Saturday, February 23, 2013

Style Maven: Franca Sozzani

Franca Sozzani, Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia

I am obsessed with Franca Sozzani right now based off the ARISE magazine's current profile of the Italian Vogue Editor-in-Chief! Franca Sozzani has been the Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia since 1994 and in the nearly 20 years of her tenure Sozzani has made some strong statements in fashion. In my fashion, when you look beyond the surface of fashion and all its glitz, fashion stands for much more than simply if everyone is wearing skinny pants, or military jackets. In undergrad I did a independent study of how fashion has become increasingly socially conscious, and Sozzani has been at the forefront of that effort in fashion with the statement making Vogue Italia. Sozzani says, "Italian is not an international language so the only way to talk to the world was through the images. That's why somethimes they are very strong or controversial, because I'm sending out the message that Italian Vogue exists."

The four cover alternatives for the historic July 2008 issue of the first ever "All Black" issue of Vogue Italia

Vogue Italia made history by publishing its "All Black" issue in which the magazine's usual print run of 120,000 issues needed a reprint of 60,000 copies worldwide, selling out in Britain, Germany, and the US in three days, becoming the best selling issue of all time for the publication! On her decision to create the Black issue, she said, "People were scared, asked me if I was sure, but I said I would take responsibility for what I was doing. It wasn't about making a fashion moment; I wanted to change the status quo. And I wanted to help Africa in a certain way...I just try and look at the life that we live and find a way to talk in my own way through the images." Vogue Italia is less commercial than American Vogue, but with Sozzani at the helm, the magazine is more of a weapon for tackling social and cultural issues. Her rebellious approach to fashion stirs up debate and defines the spirit of the moment.

Photos of Franca Sozzani in the Nigerian capitol of Lagos at the beginning of 2012 exploring the opportunities prevalent in fashion industry.

Since then, in 2010 the "Vogue Black" website has been established on the Vogue Italia main site in which the site highlights black models, celebrities, and journalists, which has made quite a statement for the fashion world being a part of the Condè Nast association. ARISE reports that at the beginning of 2012 she spent a month traveling the continent of Africa visiting Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Botswana and Burundi. Sozzani has very solid viewpoints, and if there is one thing fashion is all about, it is about making statements. Her observations on how Africa can improve its commercial appeal was well received by African bureaucrats on her visit, and on the front of spotting talent on the fashion front, she has shown support of African designers by highlighting favorites on the retail site, Sozzani believes that while there is much talent in Africa, and potential for its growth in retail worldwide, she believes business in Africa still needs to be further cultivated. ARISE asked her, "Will there be a Vogue Africa anytime soon?" She replied, "First we need to create business in Africa. I'm not just talking about advertising; we need shops, restaurants life. If you don't give people all of that first, Vogue Africa is like giving them the cherry without giving them the cake." I always enjoy Franca's thoughts on her Vogue Italia blog. Each time I read an entry, her strong opinions and observations of what is happening in fashion (and what needs to happen in fashion) give me inspiration to always keep in mind the true meaning and functionality of fashion in life. One of her most recent posts at the end of this past London Fashion Week was some good food for thought:

