In Depth

Design escapism: Carla Sozzani

The Week Portfolio pays a visit to 10 Corso Como Milan

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Milan's 10 Corso Como has been described as a bricks-and-mortar version of a magazine, with artfully arranged displays of Comme des Garçons shirting, Salvatore Ferragamo slip-ons and rare fragrances bringing printed pages to life. The concept store could also be likened to a scaled-down version of the Italian piazza— traditionally a place for people to shop, meet, and allow their mind to wander.

Entered through a set of stained-glass gates, a tour of the original 10 Corso Como takes in a short stroll through an overgrown courtyard—which the site’s retail space opens onto—past diners seated on modernist cast-iron furniture. There is a bookshop selling hard-to-find publications and artifacts—on a recent visit, the selection included titles on Italian fashion designer Walter Albini and the Memphis Group’s pastel-hued 1980s ceramics— and also a three-bedroom hotel, with a gallery on the upper  oors. A visit to 10 Corso Como is a multisensory experience, shaped by the biography and eclectic taste of its founder, Carla Sozzani.

Formerly an industrial car garage, 10 Corso Como is named after its Milan address. When Sozzani launched the business in 1989—initially as a publishing company and art gallery, its official opening exhibition displaying the photographs of American Louise Dahl-Wolfe, before branching into retail shortly after—it marked a change of career for the former magazine editor. Alas, instead of a complete conversion, to Sozzani the move from magazines to retail felt more like a rede nition of her job title. “I made 10 Corso Como because editing is the only thing I really like to do,” she explains. “It’s sharing. You choose something that you think could be interesting for other people.”

This season, Sozzani’s edit comprises sand-colored straw hats by Genevieve Xhaet’s brand Flapper, and Nodaleto’s block-healed Mary-Jane pumps. 10 Corso Como has also long partnered with a list of brands as diverse as Levi’s, Courrèges and Birkenstock to create special editions.

Elsewhere, 10 Corso Como’s inventory is highly personal. “If I had to cut down to three designers, then I would probably do Comme des Garçons, Margiela and Alaïa,” says Sozzani. The store’s many rails of clothing by these brands attest to her statement. She is today dressed in Alaïa; the late Tunisian couturier counted Sozzani among his closest confidantes. Then there are designs emblazoned with 10 Corso Como’s emblematic curlicue motifs and patterns drafted in-house by Kris Ruhs; the Queens-born American painter and sculptor has been Sozzani’s partner since 1989.

Born in Mantua—a city in Italy’s northern Lombardy region, often visited for its Renaissance Ducal Palace—Sozzani, now in her early seventies, moved to Milan when she enrolled at the city’s Bocconi University to read economics. Working with her sister, Vogue Italia’s enigmatic editor Franca Sozzani, who died in 2016, she began editing the magazine’s special issues, such as Vogue Bambini. In 1986, she left the title to act as American Vogue’s Italy editor-at-large; after four months, publishing houses Hachette and Rizzoli announced Sozzani as their launch editor of Italian Elle.

“I put so much love and energy into the magazine,” says Sozzani, describing Elle photoshoots lensed by a creative elite that included Nick Knight, Paolo Roversi, Sarah Moon and Peter Lindbergh, capturing the work of era-de ning designers such as Yohji Yamamoto, Jean-Paul Gaultier and Christian Lacroix. “[But] I was not creative in the way they liked.”

Following just three issues, a group of Italian designers who had felt neglected by Sozzani’s experimental magazine threatened to withdraw their advertising should she continue in her role. “When they fired me, they offered me some money to say that I was leaving, because it was such a short time and they did not want any drama,” Sozzani remembers. “[But] I told them I wanted a letter saying I was fired. It was hard, but, at the same time, integrity is a big word. I always liked to do what I really believed in, which can be called integrity or stubbornness.”

Sozzani’s walkable magazine has proven to be a success story: since its launch, the Milanese site has inspired outposts in Tokyo (until 2012, in a named partnership with Comme des Garçons), Shanghai, Beijing, Taipei and Seoul (with Samsung). Working with Texan real-estate expert Howard Hughes, Sozzani brought her concept Stateside, opening a Lower Manhattan 10 Corso Como —replete with an art gallery, boutique, bookstore and restaurant —in 2018; its location is the ground  oor of the storied Fulton Building, a former market. However, a few weeks ago the vast 28,000sq-ft site served its last customers as the partners announced the closure of 10 Corso Como New York City —one of the first retail fatalities of Covid-19 and the disease’s impact on everyday life.

Back in Milan, just a few days before the city went into lockdown in reaction to the spread of coronavirus, Sozzani exhibited the work of fashion illustrator Antonio Lopez, whose most famous sketches date from the 1970s and capture his social set—Jerry Hall, Jessica Lange, Tina Chow—in the exuberant fashions of the time. “[Lopez] was full of humor, remembers Sozzani, whose personal art collection includes photography by the likes of Erwin Blumenfeld and David Seidner. “These people were free, extravagant, crazy. They paid with their life in the end, but they were free.” For Carla Sozzani, such freewheeling creativity has long been a guiding principle.

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