As one of fashion's most outspoken figures -- or as Newsweek recently called her, the industry's "agent provocateur" -- Franca Sozzani knows a thing or two about controversy.
But the Vogue Italia editor-in-chief's latest role is unequivocally positive: Sozzani is the first-ever Goodwill Ambassador for Fashion 4 Development, a global awareness campaign that uses diplomacy, business, media and creative industries for the purpose of ending poverty, reaching gender equality and creating global partnerships through fashion.
It's a more formal step in the activism Sozzani has embraced for years, as the editor has taken stands on tough issues like race and body image through the pages of Vogue Italia. Working with an organization and creating a systematic program takes it to a new level.
Sozzani explained, "It cannot be something abstract, like, 'OK, I would like to have the black girls [in the magazine],'" referring to her publication's famous all-black issue. The idea, she says, is direct action on a larger scale: "Not just, say, to help one girl to become a model or one to become a designer. We want to create something that’s much more of a system, to help many people."
It's an exciting new role for the Italian editor, who is already particularly busy with Milan Fashion Week kicking off today. In light of her country's biggest fashion event of the season, we made sure to ask Sozzani what we can expect this week -- and how she feels about the Jacob Bernstein-penned Newsweek article profiling her, which appeared in the magazine's most recent issue.
Below, excerpts from our chat with Sozzani.
HuffPost: Given that we're about to start Milan Fashion Week, are there any Italian designers that you're looking forward to seeing or a rising star that we should look out for?
Sozzani: We just found a few new designers who we saw at this contest that we do every year [the “Who Is On Next?” design competition, co-sponsored by Vogue Italia]. We saw them in July with the winter collection, so we're excited to see how they evolve.
We cannot find a new talent, a big talent, every season -- it's impossible. But we can find the young people that their dream is to become a designer, step by step. I think that some of the people that have been chosen in that past, like Aquilano.Rimondi, Albino – they all came out from this contest and they have amazing work.
HuffPost: Is there one particular show that you're very excited for coming up in Milan?
Sozzani: As everybody knows, we're always waiting for Prada, always waiting for big labels -- because Muccia Prada, she's showing every season and the way she does something completely different from the season before… So sometimes people like, sometimes less. But it's the feeling that she is going on. She's amazing all the time and that’s very interesting and very important. And many others they do because... well, we have Dolce & Gabbana, Fendi, Gucci, we have a bunch of big labels.
HuffPost: Even though you've put plus-size models in the magazine and been a big advocate of different body types, you've also mentioned that it's a slow process or even a nearly impossible process for plus-size models to really break through. Do you think that's something we are going to eventually see on the runway, if not right now on the normal runways?
Sozzani: Are you talking about girls who are not anorexic and not so skinny?
Sozzani: Honestly, you know, when they ask me what I think of the runway, I'm not a fortune teller. The only thing I can say is that when we had couture in Paris, I saw many more women than little girls. This is a little bit of the feeling, that I feel from all the designers, that it's time to get more women -- and when I say women, I mean girls with shapes, not totally skinny skinny skinny.
Because [the models] are so young, so probably changing a little bit with age -- because when they are 14 and 15 they're not natural in their bodies. Maybe just choosing about 18 or 19 [year-old models], you’ll kind of a different kind of body. So you have someone more sensual, more feminine, with more shape.
HuffPost: Speaking of the really young bodies, something that had been addressed in New York Fashion Week was the guidelines that were established for not having a model below the age of 16. Is that a thing that’s been a similar problem of the runways of Milan, to have girls who are simply too young?
Sozzani: They say all the time, I hear for years, “Not less than 16, not less than 17…” And we know that some girls are 14 or they just lie about their age to get on the runway. But you’ll see that it probably this year won’t happen, because more or less everybody agrees that it should be a little more grown-up, with more grown-up girls.
HuffPost: One of the things that was mentioned in the Newsweek/Daily Beast article is your friendship with Anna Wintour, but also the differences between the magazines and the different cultures. What is the difference between what you can do with Vogue Italia versus what can be done in the American magazine, given the different culture?
Sozzani: We are different cultures and we are different countries. We are a country of 15 million, not even, people and you are 200 million people. And everywhere in Italy is about cities and you [in the US] have miles and miles and miles of country. It's a completely different mentality as soon as you leave New York, you leave Los Angeles, you leave Dallas, you go inside another world.
So I get it -- because with American Vogue and the work that Anna’s doing has to be correct, even sometimes politically correct. She cannot say something or do something that could be immediately controversial, you know, in your country.
If I am controversial -- and I am all the time controversial [laughs] -- today, it’s part of the magazine. It's not like someone could say, “Oh, did you see what Italian Vogue did? Oh my God, no…” It's not possible. No, they just say, “They did [it].” Some things you like more, you like less, and not everybody likes in the same way. You expect, in a certain way, that I do things that are not politically correct. It’s not politically correct and it’s not on the same line every month -- you know, one month they like, one month they dislike, one month they think it's genius, and one month they think is too much. It's part of the magazine.
But you can do this because we have Italy, first, but we also have 40 percent of the magazine is sold in the United States, in England, in many other countries. It's taken as an experimental magazine, not like a magazine that goes in the family – I mean, American Vogue does over a million copies, and we do 145,000 copies. It's a different approach.
HuffPost: Speaking of running into controversy, you mentioned in the Newsweek article, “Bring back Galliano.'” Can you expand on that...is it for the sake of Dior or because he's forgiven?
Sozzani: About Galliano, I don’t want it to become a big deal. I understand that it's getting a big story. But it was not in this way that I wanted to say.
I said that -- Jacob [Bernstein] was writing what I thought, so everything was perfect[ly accurate]. But what I say and what I mean is that there’s been time for the mistake that he did, for which I completely agree in the attitude and the way that Mr. Toledano and Mr. Arnault made the choice, because I would have made exactly the same choice. It’s not like I would say, as I told to Newsweek, “Oh bad boy. Come on, keep cool, go away for a holiday and when you’ll be better, come back.”
I only say that what he did with his talent was genius, what he did was very good for the shows and all of his collections and that he is a really talented person who made a bad mistake. But I didn't mean hire bring him back. I only say that it’s a pity that he’ll not be there anymore. It’s completely different.
HuffPost: One last question: do you think Marc Jacobs would be a good replacement over at Dior, as the rumors go?
Sozzani: I think that it would be a great idea because I love Marc, I know that he is a big-name person and he's very modern. He could make a change. Because after Galliano if you go after the same style, you will only have a bad copy. Marc has such a modern attitude, with everything that he touches. And he would completely change the attitude and I think it would be great, yes. I totally like him a lot.