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Fashion / Style File

Jewelry, Feminism and Kendall Jenner

A Gemstone Entrepreneur Tells Her Truth — and Women Cannot Get Enough

BY // 11.14.17

Like the hand-cut colored gemstones she is most known for, it’s the many sides of Ippolita Rostagno that make her catch your eye. The 54-year-old is the creative director of her self-named jewelry line, Ippolita, a classically trained sculptor, the mother to newborn son Dante, and the founder of Artemest, a website created as a personal passion project to protect the heritage of Italian craftsmanship.

At her recent appearance at Neiman Marcus in NorthPark Center, Rostagno donned an all-black ensemble, layers of delicate gold jewelry, and a black feathered headpiece – giving the appearance that a large, but very elegant, bird was perched atop her head.

The trip is an annual pilgrimage to meet with clients that she says has always served to inform her designs as well as confirm her gust instincts about where the market is headed. It’s largely due to those instincts and her keen insights into what women want that she has been able to grow Ippolita as a luxury jewelry brand over the last 18 years.

In a conversation with PaperCity while here in Dallas, Rostagno gives us her take on everything from the evolution of jewelry and feminism to Kendall Jenner.

What have been your observations through your travels this year about the mindset of your buyers?

You know, the world is a very messed up place right now. And, in general, the function of art – because I really think of my jewelry as art – is to educate and elevate the spirit and to excite on an emotional level. And so not losing sight of that is very important. As I’m talking to people, I’m really looking at it as a key element in the engagement of the more positive sentiments of life.

I always design from the point of view of the consumer and am usually asking, ‘What do I want right now? And why do I want that?’ Well, right now I really don’t want things to be too fussy and I want them to be easy. There are enough hard things right now in the world.

This has to be easy and it has to be pleasurable. So that has very much been my mindset when I’m traveling around and I’ve kind of been confirming what I sense.

While you’re known for your fun use of colored stones, I was surprised to learn that you worked strictly with gold when you started out in jewelry.

I come from a sculpture background, not a jewelry background, so I really didn’t know anything about gems. Once I understood that I could cut my own stones and make them look as organic and interesting as hand-sculpted metal looked, I sort of went stone crazy. A whole new window opened up!

I thought it was interesting how there wasn’t much color in fine jewelry because there are so many amazing, beautiful stones. And color is such an emotional thing – a trigger. It’s a very easy way to elicit that emotional, happy response. I find art is like that, too.

How did you make the shift into jewelry?  

I grew up in Italy, where you usually do whatever your family does. It doesn’t really occur to you to do something completely different that you know nothing about. So, when I came to the States, the freedom that you can do whatever interests you so you might as well do whatever you want was really mind-boggling.

When you grow up here, you don’t understand what enormous latitude that freedom gives you. That you don’t feel like you have to be a dentist because your dad is a dentist. It was really an opportunity for me to realize I could do whatever I wanted – so I tried my hand at jewelry.

How have you noticed women’s attitudes toward jewelry change since you’ve been in the business?

Giving yourself permission to buy jewelry was definitely a mind shift that happened in the last 20 years and, now that it has happened, it seems kind of self-evident. You buy everything else for yourself, why wouldn’t you also buy jewelry? But it really was a huge shift. For centuries, jewelry has belonged to different rituals.

When I started I looked around and thought, where is the fun jewelry for people who are young and cool and want something fun? Why isn’t there more of it? This is 20 years ago, which in the timeline of jewelry and the history of humanity is like a nanosecond, but so quickly, it has become a completely digested fact that women buy fine jewelry for themselves.

Of course people don’t get married with the same frequency that they used to and women earn a lot more money than they used to – there are a lot of other things that, concurrently, have helped shape this beautiful new world of jewelry.

It’s hard to look anywhere without seeing Kendall Jenner these days — and now she is starring in your new campaign? How did you choose Jenner as your first celebrity spokesperson?

I spent so many years hunkered down working on the jewelry itself that I felt the branding had to kind of catch up. It’s a really interesting moment right now where everybody’s a photographer, everybody’s a spokesperson, everybody’s a brand….There’s something interesting to me about playing into that idea with a category so old fashioned as fine jewelry.

It’s not necessarily about treating it irreverently, but treating it as a true fashion. Showing that I can tie it around my ankle if I want to and go run around on the beach – it represents the spirit of how you’re supposed to wear it.

I thought finding somebody who has already captured people’s imaginations in that way makes total sense now in a way that it would have before.

Home, chic home.

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