Franca Sozzani Doesn’t Care If You Like Her Magazine

In the rat race of magazine subscriptions, single-copy sales and circulation, Italian Vogue‘s editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani comes far from finishing first. But as The Washington Post‘s Robin Givhan found out, that doesn’t make her any less powerful than Anna Wintour or Carine Roitfeld. It also doesn’t stop her from using that power to make bold statements — and it’s OK with her if you don’t like what she has to say.

In her profile of the editor published yesterday, Givhan covers a lot of ground. But her starting point is Sozzani’s controversial 2008 all black edition of Italian Vogue, and how it has changed the mission of Sozzani’s magazine and the expectations consumers place on fashion glossies of all stripes because of that issue.

The special edition came as a response to the whitewashed runways, magazine editorials and advertising that Sozzani started to grow weary of in 2007 — all of the models featured in it were black. Some hailed the issue as a milestone, others thought it was a gimmick vaguely pinned to the Obama candidacy. But for those who know Sozzani, it was right in line with the way she’s always worked.

“Franca’s decision to take a stance on the issue of racial diversity is typical Franca – she does not tackle subjects in a low-key manner,” Wintour says. “She wanted her readers to notice.”

And notice they did. People went so crazy for the issue that Sozzani had to schedule for several tens of thousands more copies to be printed to satisfy demand.

Sozzani was taken aback by the success of the Black Issue. The business opportunity was evident: A market was being ignored. But Sozzani did not want to be perceived as a dabbler, a cultural tourist.

“For me, it became a commitment,” Sozzani said. “I talked to these girls. I promised to take care of them.”

To that end, Sozzani started including more and more black women, even dedicating an issue to Barbie and using only black versions of the doll on the cover.

Still, it’s ironic that many of the complaints surrounding the black issue — and Sozzani’s newer, web-based ventures, Vogue Black and Vogue Curvy, which focus exclusively on black and plus-sized women respectively — is that instead of inclusion, Sozzani was promoting the same crimes of exclusion that traditional fashion magazines commit without thinking about it. Intent tends to loss to impact in most cases, but Sozzani’s commitment to giving women who have been excluded from the fashion industry a voice is such that the message she’s trying to send is more important than the way her critics obfuscate it. Or at least it should be.

And that, we’re guessing, is what gives Sozzani the bravery to soldier on in pursuit of a more heterogenous-looking fashion industry. It also probably helps that she’s bold, doesn’t really care about pleasing everyone and drives a car that can turn on a dime.

Vogue Italia doesn’t have the commercial pressures of its much larger American counterpart. Its greatest strength is its nimbleness and its point of view.

“Italian Vogue magazine is an experimental magazine – that’s the impression people have,” Sozzani says. “I don’t think it’s experimental; it has a vision. It can’t please everybody. I don’t want to please everybody.”

And we’re sure it doesn’t please everyone. But while it will certainly be a long time before faces like Jourdan Dunn‘s and Chanel Iman‘s are as ubiquitous as Kate Moss and Cindy Crawford, when it finally happens, Sozzani will be partially responsible.

To read the rest of Givhan’s profile — which is long, but entirely worth it — click here.

Fashion statement [The Washington Post]

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