On the June issue of Italian Vogue, you’ll see something we don’t often see on fashion magazine covers: flesh. Breasts spill out of bras, hips bulge out of panties, and the angular bony figures we are so used to seeing are replaced with the softness of women who have unapologetically voluptuous bodies. This morning Italian Vogue editor Franca Sozzani called us from Italy to discuss this unusual issue. Refuting the criticism that the “Curvy” channel on the Italian Vogue website was a gimmick, she explained that she doesn’t expect this issue to change the world, or for super-skinny models to disappear overnight, but she hopes at the least that it gets the industry to start asking questions about what defines beauty. And she’s right about one thing: For change to happen, someone has to actually provoke it.
Why did you decide to put three plus-size models on the cover?
We were talking about doing, let’s say, a normal person — not only models who are skinny, the normal prototype of beauty of today. It was up in the air for a bit, but now we did it to attract the attention that it doesn’t exist, only one kind of beauty, but that every woman can be beautiful, and especially curvy women can be beautiful and very sexy. If you think today of Elizabeth Taylor or Sophia Loren, they could be in the curvy issue. That shows you how it’s changed, the idea of the body for the woman.
Did you know when you did this shoot one of the images would make the cover?
This was made for the cover, yes.
The models have expressed disbelief in the cover — they didn’t believe it would actually happen until they saw it.
Ah yes, I know. We did it to show this kind of beauty, because they are really beautiful in a way, and happy to be like that. That is something that is very important — to be happy of your body, to decide how you look, to feel sexy and sensual and feminine. None of them want to be on a diet, not at all.
Tara Lynn, Candice Huffine, and Robyn Lawley are on the cover. How did you decide on this particular cast?
Steven Meisel did the casting, and I think he saw many, many girls, and he decided on these three.
Crystal Renn has been the poster girl for plus-size models, and she was noticeably absent.
We were trying to move into new faces. We even did [a casting call for regular people] on Vogue.it. We [shot them for the June issue] and they answered, not so many but a few answered, and they’re really beautiful. Most of them, for example, they didn’t answer by themselves, but a sister or a friend sent the image because they never thought they could be scouted for Vogue.
Historically you haven’t featured many plus-size models in the magazine. Why are you doing this now?
I’m doing it now because I did this petition against the pro-anorexia websites, and this petition in a way is going up every day, because now 9,000 signed the petition, and most of them, the people anyway in the comments, they say, “Yes, you are doing this petition, but you only use skinny girls on the runway, in the magazines, so what do you want to teach us?” So I said, I will show you, I will use beautiful women — curvy. And so we did it because they all say Italian Vogue would never do it.
But why haven’t you — and the rest of the fashion industry, for that matter — featured women who were plus-size with any regularity at all over the past couple of decades? It was skinny, skinny, skinny, and more skinny for so long. Even though plus-size girls are much more visible now than they had been, skinny models unquestionably dominate the casting circuit.
Because I think it’s a mentality. Let’s say, for example in the eighties, beauty was very sporty, very healthy, and we arrived at the supermodels: They had hips and butts, and they were really women, and that started this long wave of teenagers whose bodies are still not shaped, most of them. And immediately they thought the skinnier you are, the more beautiful. All in fashion are victims — the media, even myself, even the runways — of the beauty of the moment.
The supers are getting more work lately, too, it seems.
When they changed from the supermodel to the skinny girl, I remember Eva Herzigova was not working, and Cindy Crawford, all these girls they were working less and less. And I remember at an Hermès show a few seasons ago, they put on the runway with these young teenager girls Naomi [Campbell] and Stephanie Seymour, and they look almost big if you compare them [with the other models]. But they were looking so beautiful because they look like women. We are used to seeing teenagers — 14, 15, 17, 18 years old — they are not able to use their bodies and their bodies are still not shaped. I don’t know why it became a prototype of a beauty, like Twiggy in the sixties or Veruschka. But you realize the women with the bodies are much more interesting than teenagers.
The new issue makes me think of the all-black issue you did a couple of years ago, which created a lot of talk about the lack of racial diversity in fashion.
With the black girls now it was two years ago that this happened, and I see on the runway more and more black girls and more and more beautiful black girls. This kind of provocation makes a change; it could not affect everybody, that’s for sure. But I don’t want it to change the world. I only would like that instead of skinny girls, that they should have real women — like the moment of the supermodels. Cindy Crawford was an amazing woman, Naomi is so beautiful — so why should we not just see younger girls but adults? [Teenagers] look so unreal in a way sometimes, you know?
Have you shot anymore plus-size models since shooting the June issue?
Not yet, but we will.
Do you think plus-size models will ever get the same work and at the same rate as straight-size models?
No, I don’t think so, because for the moment — and we never know, you know? — but for the moment I don’t think we’ll see the same proportion [of plus-size models as straight-size models]. Just like we don’t see the same proportion of white and black girls. They use curvy models sometimes, like a provocation, but it is just to show something different, which I don’t like honestly. I loved for example Prada, the winter before last she used three or four girls which were curvy girls. So not everybody will embrace that, I don’t think so. But I think in a way we will stop to think, do you really want to go on with all these skinny girls? If this is the only question that comes up, for me [the issue] will be a big success.