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School of Fashion Co-Presents Film on Iconic Italian Vogue Editor

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Following a screening of the documentary Franca: Chaos and Creation, the audience was treated to a post-film Q&A moderated by School of Fashion Executive Director Simon Ungless. Photo by Bob Toy.

With her petite frame, big blue eyes and mane of wavy blonde hair, long-time Italian Vogue Editor-in-Chief Franca Sozzani possessed a delicate beauty until she died last year at age 66. The subject of the documentary Franca: Chaos and Creation—directed by her son, Francesco Carrozzini—may have looked fragile. But the woman who revolutionized fashion publishing during her 28-year tenure at the iconic magazine was no china doll. 

On Wednesday, Nov. 8, Academy of Art University’s School of Fashion and the Italian Cultural Institute co-presented a screening of Franca: Chaos and Creation at the fittingly elegant Castro Theatre. The event kicked off the pre-opening of the recent New Italian Cinema festival.

“The Italian Cultural Institute has been a good friend to us,” said Simon Ungless, executive director of the Academy’s School of Fashion, and moderator of the Q&A session following the film. “Any chance we get to hang out with them, we do. I also wanted to introduce our students to the Castro Theatre, one of the city’s many incredible resources they may not know about. We need to support these small, local businesses.”

Innovative and gritty, Sozzani became editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue in 1988. Her provocative, sometimes violent, photo spreads and covers were often more social commentary than fashion-focused. They were inspired by events and issues ranging from oil spills to domestic abuse and plastic surgery. Dubbed the “Queen of Controversy” by Forbes magazine, Sozzani earned both praise and criticism for her daring choices. One of her most well-received ground-breaking issues featured all black models. The magazine quickly sold out and became a collector’s item.

“I’m very stubborn when I have ideas,” she told her son when he asked her about being an anti-conformist. “When pursuing them, I prefer to make my own mistakes. All these market researchers tell you do this, do that. I did the exact opposite of what they said.”

Sozzani also strived to bring fantasies to life. “I add the dream,” she explained, as surreal images of corpse-like models lying in a street and others straddling teeter totters while clad in ruffled crimson gowns flickered across the screen. “The dream is the only time when you can be free with your fantasies.”

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School of Fashion Executive Director Simon Ungless. Photo by Bob Toy.

In addition to focusing on Sozzani’s vision and creative process, “Franca: Chaos and Creation,” is the story of her relationship with Carrozzini, her only child. After losing his father and regretting that he never really knew him, the director didn’t want to make the same mistake with his mother.

“I grabbed my camera, took my mother to Central Park, and started interviewing her,” he said in the beginning of the film. “I had to tell her story, not for any other reason but because she’s my mother.”

Carrozzini artfully blends footage from home movies of Sozzani’s happy, bourgeois childhood in Italy with images from Italian Vogue and the publications where she began her career, Vogue Bambini and LEI. Many of his interviews with his mother take place in the back of taxi cabs, giving them a natural, intimate feel. 

Driven to succeed, Sozzani raised her son as a single mother in an era when that wasn’t common or always accepted. She noted that she was judged almost as much for the way she lived as she was for her work. If Carrozzini resented his unconventional upbringing, it didn’t show in the movie. The playful bickering between him and his mother was infused with affection. 

Carrozzini interspersed his conversations with Sozzani with interviews with some of her high-profile admirers, including designers Karl Lagerfeld and Valentino Garavani. Super model Naomi Campbell, rocker Courtney Love and other celebrities also weighed in on her legacy. Interviews with photographers Sozzani worked closely with—Peter Lindbergh, Steven Meisel, Paolo Roversi and Bruce Weber—were especially revealing and poignant.

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Garments by M.F.A. fashion design alumna Nina Nguyen Hui. Photo by Bob Toy.

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Garments by B.F.A. fashion design and textile design alumna Jiran Xia. Photo by Bob Toy.

Each photographer had a special connection with her and appreciated the creative control she gave them. Lindbergh confided that he was always “a little in love” with Sozzani.

“It was never like a work relationship with Franca,” he said. “It was always like she wanted to learn a little bit more about me and I wanted to learn a little bit more about her.” 

After the film, many viewers headed upstairs for a reception. Several stunning garments created by School of Fashion students were on display around the mezzanine. When asked what he considered Sozzani’s greatest contributions to fashion, Ungless mentioned her fearlessness and talent for finding incredibly talented people to work with. 

“Franca had this complete security in what she could do, and she let other people do what they could do, which is different than what happens at some other magazines,” he remarked.