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MILAN — Vogue Italia editor in chief Franca Sozzani doesn’t shy away from controversy. Some might argue she courts it.
She isn’t afraid to speak her mind, and her blog on vogue.it has helped the site jump to more than one million unique users a month, at the same time lifting sales of the magazine at newsstands. WWD caught up with the petite Sozzani, whose long, wavy blonde hair and azure eyes are fixtures on the fashion scene, where she has headed up Italy’s most experimental fashion magazine for the past 22 years.
WWD: Who is the reader of vogue.it? And is it the same as the magazine’s?
Franca Sozzani: What still makes Vogue Italia different is that it tells its own stories, it does it in a way that is sometimes stronger than other magazines. I would say the strength of Vogue Italia is its creativity and image. To move all this onto the site was not really easy, because when the image is so creative and exclusive, it can be misunderstood by a larger public. The challenge was to bring this image and this quality to the site, but we succeeded. Not only did we bring our readers to the site, but we also added new ones, who weren’t regular Vogue readers. As a consequence, in some months, sales of the magazine grew 27 percent, and 2010 saw a 20 percent gain at newsstands.
WWD: So was vogue.it a commercial strategy to increase the sales of the magazine or a way to be closer to the public?
F.S.: No, nobody could have foreseen this. The success of the site was unexpected. We didn’t do the site to increase the sales of the magazine, but so that the idea of Vogue, and its quality, its contents, would be diffused on the site, to give an alternative to the reader.
WWD: What does this depend on and what parts are the most visited?
F.S.: I believe, graphically, it is very different from other sites. It’s rich in news, not only commercially, and it’s user-friendly. Well, my blog is the most visited, with 1,000 to 3,000 readers a day. We created alternatives, as we have pages nobody else has, such as “Curvy,” “Talents,” “Black.” And now we have added “Photo,” where you can upload your photos and build up a portfolio, which helps those who don’t have an agent yet. We launched it on April 4, and in two days we had more than 2,000 people uploading their photos.
WWD: You were initially criticized for your “Black” and “Curvy” pages.
F.S.: Oh, very much so, because some said it was becoming the ghetto of plus-sized, the ghetto of black, but it’s not true. These are very happy readers, happy that we are looking at them in different ways. In “Curvy,” they are superhappy with their sizes. We help them dress fashionably. We say: It’s pointless for you to buy leggings, take this because this will look good on you. We help them choose. We don’t talk about diets because they don’t want to be on a diet, but it’s not a ghetto. Why should these women slim down? Many of the women who have a few extra kilos are especially beautiful and also more feminine.
WWD: Do you believe that in your role you must be engaged in social issues?
F.S.: Yes. For example we have a petition against pro-anorexia Web sites and blogs. I believe it’s fundamental. There are 300,000 of these sites globally and if you read them, you feel sick. If someone says it’s absurd and hypocritical that Vogue is against anorexia, I say, “Why?” They say models are thin, but I can’t change all the shows, the world, walk the streets saying you have to do this or that. I’m not the Eternal Judge. I do what I can do; others then do what they have to do. We have this damn Photoshop, where 14-year-old girls are polished, they take away the stomach, the sides and they all seem thinner. And why shouldn’t one have wrinkles? I don’t understand — there must be a moment when one has to have something.
WWD: Do you use Photoshop, too?
F.S.: We use it less and less, increasingly so — actually recently I am very much against it. But now it’s part of daily use and you can’t blame it. There are few photographers who don’t use Photoshop, very few. But you can’t say fashion is the cause of anorexia — what about Twiggy in the Sixties? There were anorexics already, were they so because of Twiggy? Or Jean Shrimpton? There are psychological problems. I don’t feel a hypocrite at all and I couldn’t care less if they say I am because I am convinced that if I can do something to help.…Maybe these kids go on these pro-anorexia sites also because they feel lonely, we should help them not feel lonely. But this is an illness, I am not a professor, I can do things I find socially right, as when I organize Convivio to help fight AIDS. I can’t move the world and be Hercules with everything on my shoulders, I can only do some things. So 90 percent of people agree with me, then there is the 10 percent that say it’s absurd because they see Vogue as a fashion magazine and it shows thin models. But they forget the supermodel era — Christy Turlington, Cindy Crawford, Naomi Campbell, they were not thin. When Kate Moss arrived , they all said, “Here is the anorexic model,” but she was 15. Now they are all against her because she has cellulite. But who cares? We would all like to have cellulite like she does. The problem is that many of these models are too young. This is the real problem; they are immature.