Franca Sozzani, the longtime editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue who embodied the Milanese sensibility that fashion was inextricable from intellect and combined her high-profile position with philanthropy and inclusion, has died at 66. While the specific cause of death has not yet been disclosed, The Guardian reports she had been ill for a year, and died on Thursday in Milan with her son, Francesco Carrozzini, at her side.
Sozzani had served as Vogue Italia’s top editor since 1988, assuming power the same year Anna Wintour took over American Vogue. At the magazine’s helm, she emphasized fashion’s intertwinement with social issues, using her platform to make cutting-edge art that pushed the conversation forward. In 2008, she published an issue using black models exclusively; the issue not only focused on the likes of Michelle Obama and Spike Lee, but included features about the histories of both Ebony and Essence. Upon its release, then-Jezebel editor Dodai Stewart wrote:
Is it a gimmick? Yes. But the fact remains that flipping through the issue and seeing page after page of gorgeous black women can act as a reminder to editors, stylists, modeling agencies and consumers — that beauty comes in many forms. It can be edgy, irreverent, weird, pretty, strong and avant-garde — while being black.
Three years after that issue, Sozzani had another inspired idea: Vogue Curvy, a leg of Vogue Italia that would focus on, and be staffed by, fashionable plus size women. And in 2012, she would become the first editor of the Vogue empire to recognize Kim Kardashian as a cultural force, provoking thought about someone her American counterpart still seemed to shun as déclassé.
Sozzani was born in Mantua, in the North of Italy, in 1950; she began her career at Vogue Bambini in the ’70s and quickly rose through the ranks of various fashion magazines before landing at Vogue Italia in ‘88. Anna Wintour today published a remembrance of her friend and colleague, writing that “over the years she had championed so many artists, actors, writers, photographers—some famous, most not—as well as social causes and issues of social justice that she cared so passionately about. Her fierce and unwavering support will never be forgotten.”
Wintour touches on Sozzani’s illness in passing, saying that she’d recently been in the hospital, and promised she’d pass on an heirloom in honor of their friendship should Sozzani’s son Franceso Carrozzini have a daughter some day. She says:
In private, Franca was warm, clever, funny, and someone who could give the Sphinx a run for its money when it comes to keeping a confidence. She was also the hardest-working person I have known, and with an envy-inducing ease with multitasking. She made everything she worked on appear effortless, regardless of whether it was an event for several hundred; a whirlwind trip to Africa to support the continent’s emerging designers; or the creation of yet another newsworthy, provocative, and utterly spellbinding issue of Italian Vogue.
This year, Carrozzini premiered Franca: Chaos and Creation, a documentary about his mother, at the Venice Film Festival, to broad acclaim. The trailer shows how she broke ground, pushed buttons, and—no matter your reaction to her work—always made a memorable image.
Though she was often embroiled in controversy for editorials that read as sexist and/or racist—recall, for instance, the “Haute Mess” mess of 2012—the December 2016 issue of Vogue Italia is a four-cover special and features puppies with models as shot by Bruce Weber. From Sozzani, the softest goodbye.