On Thursday, the fashion world lost one of its most visionary leaders. Franca Sozzani. Vogue Italia’s longtime editor-in-chief, died at age 66 in Milan after a long illness.
The elegant industry veteran was known for her unfaltering artful vision (as opposed to trend-driven focus), daring direction and, most famously in her later years, her relentless support of new, important design voices (Italian and otherwise) through her Who Is on Next? competition and Vogue Talents exhibition. And with Italy as the epicenter of luxury shoe-making, she deeply understood the need to shine the spotlight on up-and-comers in footwear.
“In a lot of ways, Franca and Vogue Italia were responsible for giving me a stage with Brother Vellies,” said breakout designer Aurora James. “L’Uomo Vogue was the first publication to do a full feature on the brand, and Franca’s Vogue Talents was the first award I ever won with Brother Vellies. She has been such a champion of Africa within the fashion community, really helping the global fashion industry understand its value within the space. This past season, Franca hosted a small presentation with us at Palazzo Morando; she brought along Alessandro Michele and Anna Wintour. There are few people in the industry that can say they support young talent with the depth Franca has. For that she will always be held in the highest regards and in so many of our hearts.”
Manolo Blahnik himself told FN, “She was a dear, dear friend, and this is a deeply sad loss for the world.”
Christian Dior creative director Maria Grazia Chiuri (formerly of Valentino) also shared her sentiments. “Franca, a friend, an icon, a women I have always admired,” she said in a statement to Footwear News. “I will be forever grateful for her generosity and her support. She will always hold a special place in my heart.”
Designer Paul Andrew was also particularly saddened by the news and shared how Sozzani supported him from the get-go.
“This news is heartbreaking to me personally. Franca was one of the first editors to embrace me when I launched my brand,” he said. “Because of her persistent encouragement, I had the opportunity to win Who Is On Next? in 2013. Since then she remained an incredible supporter of my projects in Italy and across the globe. Throughout this last year especially, her dedication to me as a designer has been instrumental to my growth, and for that I am eternally grateful. The time I was fortunate enough to spend with Franca will always be invaluable to me. I send my sincerest condolences to her family and friends. She will be missed immensely.”
Nicholas Kirkwood also credits much of his early success to Sozzani.
“Franca gave me one of my first big breaks in 2007 with the Who Is on Next?’ competition in Rome,” he said. “It was the first time I was given the opportunity to showcase my collection to such an esteemed panel of judges from the fashion industry; it really set in motion many things to come for me, and I will never forget the support she has shown me in the following years. Franca had such profound vision for how Vogue Italia should be with her sometimes controversial and always indulgent editorials. Her passing is a huge loss to our industry and she will be sorely missed.”
“I only can say thank you to this incredible woman,” echoed Paula Cademartori. “I had the chance to meet her when I first presented my collection during Vogue Talents and then Who Is on Next? It was such a great opportunity to receive her personal opinion and advice. Franca Sozzani for me is an example to follow — not only an esteemed entrepreneur but also a great woman. She was and always will be an icon in the fashion world. We all will miss her.”
“Three words that described Franca for me are extravagant, innovative and experimental,” said Alexia Aubert, founder of the emerging Parisian label Solovière. “Franca was a free spirit. She transformed the magazine into this unique platform, especially for young designers through her Who Is on Next? initiative. Solovière is more than lucky to have been able to evolve under her supreme guidance and support. We will forever miss her and remain in her debt.”
“I launched my brand with her support,” said Oscar Tiye’s Amina Mauddi. “She was the first lady to promote and actually help young designers in Italy. She would always welcome me with a big smile, give me a kiss, tell me I looked beautiful and introduce me to whoever was with her talking about my brand. Franca was so sweet. And that’s what I will always remember about her. I might forget about her being a power woman, or her amazing style, her talent, her eye for beauty or her class. But I will always remember that she was beautiful inside. That she was kind. I always told her that she looked like an angel, and now she became one.”
Nicolò Beretta, Footwear News‘ Emerging Talent winner for 2016, met Sozzani when he was just 15 years old. “I lost a very important figure for my career. She was the very first person I was looked up to and the very first one that supported me,” he said from Milan. “I remember when I first met her. She started looking at my portfolio and silently she seemed interested, then she asked me a few questions together with Manolo Blahnik, and together they suggested I turn my ideas into reality.”
From there, Sozzani encouraged Beretta to participate in Vogue Talents and Who Is on Next?, which he won in 2015. “I feed incredibly lucky to have met her and to have received her support,” he said. “She was a true visionary, and she will remain in my heart forever.”