Get Close... with Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia

By Renata Certo-Ware

Photo: ROGER FARRINGTON

Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia, is highly opinionated. And at times, she’s controversial: Sozzani was the mastermind behind VogueCurvy (a plus-size section of the Vogue Italia website) as well as the July 2008 issue that exclusively featured black models, which garnered mixed reactions. But it seems clear she is dedicated to celebrating individuality and diverse images of beauty. So we were especially curious to hear her thoughts when she joined media mogul Arianna Huffington, model Doutzen Kroes, and model/actress Amber Valletta of Revenge for April’s “Health Is Beauty: Defining Ourselves,” the Harris Center at Mass General Hospital’s 15th-annual forum on body image and the media. We snagged a minute to speak with one of fashion’s most magnetizing — and powerful — women.

What are some of hurdles in tackling negative body-image issues? I target pro-ana and pro-mia websites, but it’s hard because they are virtually faceless. You can’t go after the servers to shut them down, and you don’t really know who is actually behind writing them. There are around 300,000 such sites, and I started an online petition to shut down these websites. We’ve already gotten 12,000 signatures! The truth is, only young people can help young people, and at Vogue we are trying to create an online platform that will open a dialogue among our readers.

Has Vogue Curvy been well-received? Extremely! People are willing to accept it and enjoy reading it — it’s not something people are resisting, which is what many of my critics thought would happen. When we did the curvy issue of Vogue in print [June 2011], there was a 40 percent increase in sales in Italy and 60 percent outside of Italy! On the other hand, the all-black issue of Vogue Italia didn’t sell in Italy. People were telling me not to do it because it was racist, but in the US and abroad it was the first-ever Vogue Italia issue to have to be reprinted!

You once ran a men's magazine, Per Lui, and now you are the editor-in-chief of Vogue Italia. On the basis of your experience, do you think men or women are more insecure about their bodies? Women. Men don’t feel the pressure, and society doesn’t expect them to be beautiful.

We always hear about eating disorders and body dysmorphia as they relate to losing weight, but what about obesity, which is also unhealthy? I hate when people say, “You should learn to accept yourself.” No way! You should never accept yourself because you can always be better! If you like yourself a little bit curvy, okay, but not because you accept it — because you like it! Not like, “I’m fat, okay, done.” You choose. You can make a choice. You can work on your body in this way. You can do gymnastics, you can make your hair long, short — you find your way to be.

What do you think of the fashion industry right now? What would you like to see change? I feel very guilty that all the girls in magazines and on the runways look the same. If there are five black models in the magazine, that’s a lot. If there are two brunettes, that’s too much. I’m also frustrated about the fact that everyone in the industry is using the same handful of models. They are all Eastern European, and they are all named Natalia. They all look alike and there is nothing exciting or individual about it. I try to stay away from the shows and designers who use these models because it’s not exciting; all the shows look the same at that point. It creates an aesthetic, a code, which alienates people and makes them feel not good enough. At the same time though, I understand why the designers do it. Having all the girls look alike is easier for the designer because they can use just one sample size. Fashion is democratic, but at some point everyone just looks the same! Also, models these days have no personality — they are scared to get sent back to their own country, so they act like robots! We must celebrate individuality!