has happened probably because I said something silly, like, “I don’t know why I would ever get married again, because I was much better than the man I was dating,” and so it becomes a story. The Internet is so quick, and that sentence is picked up. Sometimes I say I think elegance is very boring, or I hate fashionistas. You start with something that you say in a situation, and after that the journalists pick some sentence and some quote and say just that. It’s not that I wake up and say, “I hate fashionistas.”

But I do hate fashionistas.