How Carla Sozzani Survived a Bout with Malaria and Other Tidbits from the Creator of 10 Corso Como

Shortly before the runway show at ITS fashion festival in Trieste, Italy, we sat down with Carla Sozzani, the force behind the celebrated 10 Corso Como concept store in Milan. She told us about young Italian talents (they do exist), her brief stint at Elle in the 1980s, and one harrowing day in Africa some 40 years ago…

What’s your involvement in ITS?
This is the second time I’ve been a jury member. My daughter, Sarah, who’s been an editor at Italian Vogue for seven years, encouraged me to do it. I also have a lot of respect for Barbara Franchin, the event’s founder. There is no other contest in the world that encapsulates not only fashion, but also photography, accessories, and jewelry. Besides, it’s very international, and the jury is first-rate.

What do you think about the current state of Italian fashion, which some people find lacking in fresh talent?
There actually are fresh designers, but they prefer working for other brands around the world, instead of launching their own houses. It’s about job security. That’s a very Italian thing. In the UK, people want to have their own brands. Maybe the schools here don’t motivate the students enough. But that doesn’t mean there are not interesting people right now, like Andrea Incontri, Stella Jean, Fausto Puglisi, and Marco de Vicenzo. And our fashion council now offers assistance to young designers, because having money is not enough. You need to know how to use it. They help them with management and distribution, for instance. Don’t forget that a few decades ago, we didn’t have the Asian or Russian markets. Now fashion is a bigger industry.

What about your legendary store, 10 Corso Como? Concept stores have now mushroomed around the world. How do you stay organized?
I am not organized (laughs). I’m not obsessed with the ins-and-outs. I am passionate about the things I show. My store is about sharing those things with visitors. That’s a way for me to communicate. It’s like a living magazine.

Speaking of magazines, your past includes a stint at Elle, where you edited three issues in 1987.
Yes, I heard that people are collecting them. Elle actually fired me, then they told me to say I resigned. But I refused to do so. I said you’re firing me for a very clear reason, which was that I wasn’t commercial enough. I mentioned the fact that Diana Vreeland was also fired and they asked me, “Who is she?”

You worked with many groundbreaking photographers then. Are you still in touch with them?
Yes, I’m very close with Bruce Weber, Paolo Roversi, Peter Lindbergh, Sarah Moon.

What are your next projects?
My new Corso Como store in Shanghai. I go there every six weeks.

You’re a big traveler. Have you ever been to Africa?
Yes, I’ve been to several countries in Africa: Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, Benin. I went to Benin in the seventies. It was called Dahomey then. I went with Anna Piaggi’s husband to take pictures. We flew on the now-defunct Air Afrique company and stayed at a hotel where a lot of Russians also sojourned. I met the director of the hotel, who was from Switzerland. The following day, there was a revolution. The country name was changed to Benin and suddenly there was a new director at the hotel. But that day I also caught malaria. I went to the hospital, but people were fleeing. A young French doctor quickly injected me with medicine and fled. He saved my life.

You’re also often in Paris with your friend Azzedine Alaia…
Yes, I’m in Paris almost every week. I met Azzedine in 1979, when I was an editor at Italian Vogue. I had to do an article about a stylist, and I had heard about this designer who made leather dresses with eyelets from the French Elle journalist Nicole Crassat. Azzedine and I have been friends ever since.