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Romance Cover Model: Fabio Lanzoni

model featured on many romance novel covers fabio

Fabio Lanzoni: A Controversial Romance Icon

When one thinks of old-school romance books, often the first name associated with them is the male model Fabio and “cheesy covers.”

The granite-jawed male model was featured on many romance novel covers in the 198s and 1990s. “Back in the day,” Fabio Lanzoni posed for hundreds of romances–to the delight of many readers.

Fabio was often painted by artists such as Sharon Spiak, Melissa-Duillo Gallo, and her mother, Elaine Duillo. She discovered Fabio, leading to his fame skyrocketing after he appeared on her covers for Johanna Lindsey.

Like bodice rippers of yesteryear, model Fabio Lanzoni has been unfairly maligned and mocked by many modern romance readers. There’s a sentiment of contempt displayed at the old clinch covers, with some even declaring that they, along with Fabio, represented a low point in the genre.

the conqueror duillo
The Conqueror, Brenda Joyce, Dell, Elaine Duillo cover art.

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 model 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.

fabio lanzoni model on many romance covers
Fabio is in the shower

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 model featured on many romance novel covers
Master of the Heart, Terri Valentine, Zebra, Franco cover art

The Beginning

Early Life

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.

fabio Lanzoni
Fabio looking fab

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 Lanzoni cover model GQ
Fabio Lanzoni, GQ Magazi

Early Career

During the early part of his modeling career, Fabio obtained many jobs in print ads, magazines, and books. He also posed on video game covers.

model on many romance novel covers

Fabio made his first appearance on the cover of a 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.

fabio meodel on many romance novel covers
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Elaine Duillo cover artists
fabio model enchantress mine back
Enchantress Mine, Bertrice Small, Signet, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art (BACK COVER)

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 N.Y. Times bestseller list.

Duillo would continue to paint Lindsey’s covers for the next decade until she retired in the early 2000s. She used Fabio as her primary male model for Lindsey’s books.

fabio johanna lindsey cover
Hearts Aflame, Johanna Lindsey, 1987, Elaine Duillo cover art

The Covers: Part I

Some Fabio covers: