Florence native Ippolita Rostagno is the founder and creator of her namesake fine jewelry line, Ippolita. After attending college in Los Angeles and breaking into the publishing world in New York, by chance, Rostagno fell into the world of jewelry design. Channeling her art school roots, Rostagno spearheaded Banana Republic’s first jewelry line before launching Ippolita in 1999, shifting the world of fine jewelry by creating pieces intended to be worn every day and for all occasions.
Ippolita has been around since 1999. What major changes has the brand has gone through in the last 15 years?
When I first launched my line at Bergdorf Goodman, I worked purely in 18KT gold. I was resistant to stones because I thought pre-cut stones didn’t make sense with my sculptural shapes. I eventually learned how to cut stones, and that opened up a completely different avenue of expression. Now I use stones in many of my pieces, just in my own aesthetic. We’ve also expanded from Bergdorf’s to about 300 channels of distribution, opened our own store here in New York, and most recently opened a boutique in Abu Dhabi.
How would you describe your first collection compared to your most recent?
My first collection was made of up large, sculptural 18KT gold pieces – a ring, bangle, and hoop. I was focused on the concept of making fine jewelry that could be worn every day – at the time, fine jewelry was primarily worn only on special occasions. I’ve continued to build on that concept and focus on the handmade, sculptural quality of each piece, but now work with a wide variety of materials including gems and silver.
Can you describe the brand when you first started it?
I’ve stayed true to the same aesthetic since I started designing fine jewelry. My motto is “Cool enough to covet, classic enough to keep.” The brand started there and I still keep this in mind when designing today.
What were the signature pieces?
I launched IPPOLITA with bangles because that’s something I love to wear, and they’ve become a signature that’s still an important part of the brand.
Did you ever imagine it to grow to its current level of success and exposure?
Never! I didn’t set out to become a jewelry designer, let alone a business owner. I grew up in a family of artists in Florence, and moved to the US with plans to pursue a career in modern dance. But the birth of my daughter, Maya, refocused me, and I returned to my love of art and sculpture and began designing jewelry. The brand has grown organically since then – we’ve built it out slowly, making sure we stayed focused on the product and the craft.
How many stand-alone boutiques do you currently have? Have you found your customers have a preferred method of shopping? Online vs. in store?
We have three – one in New York, one in Florida, and one in Abu Dhabi. For now, we’re seeing that our customers are definitely shopping more in store – we’re really focusing on building our e-commerce business over the next few years.
What inspired the latest Charm collection? What sorts of techniques are applied to the cameos and other combinations of stones and metals?
I was inspired by my childhood spent in Florence and Rome. Growing up, I spent my time collecting hand-carved miniature sculptures, micro-mosaic pins, and charms of all sorts. I love charms because they’re literal – they’re tiny packages of meaning. I want to inspire my customers to similarly collect, curate, and create.
The cameos in the collection are made by a small Italian fishing village called Torre del Greco. They’re known for their cameo carving, an ancient artisanal skill that passes from generation to generation within the village. The cameos are hand-carved from carefully selected conch shells that must be dried under the sun for at least a year.
How involved are you on a daily basis?
Very involved! I love every part of the company, both the business and creative sides.
How do you think you’ve pioneered the way women wear jewelry?
One of the things I felt was missing in the industry when I first started out was the idea of fun in fine jewelry. That’s very important to me – it’s the concept of wearing fine jewelry in a casual manner. I’m never going to make a $200,000 bracelet because it’s not something I would wear. I don’t want something that you feel you can only wear on certain occasions because that’s not the way most people live. I love the idea that women are free to live in my jewelry all day long.