It was thrilling to be invited to make a series of self-portraits for this issue of Vogue Italia dedicated to animals. They and humans have an evolutionary history of over 200,000 years in common. A period during which animals were, so to speak, our mother tongue teachers and our source of inspiration, our companions, our natural resource. Now, however, we have entered an age where progress is accelerating extinction and altering the natural world at a rate unprecedented in human history. After what happened in 2020, the time, no longer postponable, has come for us to accept, honor and protect the species with which we cohabit the planet. Adversity creates the most unusual allies. The Rat enters the scene. I decided to share my pages on Vogue Italia with one of the most misunderstood animal species on Earth: the Rattus Chordata, the humble rat. Psychologically, neurologically, and hormonally similar to humans, it excels at learning and understanding concepts. Rats are an important part of our ecosystem. They are used for tuberculosis screening and have played a leading role in our biomedical achievements. Trained mice are also helpful in mine clearance operations. These creatures characterized by exceptional intelligence, slender shape, pointed snout, shaggy tail and large hairy ears, have been a source of inspiration for the art world for centuries, from ancient Egypt to Vincent Van Gogh, to Banksy.

Double-breasted tuxedo jacket in jacquard wool and shirt, LARDINI; Silk tie, TAGLIATORE.

© steirn

My choice of animals to photograph also depended on personal reasons. I had a deep emotional bond with a rat. In fact, I fell in love with it. It was called Fibi. She was my dearest partner when I first moved to New York in 2003. She was a mix of Rex and Dumbo, with huge ears. He sat on my shoulder during the day, while at night he snuggled beside me. I taught her to carry things and play dead. I smuggled her on the plane and took her home to Poland for Christmas, where she loved munching on my mother’s precious poetry books. When I lost Fibi to pneumonia in 2005, I was wracked with grief. My little friend left me and took a little piece of my heart away.

My co-stars in this shoot are from a rehabilitation center and are part of an educational program that teaches children to be empathetic and kind to animals. They arrived on set along with three loyal guardians. In between shots they sat on my shoulders, sometimes venturing up the sleeve to the camera or keyboard when I was editing. These photos illustrate an unlikely relationship: Vogue-Ratti. The past year has been somewhat anomalous. The year of the Rat, a period full of adversity but also of hope for a new beginning. 2020 forced us to adapt and recognize the need to change the state of things. As far as I know, these are the first rats ever to appear on the pages other than on a cover of Vogue Italia, and for me it was an honor to share the spotlight with these incredibly intelligent animals. We start the new year by opening our minds and clearing them of prejudice towards them.

Shetland shirt with cut-out, PRADA.

© steirn

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