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All About My Mother: Growing Up with Franca Sozzani

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Until I was about 5 years old, I didn’t realize my mother was one of the most powerful people in fashion publishing. I actually thought she owned a newsstand and sold papers for a living. It may have taken me a little while to figure it out, but I was always aware that I was growing up in an exceptional environment and that my life was different from that of my school friends and teachers. I’d go to school and tell my teachers that I had been in China for a few days or that I had dinner with someone famous the night before, and they thought I was crazy.

Without giving away too much and spoiling the film I’m making about her, how she got to be the editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue is a crazy, random story: She was a student who married, got divorced, went to India and came back to a job as a wardrobe assistant. That’s how she fell into it. In truth, I don’t think she ever really wanted to work. She wanted to get married, play golf and and enjoy a life with her children, but it didn’t really work out as planned.

Still, it made for a wild upbringing. My mother started at Italian Vogue in July 1988, so from the age of 6 I practically lived in the magazine’s offices. There were virtually no computers in those days, and magazines were pretty much made with spray glue and X-Acto knives; I used to make my own little magazine and sell it around the office.

I never really wanted to be a photographer when I was young—it’s something that I fell into later—but I spent a lot of time around photographers like Bruce Weber and Peter Lindbergh, people I still look to for inspiration. I recognized early on the power of what they did in their images, whether it was: Kate Moss naked or Naomi Campbell in a bikini in the South of France eating lobster.

Then there were the fashion shows. I went to the shows for years, always sitting on my mother’s lap. I think my first one was Versace, because Gianni Versace and my mother were such good friends. I may be wrong, but I remember a big-name band playing during the show—maybe The Police—and the models walking to the live music.

Although it eventually got to the point where I’d seen too many shows, they were a real kick for me at the time. First of all, I have always loved women. I may have been only a little kid looking at all these pictures in the office, but it was always in a slightly sexual way. So seeing all these women changing backstage and then coming out like goddesses on the catwalk was really a fantasy for me. Let’s just say there are pictures of me playing under Stephanie Seymour’s skirt, and I look like I am having a pretty good time. Secondly, maybe it’s because I was younger or I want to remember it that way, but the shows were more fun back then—more loose and less contrived.

My dad left us very early on, when I was about three, so I traveled a lot with my mom. I was a pretty crazy kid and would do some naughty things. In Paris, where my mother had a car and driver, I’d sometimes be left with him while she was at the shows. I guess we had stayed at the Ritz a couple of times in the past, because once when she was out working, I remember going to the lobby and telling them that my father was in one of the suites, so I could go down to the pool, take a swim and then go back to the driver in time to pick up my mother. She asked me, “Why is your hair wet?” and I lied and said it had been raining. That’s not a normal kid!

It wasn’t until I moved to New York in 2004 that the full impact of my mother’s achievements hit me. One time, I was sitting in a movie theater in New York watching Death Proof, by Quentin Tarantino. There’s a scene in a deli in Tennessee and the clerk tells Rosario Dawson’s character that he has contraband magazines like Italian Vogue out back. The idea that I could be sitting in a cinema and all of a sudden they’re talking about what my mother had been doing for 20 years was mind-blowing.

The reason why I’m still—I don’t want to say normal, but grounded—is because my mother always kept a healthy distance from what she did and taught me not to take it for granted. I’m 32, she’s 64, but just last year we went to Dubai because she did this big Vogue-branded event and we were like, “Wow, this is cool.” What she does for a living has always been exciting and new, but we always looked at it as something that could end tomorrow.

As a result I’ve never been impressionable, even if I was with Madonna in a club when I was eight or at Steven Meisel’s place when Marina Schiano was laughing and sharing a million stories with Gianfranco Ferré. To me, it was just the way I grew up, and my mother was just my mother, my friend, the person I would tell everything to.

In many ways, I feel like my mother is a unique character in fashion, and this makes her a little enigmatic. Here is this really frail, small-framed woman who has incredible determination and strength. You know, my mother can make middle-aged men cry if she wants to—I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Yet she’s always kept this serene detachment from what she does. She has this distance, and has never once told me, “I can’t wait to go to this party! I can’t wait to wear this!” When she talks about fashion, it is almost like how Fellini talks about moviemaking. Fellini is one of the greatest, but he always tiptoes around what he does and says things like, “Oh, I am making a film because I asked for money and now I don’t want to give it back.” She has that type of remove.

As a result, people don’t really know her. There are people who have seen more sides to her than others, but I truly think that I am the only one who has full access to her; that’s partly why I wanted to make this film. She has many friends, but she doesn’t have a best friend; she’s very isolated, in her own way.

If they were close to her, people would know that her life has never just been about fashion and dressing up. I find her very elegant exactly because it doesn’t ever feel like she is trying. She takes about 15 minutes to dress, put on a bit of makeup, comb her hair and leave. That’s why I hate waiting for women to get ready.

And it’s not just her no-fuss attitude to dressing that has set a very high bar for the other women in my life. Having someone dear to you with that much strength, determination, integrity, ability and intelligence makes for a tough act to follow.

The fact that I left home at 17 is probably not very typical Latin behavior. In my country, a lot of men stay at home until they’re 30, because they get food cooked for them and have their laundry done. But she is the most important person in my life, so at the end of the day I guess I am still a mummy’s boy.


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