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
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.