In my fashion, the prospect of a Vogue Africa is very admirable and exciting being that the culture of Africa has been used as inspiration for many a collection that has been shown on runways through out fashion history. Black designers such as Pamela Botchway, Saharah, Joyce Scott, Sara Penn, and Claudia Robinson are some historic black dressmakers and designers who favored ethnic textiles and clothing and helped to make them popular in the American market. When you think about it, one has to think that with the amount of culture Africa contains all throughout the continent from Egypt to South Africa, its hard for me to fathom that there has not been a Vogue Africa already! The roots of civilization date back to Africa, and there is much inspiration to be gained from the continent fashion wise. My favorite ancient time period to study is that of Egypt. I have always been fascinated with Egyptian art, their cultural practices, and their spiritual glorification. The regality of the civilization that it grew to become has always captivated my interest being that they built a foundation for living based off of the simple resources available to them in that time. Their gold accessories and their artifacts; the pyramids and other man-made structures they built: the meanings behind the items they left behind in history stood for significant reasons that were very intellectual, spiritual and inspiring. Another source of inspiration we get from African is the wildlife of the continent, for one can find Earth's most precious species of plants and animals on this continent (i.e. The Congo, the Nile River, the Sahara). Wearable art based off the beauty of Africa's wildlife has produced garments that represent the country in all its natural glory. With Vogue's prestigious recognition of Africa's growing influence in the fashion world, Vogue helps to make a strong statement to the world as to how Africa will bring many opportunities in consumer spending. In the same way Sozzani has helped to establish Italy's voice in the world of fashion and commerce with Vogue Italia, I would love to be a part of such a publication as "Vogue Africa" because fashion has played an integral role in proliferating Italy's position as an important culture in our world's social development. In my fashion, fashion can do the same for Africa.

In the November 2008 issue of L'Uomo Vogue, Sozzani addresses diversity in a way that aims at relieving the cynicism that surrounds the countries image in relation to issues such as Rwanda, Darfur, and the AIDS epidemic to the children. By bringing a new understanding of the continent to the global forefront in regards to the positivity it exudes through its arts, especially in fashion, Sozzani aimed to expose a different perspective of how Africa fits into our global context. Sozzani truly believes in Africa, and in an article written by popular Washington Post Fashion Writer, Robin Givhan, Sozzani was given the following credit:

"She wanted to focus on people, projects and ideas. She did not want to make an aesthetic statement about Africa. So she didn't fill the magazine with images of Western models in overpriced vaguely ethnic frocks. And unlike a recent issue of India's Vogue magazine, which sparked outrage among activists and humanitarians, this one won't show peasants posing with $5,000 handbags.

… 'Fashion is not only about clothes,' Sozzani says. She broadens it so that it speaks to the vague and all-encompassing notion of identity."

In Lagos, Franca was hosted to a series of private fashion presentations by the following African designers: Bridget Awosika, Eredappa Hart, Lanre Da Silva Ajay, and Tiffany Amber

This past year,  Sozzani once more dedicated L'Uomo Vogue to Africa in which Sozzani said, "This time we wanted to show that Africa has grown up, that it's a completely different story from before." The New York Times praised the May/June 2012 issue for highlighting the fact that "the continent is entering the the fashion arena, with the quality of its handwork, artistic creativity and its potential for economic growth bringing Africa literally in vogue." At a party hosted in her honor in Lagos, Nigeria, she said, "I have never seen so many young, well-dressed people in my life. And I thought if I could show in some way that this is Nigeria, people will change their mind about it. That is why we did the issue in such a positive way, to show this other side of Africa. The energy doesn't only come from the oil. The energy comes from the new generation of designers, writers, actors, singers, and poets, who are all passionate." She communicated to ARISE magazine that, "We are all responsible for what is happening in Africa because the world ignored it for such a long time. Now, there is oil, China is investing and there are tourist places such as Tanzania, Kenya, Namibia and South Africa, so suddenly everyone is paying attention. But I remember when I did the first issue on Africa four years ago and there was nothing." She is now a UN Goodwill Ambassador for Fashion 4 Development which is a global campaign promoting sustainable development and economic independence through fashion and has made many other visits to the continent to promote its growth.

The covers of L'Uomo Vogue featuring Africa; (Left) November 2008, (Right) May/June 2012

For a Vogue Editor to be such a champion of the continent in such a positive way, in my fashion, she is really helping Africa to gain a new perspective on how it can better position itself in the global economy. Hopefully her efforts will prove beneficial for the country and attract the business it requires to become more economically competitive. Making Africa a more attractive site for investment will further its economic growth and hopefully assist its people with the issues it has in regards to famine, poverty, and better living conditions for all. I intend on sharing more about what #IMFblog has learned about African culture in the last few days of this month, but for now enjoy this video clip of Sozzani and one of her trips to Africa. In my fashion, her passion is truly inspiring.

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