Vogue Italia in its Eighties heyday. Harper’s Bazaar under Liz Tilberis. Interview Magazine, Marie Claire, Jane, Vanity Fair. It would be quicker to list the number of monolithic fashion titles the Florentine fashion director Sciascia Gambaccini hasn’t put her impeccably honed eye to. The funny thing is, despite being hired as fashion director at Vogue Italia by Franca Sozzani at the sweet age of 25 – a role which fired her into the industry’s highest echelons – fashion wasn’t Sciascia’s immediate calling. If things had been different, the girl who grew up immersed in Firenze’s Renaissance art would have studied languages at the University of Vienna. But when her degree start date was deferred for a year, Sciascia instead found herself in Milan, hired as Sozzani’s assistant and surrounded by Eighties-charged fashion with a capital F. Fiorucci! Armani! Versace!
“I had no idea what I was doing. I started styling still life and producing and I was doing everything I was asked to do,” says Sciascia. “I realised I liked it. I liked the team work, the organisation behind everything and being a mother hen towards people was great. I loved that. I loved taking care of the model, I loved taking care of everyone’s food. Of course I loved the clothes, but I loved the human aspect of my job the most.”
“Every photographer and team has a lesson to give you. Peter Lindbergh gave me a lesson in restraint. Steven Meisel and Mario Testino gave me lessons in glamour”
The rest is fashion history. Despite being – as Sciascia puts it – “really inexperienced and young” when Sozzani was appointed Editor-in-Chief of Vogue Italia, she hired Sciascia as fashion director from the word “pronto”. “I threw myself into situations that were completely foreign to me. Everyone thought I was the assistant on the shoot, but I realised there was a place for me with all these really important people. They realised that I brought from Italy a certain touch and language that they didn’t have. Growing up in Florence, I feel a lot of proximity to Renaissance art. It’s about beauty and finding the balance between what you see and what you want a picture to look like.” From there her career flew from Interview Magazine in New York during the years after Andy Warhol’s death, to Harper’s Bazaar, where Sciascia, still young for the industry, was the first to be paired with a couple of emerging photographers you might have heard of: David Sims, Mario Sorrenti, Glen Luchford.
How did that 25-year-old girl do it? “I always respected the vision the photographer had. Every photographer and team has a lesson to give you. Steven Meisel was the best stylist I ever met. I could have sat on a chair all day. Peter Lindbergh gave me a lesson in restraint. Steven Meisel and Mario Testino gave me lessons in the beauty of glamour.”
The greatest lesson she learnt, however, came from her own heart: “I learnt that I could really do it. All the insecurities I was putting on myself were really just imaginary limits. The few times that I gained steps to being rewarded by Franca were always those times where I would put my foot down and say, ‘No, I believe this has to be like this. You have to trust me’. She would always say, ‘I like it when you are like that’. It’s little steps, but it’s very important to practise that”
It was during those Vogue years that Sciascia had an encounter with what would become another lifelong romance. Pantelleria. Arriving for a shoot on the tiny volcanic island, which rises out of the middle of the oceanic strait between Sicily and Africa, the photographer Fabrizio Ferri (himself a house-owner on the island) took her to see a sprawling abandoned Dammuso. “I only saw the roof of the house, I’d never been to the island, I didn’t know anything about it but I said to Fabrizio ‘I think I have to buy this place.’”
“I didn’t choose Pantelleria, she chose me. The island has this energy. Because it is volcanic and there is so much activity underneath you it makes you feel very emotional at different times of the day”
Today, she muses, “I didn’t choose Pantelleria, she chose me. The island has this energy, because it is so volcanic and there is so much activity underneath you it makes you feel very emotional at different times of the day. You feel the highs, you feel the lows.” Slowly, she turned the crumbled Dammuso (the name for the island’s traditional square houses) into a rustic family paradise fringed with palm trees and filled bit-by-bit with eclectic pieces Sciascia picked up from her travels to Tunisia, Vietnam, India, Morocco. “The thing I am most proud of in the house is that I went through all the passages of getting to know it. The first year I moved in with a mattress on the floor and no electricity. The second year I had a kitchen and a little bit of electricity. Everything I made, the money I had, it’s all in here.”
In-between practising yoga with views of the blue sky and bougainvillea, and silent, wind-whipped hikes in the valleys of Pantelleria, Sciascia puts her hand to thought-provoking projects like the Audrey in Rome exhibition at Museo dell’Ara Pacis. How has fashion changed since that day she was hired as a 19-year-old? “The magazine brought so much power. Now magazines are much more inclusive and not as elitist. They are just part of the picture, not the whole thing and they control a small slice of the market. I see young people, like my daughter who is pushing hard to be a shoe designer. They don’t need a fashion editor to tell them, ‘Yes, this is great’. In the progress of fashion this is the most important thing. You don’t need validation from other people, and I am very happy about that.”