A Controversial Icon
Like bodice rippers and vintage romances of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and mocked by many modern-day romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old-school clinch covers, with some people going as far as declaring that Fabio represented a low point in the genre. How mean-spirited and wrong these detractors are.
The painted covers of older love stories were created by talented artists using beautiful men and women as their models. They were works of art, despite–or perhaps because of–their campy, sexual nature. Lovers of romance should embrace that period in history, as they fail to understand that Fabio was supposed to be over-the-top and outlandish. He was advertising an exaggerated fantasy that we all knew was a bit ridiculous. In trying to defend their beloved books, some readers take them too seriously. The romance novel industry has always been outrageous and irreverent by its nature, which is part of the fun.
We romance readers in the 1990s were far savvier than our contemporaries give us credit for being. The joke was never on Fabio, the reader, nor the genre. It was about all of us enjoying the show. Fabio always laughed along with us, embracing his beefcake status.
He was a sensation but not an anomaly. There were popular cover models before Fabio, like Chad Deal. During his reign as King of the Cover hunks, other famous models, like John DeSalvo and Steve Sandalis, found much acclaim. A few others who came after Fabio achieved more success, like Jason Baca, who has appeared on 485+ covers (You can read about him here: The Male Model Who Has Appeared on More Romance Novel Covers Than Fabio.)
Fabio Lanzoni was born in Milan, Italy, on March 15, 1961. The son of a businessman and former beauty queen, his large, muscular figure made him natural for the camera. His career began at age 14 when he was discovered by a photographer and asked to model for Italian Vogue magazine. Following a stint in the army, he came to the United States to further develop his career.
After a few jobs in print ads, Fabio made his first appearance on a historical romance novel in 1987, posing on the back the Bertrice Small bodice ripper, Enchantress Mine, as the ironically and unfortunately misnamed villain, Eric Longsword. Legendary artist Elaine Duillo had discovered Fabio through photos and thought there was something unique about him that made him a natural fit for her colorful work.
When Duillo designed her first cover for Johanna Lindsey, the 1987 Viking romance Hearts Aflame, she used Fabio as the hero. It was a smash hit, reaching number 3 on the NY Times best seller list. Duillo would continue to paint Lindsey’s covers for the next decade until her retirement, primarily using Fabio as her male model.
A Romance Sensation
While Fabio was not her official muse, there was no other artist who captured Fabio’s look better than Elaine Duillo. However, they only worked together on fewer than twenty books. Other artists such as Max Ginsburg, John Ennis, and Pino would also paint him.
Fabio posed solo for a couple of Laura Kinsale’s books, including The Prince of Midnight. This was a sensation. Editors found that Fabio’s image boosted book sales and all the major publishers were eager to use him. Avon, Bantam, Dell, Dorchester, Harlequin, Warner Books, Kensington (Zebra), and more had him pose as their leading men.
Pop Culture Status
By the early 1990s, Fabio was fully entrenched as a romance genre staple. The now-defunct Romantic Times had him as their centerfold in 1992 and he appeared at conventions, to the delight of his many fans.
Fabio’s fame grew larger in the cultural zeitgeist after he was made the official face for I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter! and starred in a series of ridiculous commercials. He was also a spokesman for the American Cancer Society. Eventually, Fabio made his way to screen and television, such as the daytime soap opera The Bold and the Beautiful and movies like Dude, Where’s My Car?.
Fabio even became a writer of novels himself, pubishing several books that, of course, featured him on the cover. They were ghostwritten by romance journey-woman Eugenia Riley.
As a cover model, he was incredibly prolific, posing for 466 romance novels.
Today Fabio is still as handsome as ever at the age of 61 and he’s still single. However, the word is out that he’s looking for a lady to settle down with finally, so there is still hope for that special someone!
Final Thoughts on Fabio
Of all the blog posts and articles about Fabio that I’ve perused on the web, this was my favorite. @Vintagegeekculture at Tumblr.com gets it. I always considered Fabio as easy on the eyes and pleasing to look upon, but I never pictured him as my ideal hero. However, I loved his charm, his ultra-macho cheesiness, his ability for self-deprecation, and his love for his fans.
Fabio haters can go enjoy their favorite books in peace and we Fabio lovers will have a good time smiling over the many beautiful covers upon which he appeared.