Fashion / Style File

The Jewelry Sculptress

This Designer Treats Her Coveted Pieces Like Art — No Fast Fashion Allowed

BY Rachel Lefferts // 06.22.16

The connection between fashion and art is inextricable. Both hold the power to make captivating visual statements and to elicit powerful visceral responses, with each drawing aesthetic inspiration from the other. For designer Ippolita Rostagno, however, this link extends beyond the visible — it informs the philosophy and methods that set her coveted jewelry brand apart.

Rostagno, who founded her eponymous label 17 years ago in New York City, grew up and studied sculpture in Florence, Italy, and her cultural heritage and artistic background continue to influence everything she does. Last year, she launched Artemest, a philanthropy project that discovers artisan talent within the hidden hillsides of Italy and creates a commercial channel for them. The preservation of art and craftsmanship bleeds into her own design philosophy, which celebrates simplicity, versatility and longevity as well as the creative potential of art to build community.

During Rostagno’s recent trip to Dallas for Neiman Marcus’ Designer and Precious Jewelry Conclave, the designer chatted with us about her designs and her latest line, Senso.

You’ve been to Dallas before … What are your favorite spots?
Uchi is my favorite sushi restaurant, and the Dallas Museum of Art. I like it because it’s user-friendly, and I like that they have activity rooms, which help spread the idea that art is approachable and can be part of your everyday life.

How do your background in art and passion for excellent craftsmanship influence your designs?
Art is critical for human development. In the U.S., art and craft are often separated. In fact, there’s a huge craft movement, which in some ways has a negative connotation — “crafty” instead of “crafted,” which in my mind means exceptional: a conscious aesthetic, aptitude and study. But art is one step further than artisan craft alone, meaning it’s a political stance to simultaneously view everything through the lenses of labor and idea, and usually it creates a third thing — you’re interpreting something not just through the lens of your mind, but also through the skill of your hands. It’s that combination that usually brings about something completely unexpected or something more beautiful than each of those components would be taken separately.

That’s a really interesting philosophy, especially when you think about the push in the U.S. for fast fashion.
I’ve been in the business for a long time, and sticking to your guns is hugely difficult when there is such a strong push for newness. You do have to evolve, but evolution is different from just completely changing your aesthetic every five minutes.

Describe your design aesthetic.
I have a design motto that I hold myself to: “Cool enough to covet, but classic enough to keep.” I’m designing as a representative of every cool woman who lives today, who has stuff to do and who wants something beautiful but doesn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of money. Jewelry has certain standards of quality, beauty and longevity. Another hallmark is simplicity. For something simple to be universally appealing is very hard, because there’s not a lot of room for error.

How does your newest collection reflect your core aesthetic and philosophy?
Senso means “sensuality” in Italian. Since my craft background is in sculpture, not jewelry, I didn’t know anything about stones when I first started. I realized I had to master the stone part, too.

Once you learn how to make things, there’s no limit to what you can do. But you need to set limits for yourself, so I decided I needed to come back to my roots and remember what the real DNA of my brand is. I have this technique called body imprinting where I take wax and imprint it on my body. I cast those sheets, and from that I make the jewelry, which is why it’s so organic and undulated.

Initially I did that because I didn’t know any better, or I was going at it like a sculptor, but it was one of those lucky accidents in the sense that it has remained how I go about making the metal part of my jewelry. I’m thrilled with the result, having arrived at these styles that I feel embody everything I still like about my process.

Ippolita, available at Neiman Marcus.

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