Carla Sozzani on 50 Years Spent Blurring the Lines Between Art and Fashion

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Helmut Newton, Rue Aubriot, Paris 1976Alice Springs © Alice Springs

As her collection goes on display at the Helmut Newton Foundation, we sit down with the gallerist and collector to talk Azzedine Alaïa and intuition

Carla Sozzani is a vision of elegance, intellect, and grace wrapped in a resplendent bow of joie de vivre. For 50 years, she has worked with the world’s leading photographers to share their work with the world. As the former editor of the Italian editions of Elle and Vogue, Sozzani collaborated with Robert Mapplethorpe, Herb Ritts, Sarah Moon, and Bruce Weber.

After two decades in magazines, Sozzani took a leap of faith and opened Galleria Carla Sozzani in Milan in 1990. Over the years, she has exhibited some of the greatest talents of the past century including Man Ray, Horst P. Horst, Irving Penn, Hiro, David Bailey, Helmut Newton, and William Klein.

Throughout her career, Sozzani has acquired and kept nearly 1,000 photographs that span the bridge between photography and fashion in ways that make labels seem superficial at best. Though she did not set out to create a collection, she invariably did – but it took the eye of Azzedine Alaïa to point this out. In 2016, Alaïa presented the first exhibition from her collection before it travelled on to the Museum of Fine Arts in Le Locle, Switzerland.

Now, under the masterful curation of Dr. Matthias Harder, Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin presents a look in Between Art & Fashion. Photographs from the Collection of Carla Sozzani, with more than 200 photographs chosen for their thematic resonance with the venue. Here, Sozzani reflects on how her collection came into being.

On collecting...
“I started working in fashion in 1968, and photography was part of my everyday life. My desire to know more about photography was growing over the years and I started to keep and to buy photographs – but I didn’t think I was making a collection. I was more thinking I was collecting souvenirs of my life, times and moments of my life.

“Then Azzedine Alaïa came to my office and he saw all the photographs on my wall, it was what I liked to be surrounded with, and he said, ‘You have to do an exhibition of your collection’. I said, ‘Azzedine, I don’t have a collection. This is my life’. He asked Fabrice Hergott, director of the Museum of Modern Art in Paris, to curate and he accepted – and voila, I had a collection.” 

On instinct and intuition...
“Sometimes when people collect, they do so because something is precious or there is a story but for me, it is just my instinct to be surrounded by moments that are important to me. I never collected things that were too dated or of the moment. I always chose photographs that meant something to me. When I got my first picture in 1974, probably unconsciously I was buying something that was timeless. It was Irving Penn’s picture of the 2 Unggai Warriors. I still love it so much.”

On relationships...
“My relationship with photographers has grown over the years. When you make an exhibition for a photographer, it is a long process. You meet them and their family, you make many choices, then you put their exhibition together and share moments of tension and happiness.

“That’s why in Berlin we put together a special section for my collaborations with Paolo Roversi, Sarah Moon, Bruce Weber, and Helmut Newton. Then there is a little room of Alice Springs with pictures she took of me over the years, so it is like a diary. They become a family you choose.”

On the power of photography...
“For me, it is emotions, it’s not the price! (laughs). It’s the same for painting. I grew up with paintings and museums. It’s the same. If something can give me an emotion, it reminds me how precious it is.”

Between Art & Fashion. Photographs from the Collection of Carla Sozzani will be on view at the Helmut Newton Foundation in Berlin until November 18, 2018.