Fabio Lanzoni: A Controversial Romance Icon
When one thinks of old-school romance novels, the first name associated with them is Fabio. He posed for hundreds of novels, often painted by Elaine Duillo, and getting famous for appearing on Johanna Lindsey’s covers.
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.
Fabio, More Than Meets the Eye
Lovers of romance should embrace that period in history. They fail to understand that Fabio Lanzoni 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. His father was Sauro Lanzoni, a mechanical engineer, and owner of a conveyor-belt company. Flora Carnicelli Lanzoni, his mother, was a former beauty queen. He was raised in a loving family with siblings. As a child, Fabio was even an altar boy.
Fabio grew into a handsome young man. 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. He moved to New York City to become a fashion and catalog model and signed with the Ford Agency.
Fabio obtained a few jobs in print ads, magazines, and video game covers.
Fabio made his first appearance on a historical romance novel in 1987. He posed on the back of the Bertrice Small bodice ripper, Enchantress Mine, as the ironically and unfortunately misnamed villain, Eric Longsword.
Legendary artist Elaine Duillo discovered Fabio through photos. She thought there was something unique about him that would make him a natural fit for her colorful work.
When Duillo designed her first cover for Johanna Lindsey, she used Fabio as the hero. This was the 1987 Viking romance, Hearts Aflame. 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 she retired in the early 2000s. She mostly used Fabio as her male model for Lindsey’s books.
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.
The Covers Part I
Some Fabio covers: