Thank You, Franca Sozzani

Photo: Peter Lindbergh

December 22nd 2016, 17:30

Upstairs in our study, I hunched over my mother’s dated Macbook which seemed to be protesting against receiving emails based on a lack of iCloud storage. After some effective Google searches the delinquent was dealt with accordingly and my mother and I sat in peace on the couch proud of our small but impressive technical achievements. A part-time job at the Apple genius bar was suggested, but something tells me my following directions based on a yahoo questions forum doesn’t quite qualify me. A moment of peace was broken as both of our iPhones violently vibrated and let off a PING! No text. Maybe, I check email… I’m expecting to receive feedback on an essay.

From: BOF Newsletter. Subject: BREAKING: Franca Sozzani Passes Away at 66.

Eyes glued onto an apathetic screen. A cluster of arranged pixels announcing the death of one our generation’s greatest voices. Now facing my mom with a blank expression – a stream of silent tears rush down my cheeks and I run into my bedroom to lie on my bed, stare at the ceiling and question why such an evil sickness can snatch the life away from such a triumphed woman, at such a young age, days before Christmas. She didn’t deserve this. Her son Francesco Carrozzini didn’t deserve this. I calmed my anger by reading a piece by Anna Wintour, dedicated to her friend.

Her impact within the fashion industry is overwhelming – a poised trailblazer demolishing boundaries, rewriting the purpose of a fashion magazine, adding depth to fashion imagery.

According to Jonathan Newhouse chairman and CEO of Condé Nast, “She was by far the most talented, influential and important person within the Condé Nast International organisation.”

She wasn’t afraid to take risks and spark controversy in order to address real world-problems. Most notable include a response to domestic violence (Steven Meisel 2014) and the 2010 BP oil spill (also Steven Meisel). These images demanded an emotional reaction, providing food for thought and made her global audience freeze on a page; not because of a beautiful image and pretty clothes, but because of striking a vulnerable chord in reflecting the world we live in. Such images trigger discussion – needed to actually tackle such problems. As an editor she legitimised the medium of fashion as being a powerful force, not frivolous as is carelessly interpreted by many non-fashion folk. Her legendary Black Issue of 2008 spotlighted issues of racial inequality and gave a voice to those who are underrepresented.

Vogue Italia Steven Meisel, 2014

Vogue Italia Steven Meisel, 2010

I love how much she cared. In triggering a response, delivering a spectacular image and above all caring about people. She is known for nurturing talent through projects such as Who is on Next and supporting careers of then emerging photographers including Mario Testino, Paolo Roversi, Herb Ritts, Peter Lindbergh, Bruce Weber, and Steven Meisel.

Not only was she a hero within fashion. She has touched the lives of countless others around the world due to her dedication to initiatives including Convivio launched by Gianni Versace in 1992, to tackle AIDS, and along with Jonathan Newhouse founded Child Priority to provide work opportunities for disadvantaged children. Moreover, she was a global ambassador against hunger for the United Nations World Food Program and a goodwill ambassador for Fashion 4 Development. She sought to empower others. Extinguish poverty and fight against gender inequality. Her commitment to Fashion 4 Development is why I had the honour of meeting her at the Vienna Life Ball in 2015.

After the Life Ball pre-party, I approached her once she finished her conversation with Givenchy designer Riccardo Tisci. She was making her way towards the exist with her friend Afef Jnifen. She has been an idol of mine since my early teen years so my nerves were very uneasy. I timidly said “Excuse me Ms. Sozzani, I just wanted to thank you for your work in fashion and helping thousands of lives…” She gave a warm smile, and gingerly clutched my hand with both of hers reminding me of my own grandmother. She responded thank you. We only spoke for about 5 minutes – about why F4D is so important to her and why fashion interests me. She left the conversation leaving me with words of wisdom to always follow my heart, fight for what you believe in and wished me luck with my studies. Franca was kind, genuine, at peace – an impression that she was happy.

Earlier this month I saw her receive her award for Positive Change at the Fashion Awards. It breaks my heart watching her speech I filmed on my iPhone. She was so humble and grateful, reflecting on her times in London as a young woman, which unleashed her creative powers. For her, standing ovations filled the Royal Albert Hall -including way back in the “cheap seats” where us students sat.

Still from Franca: Chaos and Creation (2016) via Dazed

I’ll never pretend I knew Franca well or that she knew my name – but she impacted my life. Filled my soul with inspiration and assurance that if it’s what you believe in then do it.

What a terrible ending to a terrible year, but the silver lining as I see it is that she was loved by so many, especially by her friends and her family, and her legacy will transcend the test of time. She truly made the world a better place bringing light to the darkest of corners, together with her iconic blonde mane resembling a Botticelli painting and a heart of pure gold.

Thank you Franca.

Photo: Peter Lindbergh