ARISE meets Vogue Italia's Franca Sozzani

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Words Helen Jennings

ARISE included Vogue Italia editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani in its list of 100 Dynamic Women for her efforts to promote Africa, both on the pages of her magazines and as UN Goodwill Ambassador for Fashion 4 Development (a global campaign seeking sustainable development and economic independence for communities through fashion). One of the most powerful people in fashion, Sozzani doesn’t hold back in sharing her opinions with ARISE. Read the full interview in issue 18, out now.

The Rebranding Africa issue of L’Uomo Vogue was meant to encourage people to see the positive side of Africa.Some people criticised it for not showing what’s really happening – the refugees, the bombs – but if we keep on showing only this side, people always think of Africa as a place you shouldn’t go to.

When I went to sub-Saharan Africa, the most impressive thing for me was that the young people I spoke to didn’t want to leave for the West. They wanted to build their life in their own country. They are very engaged and committed to how to make their own country better. They were so full of ideas and possibilities. Young designers, writers, actors, singers, poets and artists need to be helped because they are the energy of Africa.The energy doesn’t just come from the oil. The energy comes from this new passionate generation.

I’m convinced that there is the potential to develop luxury in Africa and I want to help designers make their products.That’s what I know how to do and each of us should do what we can do.The main problem is distribution. The designers have ideas, they have talent, they can produce but they don’t know how to build distribution. Many of them have small studios so my idea is to improve those studios. Now they need investment. It’s complicated. Many rich Africans don’t help the rest, which is a pity.

African designers shouldn’t make things that are too ethnic if they want to sell globally. I met many designers who were talented but their clothes were unsellable because they were so far from what people in London or Milan want to wear. So designers should mix it up and use just small details such as African prints. That works very well.

There are too many African fashion weeks, you can’t go to all of them and it’s confusing so it’s better to concentrate.Do one week and choose the 30 best designers in Africa – that is  enough.

The Chinese are going into Africa and buying everything up. I wanted to challenge why this was. When I arrived in Accra so many Chinese people were there building hotels but you can’t blame them because they are creating infrastructure. What are the Americans, the Italians, the English doing? Nothing. The Chinese are doing this for their own interest for sure, but at least they are doing something.

Sometimes it’s not easy to realise your ideas because you need people who understand them.With the all black models issue of Vogue Italia, people were scared, they said, ‘Are you sure?’ I said, ‘I will take responsibility for what I’m doing.’ And the issue sold out.

Everyone is obsessed with being young but you can’t go backward.You will never be 20 years old again. Botox is not the solution, the solution is in your head. I’m against plastic surgery on the face – your face is your life.

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