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Franca Sozzani, the editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue, has died after a year-long illness. While she might not have been a global household name like her US counterpart and friend Anna Wintour, she was undoubtedly a giant of Italian fashion. The industry has responded accordingly. In a tribute published on the American Vogue website, Wintour describes her as “the hardest-working person I have known, and with an envy-inducing ease with multitasking”.

At the helm of the Italy’s most prominent fashion magazine for almost 30 years, Sozzani became known for working with photographers including Bruce Weber, Paolo Roversi and Steven Meisel on a magazine that was known for cutting-edge, talking-point visuals that often provoked debate. Sozzani produced an all-black issue in 2008, with only black models featured. It was reprinted three times. A plus-size issue followed three years later. She was the first to embrace the rise of reality TV stars, putting Kim Kardashian on the cover of L’Uomo Vogue (which she also edited) in 2012, two years before American Vogue did the same.

Sometimes Sozzani’s work was more controversial when the commercial nature of fashion jarred with issues of body image and gender politics. One shoot, in 2005, was based on women having plastic surgery, another in 2014, prompted by the rise of domestic violence in Italy, featured girls running from knife-wielding men. “Fashion isn’t really about clothes,” she said. “It’s about life.” Sozzani saw anything that was part of the cultural conversation as fair game for a fashion shoot. She wanted to join that conversation. Her work shouted loudly, but Sozzani herself was a quieter presence on the fashion circuit, familiar to those in the know for her long-blond hair, uniform of 50s-style flared skirts, white shirts, diamond teardrop earrings and beatific smile. This continued until very recently. Despite being on oxygen, she appeared at the fashion awards in London earlier this month, to accept her award for positive change. Her final Instagram is a post of her, Wintour and Karl Lagerfeld at the Chanel show in Paris the same week.