Iman, Naomi Campbell, Late Franca Sozzani Honored at Fashion 4 Development Gala

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Naomi Campbell (left) and Iman

In a ballroom overlooking Central Park, dignitaries and designers memorialized the woman who helmed Vogue Italia for 28 years.

The wives of at least 16 heads of state joined iconic models and designers in New York City on Wednesday at Fashion 4 Development (F4D)’s First Ladies Luncheon at The Pierre.

Host Evie Evangelou founded F4D in January 2010 with the mission to “educate, empower, enhance and enrich” women in the developing world, partly in response to former United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s Every Woman Every Child initiative. For nearly seven years, her sole Goodwill Ambassador was Franca Sozzani, the longtime editor-in-chief of L’Uomo Vogue (known stateside as Vogue Italia). Sozzani died of lung cancer in December at age 66, and the luncheon was held in her honor.

“She was such a powerhouse,” Evangelou told THR, explaining that Sozzani worked as hard as 12 people. For their first collaboration — the May 2012 issue of Vogue Italia titled, “Rebranding Africa” — Evangelou remembered traveling with Sozzani to Ki-moon’s house and enlisting his help, “[It was] the first time ever in the history of the UN that a Secretary-General was on the cover of a fashion magazine.”

A few years earlier, another edition featuring only black models on its editorial pages (and Naomi Campbell on the cover) sold out at newsstands around the globe. Campbell, one of the luncheon’s award recipients (along with Iman, Simone Cipriani, Dr. Precious Moloi-Motsepe and Sybil Yurman), praised the issue from the lectern for “reignit[ing] the fire under the right for equality in the fashion industry.”

In a taped address, Sozzani’s son, Francesco, recalled how excited his mother was to visit Africa for the first time. When speaking to THR, Diane von Furstenberg said Sozzani simply “had this angelic look and blue eyes and she created magic.”

Wearing a gold “David” necklace in honor of her late husband, David Bowie, fellow former Vogue Italia cover star Iman explained to THR, “What [Sozzani] had as an editor was the humility part of it, because she saw beauty in everybody … That is what was so special about her rather than a lot of other people who are in our business.”

Iman was introduced via video by her friend of 41 years, designer Donna Karan, who referenced Bowie’s January 2016 passing thusly: “Most of all, [what] Iman [and] I share is the loss of our soulmates;” Karan honors her late husband and business partner with a separate Manhattan awards gala. She continued, “When David and Iman walked into the room, there was a circle of light around them, love and beauty.”

And, although first lady Melania Trump was not present for the proceedings, that didn't stop Somalia-born Iman from making an indirect reference to the administration in her speech: “As a Muslim and an immigrant, I’m very concerned about the rise of anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in many parts of the world. This religious racism will be a defining hot button for generations to come. Let’s not have history repeat itself and pledge to take a stand and proclaim, ‘Not on our watch.’”

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