Ippolita Rostagno is fabulous and interesting in the way you imagine an Italian woman would be. Fearlessly creative and elegant with a large curly mane of hair, she has spent her life creating across a variety of mediums. Currently, she has a line of fine jewelry, IPPOLITA, with many gorgeous pieces we’ve had on our wishlists. I talked to her about everything from her becoming a mother again a few years ago, to how her Italian upbringing influenced her design aesthetic.
Name, Age, where do you live?
My name is Ippolita Rostagno. I am 55 years old and I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Give us an overview of your career.
I trained as a sculptor and ceramicist, and later studied literature. In the earlier part of my career I founded a dance and poetry company, performing for the most part in and around Los Angeles. After moving back to the East Coast I worked in publishing and advertising, before feeling called back to more artistic pursuits. I founded my jewelry company, IPPOLITA, in 1999, and have been a jewelry designer and entrepreneur ever since.
Tell us about what you are doing now.
Prompted by my devotion to the culture of craft, I moved back to Italy 5 years ago to create a platform to promote Italian artisans, basically a vehicle to help them communicate with customers. This passion project turned into a full-scale enterprise, a website called Artemest, where you can find the work of over 700 exceptional Italian craftsmen. More recently, I regained the lead role in my jewelry company, after a few years under the leadership of corporate partners, and have been regrouping for the past twelve months. During this time, we have gone “back to basics” while also looking boldly to the future. Commerce is now communication, and design and a clear point of view are more critical than ever.
What was it like growing up in Florence? How much of your design sensibility can be traced back to your Italian roots?
My Italian upbringing completely formed my aesthetic instincts and taste. Being surrounded by craftspeople both in school and in the streets of Florence gave me a great appreciation for handmade artistry. I love seeing the hand of the maker in any object of craft.
Have you always been designing jewelry? How did you get into it?
In the past, I have designed hats, created handblown-glass sculptures, created designs for fabrics and designed furniture, but for the past 20 years I have consistently designed jewelry. I started almost on a whim, and the luck of the naïve beginner allowed me to walk into famous, important stores and offer my wares. I got lucky, and the rest, as they say…
Where do you get inspiration from when it comes to designing your line?
My jewelry is inspired directly from art, nature and the form of a woman’s body. Many of my signature designs were created by me hand molding a piece of wax and casting it, or by pressing a disc of wax against different parts of my body and using the resulting casting to create a foundational silhouette in gold. Gold, diamonds and colorful stones are also an inspiration in and of themselves. I only design jewelry that I myself would want to wear.
What’s your average work day like?
I spend about an hour with my young son each morning, then I head to work on the subway. Once I get to the office, I am completely focused all day, between meetings and design sessions. I usually eat a salad at my desk or during a meeting. I try to leave promptly at 6 pm, so I can spend another hour with my son before putting him to bed. Then it’s dinner with my partner, a little relaxation or some homework, and bed. Not very glamorous, perhaps, but deeply satisfying.
Jewelry, especially for women, tends to be not only personal but intimate. Are there certain pieces you wear every day? Save for special occasions?
I wear a stack of bangles almost as a uniform every day. I have a pair of Jet Set earrings I haven’t taken off in years, and I switch out a couple of layered necklaces periodically. I don’t save anything for special occasions. All my jewelry is for every day. And every day is special because of it.
Style is something that spills over into all aspects of our lives. How would you describe your style?
Comfortably elegant. This goes back to the previous question. My jewelry is for women who shop for themselves. I want to feel beautiful but at ease in any setting, day or evening, and I want all women to feel this way, special and comfortable at all times. As for fashion, I wear almost exclusively black. It’s just easy, it’s New York, and gold looks great on black.
Style is so personal, and it really does change as we get older. How would you say yours has changed?
Actually, not much. My ostrich boa in my hair, my all black outfits, and my stack of bangles are a uniform that has been consistent for twenty years.
What are your long term goals for Ippolita? Where do you see it in five or ten years?
I see us expanding, reaching more and more women. I want to empower all women to feel that they deserve to be beautiful, and that every day is an opportunity for beauty. IPPOLITA jewelry is very recognizable, with its organic shapes and bold, vibrant colors, as well as its generous use of gold and diamonds. This is not going to change. What I see is a gradual expansion of my line, a growing into myself, and a spreading of my philosophy of inclusion. My jewelry is precious and luxurious, but not exclusive. It is for all women.
You have a daughter in her 20s and a young baby boy. Is it easier this time around? Where do you get the energy?
It has been much easier this time around. My son is a much calmer child than my daughter was. I am wiser and more experienced as a mother, and it helps that I am no longer struggling as I was when I had my daughter. My son’s arrival has brought so much joy into the lives of my entire family, that we all feel energized by his presence.
Culturally, aging is viewed as this sad thing. In reality, I don’t know about you, but I certainly don’t feel bad or sad. I feel better than ever. What’s the key to changing the conversation about aging?
In Italy aging does not have the same stigma, and so I rarely think about it. Between the renewal of my family and that of my company, I feel that every day is a new beginning. I intend to just keep on going and going.
What’s the best thing you’ve read lately?
A historical novel by the late, great Italian author Andrea Camilleri, called La Concessione del Telefono.
What’s your go-to hostess gift?
A piece of my jewelry well chosen for the person in question. Or olive oil.
Do you have any family traditions?
The movies on Christmas day.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
In this completely imaginary scenario, Claudia Cardinale.
What’s the last thing you bought online?
A scooter for my son.
What would you put on your menopause registry?
I’ll tell you when I get there.
If you could have one superpower what would it be?
Bringing about world peace.
If you had a warning label what would it say?
Beware of showing me anything ugly.
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