Amedeo: The Interview
Cameo: the dictionary defines it as a “piece of jewelry, typically oval in shape, consisting of a portrait in profile carved in relief on a background of a different color." But the dictionary also defines “cameo” as a “short descriptive (…) sketch that neatly encapsulates someone or something.” At the house of AMEDEO, designer Amedeo Scognamiglio expertly captures both definitions of “cameo,” with his women’s jewelry line and his newly released men’s line. The pieces are a testament to his mastery of complex materials and his mastery of encapsulating meaning.
With beginnings in Ancient Greece and Rome, the art of cameos has remained a largely Italian, family tradition. One of those families is Scognamiglio’s: “for the past 160 years, my family has been solely devoted to the art of making cameos, in my hometown of Torre del Greco. It’s at least 6 generations of heritage and passion for the same artistry, which I learned to master when I was only 15-years-old.” “I learned the traditional cameo making, of course: carving through several layers, with hand tools, mostly on Cornelian and Sardonic shells. That's the most difficult technique to acquire, and it takes many years to fully master.” “I am a classicist when it comes to the preservation of this ancient art and prefer the carving on shells more than anything else.”
7th Man Magazine asked him about his methods, feelings and expectations for his jewelry lines.
Skye Grayson : “Sir Wallis Budge once said that “Cameo” comes from “Kame’o,” or kabbalistic slang for “magical square.” This implies that a cameo piece comes imbued with symbolic meaning or power for the wearer. How do you want people to feel when wearing your cameos?”
Amedeo Scognamiglio: “Power—I want them to feel and look ‘powerful,’ just like Augustus, Napoleon and Queen Victoria did. The power, though, that comes from status and awareness of rarity; the same feeling I imagine art collectors feel when showing their latest acquisition. This is also why I focus on larger size cameos, and [on] very evocative and iconic design. When I speak with my creative team, I always remind [them] that I want every piece—whatever it is—to show 'pathos.' Pathos is my artistic mantra.”
Skye Grayson: “What kind of men and women embody the themes in your collections?”
Amedeo Scognamiglio: “They are fashionable, aware of trends, art-inspired. They have an eye for sophisticated beauty, and look for uniqueness, which is ultimately the real luxury.” “Men—I worked very hard to bring the men to my brand; and everyone could agree it was almost a losing bet, a paradox ("grandma's cameos" and men's jewelry?!). And yet it is the achievement I am most proud of. I started with myself, making pieces I would wear without a master plan for a full-on business. Slowly but surely, guys started to notice, and [started] asking about it. I honestly feel that when I started to wear giant cameo rings with skulls of maybe a monkey, I was getting strange looks. [But] today I make bespoke rings for top athletes (Shaquille O'Neil, Magic Johnson), male models, fashion editors and fashion insiders—but also Wall Street heterosexual men in their 50’s who want to accessories in a way that makes them look sophisticated, but current. It's again the power factor.”
Skye Grayson: “What inspired your new men’s line?”
Amedeo Scognamiglio: “Tattoos (of which I have none) inspire me a lot. "Inked" guys are very bold and gutsy, not afraid of judgment. And the visual effect of tats really resonated with the iconography of cameos. But I am also fascinated by the aristocrats of the late 1800’s and the Belle Époque; when men over-accessorized, and were extreme connoisseurs of jewelry. My men’s jewelry gets noticed when worn, so it needs a man who wants that ‘POW’ effect.”
Skye Grayson: “What are some of your personal favorite pieces, and why?”
Amedeo Scognamiglio: “The Wise Monkeys (‘see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil’) is surely my favorite, because it was conceived during a family trip to Nikko, the ancient capital of Japan. There is a temple [in Nikko] where hundreds of monkeys live freely. And on the temple, carved in wood, I saw the image of the Wise Monkeys, for the first time. That's when I decided to do an homage to that trip, with a cameo set on a cocktail ring for my mom. It has become our bestseller and most recognizable (now trademarked) design; but [it is] also attached to a sweet family memory. In general, [in] designing each and every piece of my collection, I am attached to all of them. I am like [the] Walt Disney of jewelry: I’ve created all of these characters (angels, monkeys, skulls, owls, snakes etc.) and they become alive and part of my life.”
Skye Grayson: “Your pieces are now highly intertwined with popular global culture, having been featured in shows like Sex and the City, various fashion collaborations and numerous magazines. Given the craft’s proud and localized past, what place do you see for cameos within the larger world market?”
Amedeo Scognamiglio: “When I was very young, in my teens, I had really no idea of the marketplace. I was attracted by the art, enchanted by the artisans who [brought] me this ancient, almost secret art. And I loved my afternoons and evenings spent at my bench, listening to music, and...creating! Then, in my twenties, I moved to New York City and discovered the world. By pure accident, I became part of the fashion design industry; I became friends with celebrities and fashionistas; and of course, I used that to bring my old cameos into the future, and [into] the spotlight. I always laughed at the fact that people would see my work as "new,” [since it was] coming from such an old tradition. It was ironic, but it worked. Sarah Jessica Parker, Rihanna, Brooke Shields, Meryl Streep, and a plethora of fashionistas blessed me with their support. But I always saw that as a way to continue my family's 160-year-old tradition, and project it into the future. Had I not done what I did (making cameos ‘current’ and ‘young’) we might have risked seeing this artisanal heritage die. Today I see my cameos as a true gemstone; and as a designer, my job is to best utilize these gems into jewelry women want to wear as contemporary pieces—and not their grandmother's estate jewelry.”
It is clear that Scognamiglio feels for this craft something beyond just a hobby or an occupation. It is his life, his history, his future. “I feel so closely bonded to this tradition that I almost make no difference between the art and my family. Of course, there is an even deeper feeling of pride to represent the direct continuation of something dating back millennia (…). It [the craft] in fact doesn't feel to me [like] just a “job” or a company: it’s a part of who I am.”
His new men’s line is out now; and can be found in either of his stores in New York City, USA, or Capri, Italy. His pieces can also be purchased online: https://www.myamedeo.com/