Carla Sozzani: Instant Instinct.
Interview by Kate Lawson
Carla Sozzani is the founder behind the much-lauded concept store, 10 Corso Como - a longtime fashion editor and the Sister of Italian Vogue’s Ed-in-Chief Franca - Sozzani’s vision for a living magazine evolved into a trendsetting gallery-cum-lifestyle emporium which has become the destination for global cool.
Originally opened in 1990 as an exhibition space in a converted garage, it exploded into a retail experience dedicated to explorations of culture, literature, art, fashion, design and photography - shows over the years have included work by emerging talent and established icons including Helmut Newton, Annie Leibovitz, Bruce Weber, David LaChapelle, Bettina Graziani, Man Ray, Jean Prouvè and Steven Meisel. From its early beginnings to its expansion into a chic hangout cafe and restaurant, books, design space, publishing house and hotel, Corso Como also now boasts spin-off stores in Beijing, Seoul and Shanghai.
What’s ‘in' or ‘out' does not interest Sozzani, her success is entirely built-upon and driven by her individual instinct and desire to create unique spaces, with carefully curated edits, which enrich the customer experience - socially, culturally and artistically.
We caught up with the trailblazing retail guru to talk slow shopping, stimulating the senses, and why without the game-changing work of Rei Kawakubo, she believes fashion would not be fashion.
10 Corso Como was really the first of its kind in terms of the curated retail concept store. How did your idea for it first come about?
From the only thing I knew: editing. After nineteen years in magazines as an Editor, my eye was ready for something new to develop as a magazine, but alive.
So what was your vision for it, what did you set out to create?
I wanted to create a destination where people would meet and spend time, in peace, far from the “run run” objects acquisition. A kind of alive curated museum where all the different senses would permanently change and stimulate curiosity, I wanted to create a promenade through art, fashion, design and cuisine.
Art and design is really the store’s creative backbone, seen through your many collaborations with artist Kris Ruhs, who also designed Corso Como’s signature motif - tell me more about that?
Art and the gallery, the culture experience are the core of 10 Corso Como. Every other activity rotates and is built around that.
And the stores continue to raise the profile of rarely seen photography talents and also established names - which discoveries over the years have really stood out for you?
Over 250 exhibitions, difficult, in a way all my beloved children, the time of the preparation of an exhibition is the best part. I have great memories of each of them.
So what has been your favourite creative collaboration to date?
Sarah Moon, Paolo Roversi, Bruce Weber…all family.
Let’s talk about the curating side - when you’re selecting products, how do you find items that are part of the zeitgeist, but haven't yet become trendy, is it instinct?
Editing is an instinct.
And do you prefer brands to have an identity first before you include them in the store, or do you also take chances on one-offs, just because you like them?
If I like them they have an identity.
Do you have any regrets about a brand you missed?
Never look back.
What is the cheapest item you’ve ever selected?
A banana leaf, we were selling in sets of five.
And the most expensive one?
A super limited edition Fendi baguette bag.
In terms of the layout of the stores, they deliberately don’t fit with retail conventions - how you decide on what goes where and the theme / decor?
Instinct, like a home, moving things around is my pleasure.
And tell me more about your concept of ‘slow shopping’ - how do customers connect to that philosophy?
The pleasure to look, touch, smell, sit, talk and eventually buy, no rush and take time to please yourself or the people you love.
So do you have conversations with customers about the stores and what they think of the product selections - how important is that dialogue and feedback to you?
It is the template of the whole concept, create a conversation with visitors and customers, that’s why I wanted a living magazine.
And the way you’ve expanded your business has a very human angle to it, characterised by the way you’ve merged shopping with dining and hanging out - how do you see that evolving in the future?
What I see now is that young people spend more and more time dining and meeting for drinks or coffees, I guess it is the only time they give up the screen of a cell phone! It is great, leave isolation and talk more.
With such a keen eye for different cultures, where would your dream destination be to open another store?
India, the peace, the colours, the smiles of the people. I feel at home there.
And talking of home, with all that you see and curate, what are your most favourite personal purchases for your own space?
My three cats.
“Rei Kawakubo has been and is for me the radar and inspiration, without her fashion is not fashion.”
Describe home to me?
My real home is my office, full of all that I love and “need”.
Do you have a current obsession or passion?
Medicine, science, discoveries, health.
And what else makes you curious?
Everything, no boundaries, even cleaning is interesting for me!
So when you’re not buying for your stores, where do you like to shop for yourself?
And when you’re not at home, where do you like to be?
My office, of course!
So let’s talk fashion - you’re known for your love of Azzedine Alaïa, who you also collaborated with, but which other designers inspire you and who is really on your radar right now?
Rei Kawakubo has been and is for me the radar and inspiration, without her fashion is not fashion.
And what about music - who are your favourite acts of the moment and do you think you’ll ever start a label to promote new talent as an expansion of Corso Como?
More concerts at 10 Corso Como is a good idea!
So when you look back on all you’ve achieved with the stores, in terms of wanting to create a living magazine, has it also become a personal journal - one that everyone has been able to walk through?
It is personal and not, I think I walked through these 25 years with many people and each of them has always been welcome to share.
And what’s coming next, what are you excited about?
The real excitement will be to discover it!