Fabio Lanzoni: A Controversial Romance Icon
When one thinks of old-school romance novels, the first name associated with them is Fabio.
Like bodice rippers of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and even mocked by many modern-day romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old clinch covers, with some declaring that Fabio represented a low point in the genre.
As a fan of Fabio and old-school romance, I cannot emphasize how wrong I think these detractors are.
The painted covers of vintage romances were created by talented artists who used beautiful men and women as models. The covers were works of art, despite–or perhaps because of–their gratuitous sexual nature. Lovers of romance should embrace that period in history. 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 fans 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. We were in on the joke. It was about all of us enjoying the show. Fabio always laughed along with us, embracing his beefcake status.
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 who asked him to model for Italian Vogue magazine.
Following a stint in the army, Lanzoni 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 bestseller list. Duillo would continue to paint Lindsey’s covers for the next decade until her retirement, primarily using Fabio as her male model.
There were major cover models before Fabio, like Chad Deal. But Fabio came to popularity in the age of over-the-top- excess. He became a sensation.
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 Elaine’s daughter, Melissa Duillo-Gallo, Sharon Spiak, Max Ginsburg, John Ennis, and Pino would also paint his form.
Fabio posed solo for a couple of Laura Kinsale’s books, including The Prince of Midnight. This romance was a roaring success, and not just because of the fine quality of Kinsale’s writing.
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.
Below is just a small sample of the many eye-catching covers Fabio graced (some are stepbacks).
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! He starred in a series of campy commercials.
Later, he was 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?.
As time went on, Fabio even became a writer of novels himself. He published several books that, naturally, 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 in 2021, 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
Fabio was not the first and he won’t be the last big-name romance model. During Fabio’s reign as King of the Cover hunks, other men like John DeSalvo and Steve Sandalis achieved acclaim.
A few others who came after gained success, like Jason Baca, who appeared on 485+ covers. You can read about him here: The Male Model Who Has Appeared on More Romance Novel Covers Than Fabio.
But though he may have his imitators, there was one and only one Fabio.
I always considered Fabio as easy on the eyes and pleasing to look upon. Although, I never pictured him as my ideal hero. Regardless, I loved his charm, his ultra-macho cheesiness, his ability for self-deprecation, and his love for his fans. He embraced who he was and Fabio’s fans embraced him for who he was!
Fabio haters can go enjoy their favorite books in peace. We Fabio lovers will have a good time smiling over the many beautiful covers upon which he appeared.