Pro­vok­ing fash­ion

Son’s doc­u­men­tary about long­time Vogue Italia ed­i­tor Franca Soz­zani gave her pride and him a chance to em­brace this in­spir­ing woman’s work and in­flu­ence

The Washington Post Sunday - - MOVIES - BY ROBIN GIVHAN robin.givhan@wash­

Many film­mak­ers roam far afield to find a ripe topic for their next cre­ative en­deavor, but Francesco Car­rozzini sim­ply turned to his mother, who hap­pened to be one of the most provoca­tive and in­spir­ing women in the in­ter­na­tional fash­ion in­dus­try — yet one he barely knew. Franca Soz­zani was the long­time ed­i­tor of Vogue Italia, a mag­a­zine with a small foot­print but far­reach­ing in­flu­ence.

Car­rozzini has di­rected a doc­u­men­tary about Soz­zani’s life and work — a way of learn­ing more about her, not just as a mother, but also as a woman. The re­sult is the com­pact and un­sen­ti­men­tal “Franca: Chaos & Cre­ation,” which is sched­uled to open in the United States later this year. Car­rozzini’s timing was both wist­ful and pre­scient; his mother passed away in De­cem­ber. The film serves as a trib­ute to her life.

Dur­ing Soz­zani’s 28-year ten­ure at the Ital­ian glossy, she used fash­ion to ad­dress a range of sub­jects not typ­i­cally con­sid­ered along­side de­signer clothes. Vogue Italia fo­cused on the bru­tal­ity of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence. It ex­plored plas­tic surgery and eat­ing dis­or­ders in art­ful, heart­break­ing im­agery. It used the dev­as­tat­ing BP oil spill as a source of in­spi­ra­tion for a fash­ion shoot that de­picted models as frag­ile, oth­er­worldly crea­tures chok­ing on petroleum. She con­fronted the fash­ion in­dus­try’s dis­com­fort with racial diver­sity by ded­i­cat­ing an en­tire is­sue to black models, us­ing only black women in the mag­a­zine’s fash­ion spreads.

In a scene from the film, a re­porter chal­lenges Soz­zani on her un­usual ed­i­to­rial vi­sion. She replies: “Why can’t a fash­ion mag­a­zine care about what hap­pens in the world?”

Car­rozzini was in Wash­ing­ton ear­lier this month, along with his mother’s sis­ter Carla Soz­zani, whose Mi­lan store 10 Corso Como helped launch the bou­tique-as­gallery trend, as hon­orees of the Ital­ian Cul­tural So­ci­ety. Car­rozzini has the lean physique of a longdis­tance run­ner. He has waves of sandy brown hair, groomed stub­ble and a whirring en­ergy that can burn through the oxy­gen in a room. He’s en­gaged to Bee Shaf­fer, the daugh­ter of Amer­i­can Vogue ed­i­tor Anna Win­tour, who was both a col­league and friend of his mother’s.

Car­rozzini, 34, is as much a char­ac­ter in the doc­u­men­tary as his mother. The two at times en­gage in a con­ver­sa­tional tug-of-war. When he asks her about an early, short­lived mar­riage, she ex­hibits a stub­born re­fusal to dwell on the past.

Why did you get mar­ried, Car­rozzini asks. “Be­cause I was al­ready wear­ing the dress. I don’t know,” Soz­zani says with a wry laugh. The mar­riage lasted three months.

The most in­ti­mate con­ver­sa­tions be­tween the son and his mother oc­cur in the back seat of a car as she is be­ing chauf­feured from one ap­point­ment to the next. Soz­zani was a petite woman who stud­ied phi­los­o­phy in school. She had long waves of blond hair, blue eyes and a deep trust in her­self and her­self alone. In the film, she ex­udes all the glam­our one might ex­pect of some­one who criss­crosses the globe at­tend­ing fash­ion shows, din­ing with artists and de­sign­ers, and con­stantly pur­su­ing the next it­er­a­tion of beauty.

“The work, she loved talk­ing about,” Car­rozzini says. She didn’t like dis­cussing her per­sonal life. “She was a cre­ative mind, a jour­nal­ist. Although I don’t think of her as a jour­nal­ist as much as a rev­o­lu­tion­ary per­son.

“Fash­ion was a de­vice to talk about other things, a way to meet peo­ple. My mother never came back home and said she’d seen an in­cred­i­ble col­lec­tion. It was, ‘Oh, I met this great per­son at this din­ner.’ ”

For Car­rozzini, Vogue Italia’s oil spill is­sue was es­pe­cially pow­er­ful. “It was al­most like a movie. But the black is­sue was more im­pact­ful than all of them,” he says. “It was about so­ci­ety.”

That is­sue es­pe­cially res­onated in the United States. In the film, there is a clip of a young black man clutch­ing a copy of the mag­a­zine and en­thus­ing into the so­cial me­dia vor­tex about how long he has waited for such a his­toric mo­ment.

“She never thought of Italy as her au­di­ence,” Car­rozzini says. In the film, Soz­zani ex­plains that be­cause Ital­ian is spo­ken only in Italy, to ex­pand the mag­a­zine’s reach — its cir­cu­la­tion drifted be­tween 120,000 to 150,000 — the pho­tog­ra­phy needed to be par­tic­u­larly pow­er­ful. The sto­ries had to be vis­ually bold. She cul­ti­vated such pho­tog­ra­phers as Steven Meisel and Paolo Roversi and at­tracted an in­ter­na­tional au­di­ence to the mag­a­zine’s pages even though many of its con­sumers weren’t able to read most of it.

Car­rozzini por­trays his mother as un­apolo­get­i­cally in love with her work. She does not seem like a woman who frets about a work-life bal­ance. Whether a bad photo or a bad mar­riage, Soz­zani be­lieved in turn­ing the page.

“She taught me to be cu­ri­ous. She taught me to look at things from dif­fer­ent an­gles, to look for dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives,” he says. “She was a su­per, su­per am­bi­tious woman . . . . That’s a great at­ti­tude to teach some­one.”

“She was am­bi­tious be­cause [her work] was never good enough,” adds her sis­ter Carla. “She wanted to do well. She was 3 and she was like that.”

Am­bi­tion is of­ten deemed a neg­a­tive when ex­hib­ited by women. And it caused Car­rozzini some tension when he was in his 20s. For him. Not her. Now, he takes pride in her striv­ing.

Franca Soz­zani was 66 when she died of lung can­cer, but she’d had a chance to screen her son’s film. “I al­ways loved you,” she told him af­ter­ward. “Now I’m also proud of you.”

When Car­rozzini looks at the fash­ion in­dus­try, he sees his mother’s in­flu­ence — di­rectly or in­di­rectly — as glossy mag­a­zines take on sub­jects that are roil­ing the cul­ture, from pol­i­tics to gen­der flu­id­ity.

As a film­maker, the ex­pe­ri­ence of documenting his mother’s life taught him that he was more in­ter­ested in peo­ple, in char­ac­ter stud­ies, than in tra­di­tional nar­ra­tives. He also re­al­ized that his own mother was one of the most in­trigu­ing char­ac­ters he has ever en­coun­tered. And was lucky enough to get to know her.


Francesco Car­rozzini, di­rec­tor of “Franca: Chaos & Cre­ation,” a doc­u­men­tary about his mother, the for­mer ed­i­tor of Ital­ian Vogue who died re­cently.

Un­der Franca Soz­zani, the mag­a­zine ad­dressed sub­jects be­yond de­signer clothes.

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