Queer designer Andrea Cammarosano is isolating in Milan. Here’s what it’s like.

I met Italian artist, designer, and creator Andrea Cammarosano in the spring of 2010 when he came to the Bay Area with iconic Belgian designer Walter Van Beirendonck for a re-staging of his “WONDE,” Walter’s Spring -Summer 2010 Menswear Collection.

The Berkeley Museum hosted the show full of big burly bears, conceived by San Francisco retailers Ben and Chris Ospital of the Grove Street boutique MAC Modern Appealing Clothing, which has carried the designer’s work for many, many years.

Andrea is a graduate of the Antwerp Royal Academy and has been an artist-in-residence at the Amsterdam Rijksakademie. He designed his own menswear collection from 2010-2016 that was both playful and smart. Contrast and texture playing a key role. I was lucky enough to snatch a few meters of one of his marbled dyed cotton textiles. My costume designer, Mr. David, created the dress inspired by the 1958 baby-doll by Cristóbal Balenciaga.

With almost 13K followers on Instagram, which showcases his new artwork form which takes shape with himself as the subject. His Insta bio reads  “I put things on my head,” the perfect title for this collection of creatively sexy selfies. Andrea and I got to have a long-distance, quarantine-style interview.

Andrea and I hooke up for a long-distance, quarantine-style interview. 

When the Covid-19 hit Italy the world woke up. When was it that you started to take notice?

The Covid-19 virus arrived in Milan on a Friday night. I was out with friends when we heard that Codogno, a village a stone’s throw away, had been cordoned off because of a case. It was late February. Despite the news, we went out, danced and sweat and drank Coronas and laughed it all off. We didn’t feel the threat was concrete.

But the day after, restaurants and clubs started to close. Friends’ gigs were canceled. In the streets, people would just skirt around. Then it became all real. I don’t think we fully understood until the deaths started coming: first by the tens, then by the hundreds, day after day. 

When Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a national quarantine – were you worried it was already too late?

With hindsight, I wish the lockdown had been imposed much earlier, but I also know that people wouldn’t have accepted it at that stage. I remember when Milan and its region were cordoned off. The news started to spread on WhatsApp late on a Saturday night, a few hours before being officially announced by the government. I confess that I panicked. I just never experienced being forced in a place. Hundreds of people ran to the stations to get on some last train to somewhere else. It was surreal; that was the real watershed.

The week after, we started to see the images: elderly patients crowding tents and hospitals;  exhausted doctors and nurses; and the lines and lines of coffins. Then we all realized it was up to all of us to just stay home and do our part. That’s when we started singing from the balconies. We finally understood, we needed to protect each other. I wish we’d understood earlier, but we just couldn’t picture this; we had no precedent.  

How has it affected you personally?

It’s impossible not to suffer for the people that lost their jobs, who are struggling to pay rent or to provide for their families. Many of my friends are in this position. I try to encourage them and to support their online gigs. And many others are working in hospitals, factories or supermarkets, keeping us alive. I feel for all of them. As for me, I was lucky. None of my loved ones died of the Corona, and I am still able to work. Sure, I’ve lost some jobs, I’ve had to cancel some trips. But overall I’m able to work on the things I care about.

This situation also gave me the possibility to see things differently. My work is very physical – interacting with people, places, and materials – and suddenly I’m catapulted into this digital distance, which sort of prefigures our most dystopian visions of the future. We find out digital tools can also help us stay human – and yet, we see that we cannot live without touching and speaking face to face. In a way, we are more connected now that we are isolated; but we are also terribly longing for physical contacts. This might accelerate our awareness of how technology can be used, and most importantly of its limits. 

What do your days look like? What makes it easier?

I am blessed by my roommates, my friends, my colleagues, and collaborators. And I am thankful for my students. I love how they are hacking everything they can find in their house. Transforming shower curtains, bedsheets, carpets, doormats, and old clothing into new garments – because all of a sudden this is all we have. And you know, this is the greatest lesson: to notice the things around us. The neighbor sitting all day at her window. The man in the blue pajama. The façade of the building, changing color from dawn to dusk. As our physical world is getting smaller, we find that in our homes there are resources, in our blocks, there are stories and people we should treasure and care about. This is what makes my days easier. 

How do you think the American government is handling the pandemic? 

The tragedy of this pandemic is in the inequalities it is exposing everywhere. And these were created by humans. And they were all avoidable. This is what makes me upset. How can people stay at home, when they don’t have a home. How can they pay rent, when they don’t have work. How can they heal, when they don’t have health insurance. Banks and corporations are again receiving billionaire bailouts, while nurses, runners, and blue-collar workers, who are literally keeping us alive, receive minimum salaries and often must work without adequate protection. Trump made a lot of mistakes in timing and response, but what is really unforgivable is that he is incapable of any empathy. We need empathy more than ever, and especially at the top of our governments. We need a social narrative in which everybody can feel dignified and represented. And we need competence and respect for competence. 

Related: Open Letter: SF queen Juanita MORE! responds to the pandemic

You have such great style – what have you been wearing while quarantined at home?

Thank you! Coming from you it’s such a compliment! Well, I’m wearing lots of fabulous hats. Every morning after my workout I make myself a new hat, using whatever is laying around. I think I have enough garbage to survive three or four quarantines. But for the rest, I’m either naked or wearing a vintage worker-blue uniform, which I love because it’s basically non-clothes.

Do you know of this short film about Irene Williams, Queen of Lincoln Road? This elderly woman from South Beach Miami, who made fabulous outfits out of upholstery and toilet rugs? She is my spirit animal. She ended her life at an elderly care home, and since she couldn’t make her fabulous stuff anymore, she just walked around naked. That’s how it should be. You should either wear something amazing or be naked.

I’ve always been a huge fan of your art. What are you currently inspired by?

Thank you, Juanita. Actually what inspires me is the process. I see something, I make something, I wear it and perform it. And I love working with people. I see creativity as a ritual act; a moment that connects us with one another. In the objects we create – whether it’s a garment, an image or a gesture – lies the possibility of a connection. Right now, I am working on an exhibition on methods and processes of creation, in which the audience will be invited to learn, to interact, and to suggest new methods. The way I see it, the artist’s job is to start a process. Putting stuff on a pedestal doesn’t do it for me. I am interested in things that move and transform, objects that can be continuously adapted.

What do you think you will take away from this experience?

My hope is that we will start thinking and acting collectively as a community. The season of individualism is coming to an end. The political and environmental crisis has shown its failings, and this situation has shown the power of a communal strategy. It’s strange – in Italy, in the few months before the Covid-19, we saw the sudden rise of a spontaneous civic movement, the Sardines. They protested against the racist and divisive politics of our right-wing premier and his allies. They were demanding inclusive politics, attention to social needs, respect for the environment and the weaker. Their name, “Sardines,” was a tribute to the small, humble fish who move swiftly together, in huge packs, and then disperse, and come together again, in order to confuse the enemy.

In a way, this is what we are learning to do right now: dissolving our community in order to protect it. I think this experience might strengthen the communal spirit in us. But we have to keep vigilant. Authoritarian figures will try to pilot our flock in directions that benefit the few, not the many.

Therefore we must rehearse our strategies of collective organization. The Internet can be a great tool, now that we are getting to learn new ways to use it. And we must learn how to identify the enemy. After the sanitary emergency will be gone, the economic one will hit, and it will be strongly tied to the environmental one.

What is Covid-19 compared to all the deaths for cancer, all the chemicals in our waters, the pesticides in our food? The imperatives of individualism and consumerism – a quick gratification for us today, and who cares about them tomorrow – made us turn a blind eye to too many things. I hope this is the beginning of a change, a new way of understanding our communal living on the planet, our strong interdependence on each other. 

When will you come back and visit me in San Francisco?

Let’s make a deal: You come to Milan in 2021, and then we hop together on a plane to San Francisco. And for the moment please stay safe, and take care of Jackson and of your friends and family and community, as you are always so fabulous in doing.

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