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The move to working-from-home may have correlated with a rise in comfortable fashion, but as the work pants came off and sweatpants on, the desire for luxury brands did not falter.
“Jewelry and accessories were favored because so many people were on Zoom all day long, [and] the only thing that you could [use to] accessorize were earrings,” said Ippolita Rostagno, co-founder and CEO of Ippolita, on the Glossy Podcast.
In addition, for Ippolita, the timelessness of the brand aligned with consumer desire for jewelry that can last beyond the pandemic. Rostagno, who founded the brand 20 years ago, said she focuses on “designing things that are relevant at this moment, but that, at the same time, have a classic enough feel that you know at the time of purchase you’ll love it 10 years from now.”
Whether it can be attributed to Zoom or Ippolita’s philosophy or both, the brand’s recent success cannot be denied. Ippolita saw a “very steep increase” in online sales to 10% of total sales, up from 2% before Covid-19.
“People have become much more comfortable with learning and making up their own minds, and therefore purchasing online,” said Rostagno. However, she said, “when you’re in a store, you have that opportunity to think you’re looking for something and find something else. And that is part of the retail experience that needs to be nurtured and come back.”
As for Ippolita’s retail presence, while the brand will continue to team up with retailers, like Neiman Marcus and Bloomingdale’s, “owning our own retail is the direction that we’d like to take the business,” said Rostagno.
Ippolita has seen success with trunk shows, which Rostagno attributes to the tangible experience that customers can have with the jewelry. “[That] was the motivating factor for completely redesigning the customer experience in my store that I opened in the middle of the pandemic, in Chicago,” said Rostagno.
Rostagno was inspired by the concept of a physical jewelry box when designing Ippolita’s Chicago Store. “You’re walking into a felt box, and then all the walls are magnetic and the jewelry is out; there are no cases,” she said, of the store’s layout. “The idea is that a customer can walk up to the jewelry, try it on, look at it, feel it … ahead of having a conversation with a salesperson.”
In regard to Ippolita’s virtual presence, while many brands have chosen to use social media platforms like TikTok to spread brand awareness, Ippolita hasn’t followed suit. “This is what women buy for themselves. This is not occasional jewelry, this is not what husbands buy for a woman’s birthday,” said Rostagno. “This state of mind, this sense of self-possession, is not something that is targeted to a young audience, so TikTok is not the right place to be telling this story.”
Instead, Rostagno sees places like Milan as the right setting in which to grow Ippolita. Montenapoleone, where Ippolita’s next store will open, is “the street for luxury in Milan, and also in Europe,” according to Rostagno. She added that she feels “very confident” about the future success of the store.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Separating the storytelling from the selling experience
“Since the very first place that people look for you is online, your story has to be there in its fullest form, and we are constantly working on improving that. You do lose the customer quite quickly if you try to have a selling experience and a storytelling experience at the same time. But if you do those things separately, you increase the loyalty of the customer, because if the story is online, they have the option of reading it when they want and not when you want to serve it to them. So that’s a good thing. I have done a lot of personal appearances. The format of the personal appearance is usually kind of a masterclass on how jewelry is made, and how my aesthetic was born, and what the rules of design are that apply to jewelry and all these things. Most people don’t know a lot about jewelry — how it’s made, where it comes from. And our jewelry is very unique because we make absolutely everything from scratch.”
People are the core of success
“Everything is always about people; people are the core of your success, period, end of the story. That is the story. You have to have a good product, you have to have a good business proposition, and you have to have good people. Then you can have a successful business. But if you’re missing any one of those elements, it’s not going to work. I’ve been going back and forth to Italy, of course, my whole life; I grew up there, my family’s there, and I work in Italy a lot on my jewelry. And I’m from Florence, which is historically a craft-centric town and also a town that believes in art advocacy and in art patronage, dating back to the Medici. That has always been in my blood, plus I went to art school. I was fully steeped in every aspect of craft, culture, the maker culture, and our patronage and appreciation. In the last 30 years that have occurred between when I left and now, I was noticing a dramatic shift in the culture over there. And all these craft businesses were closing, the internet happened — the world changed almost overnight. I decided [then that] I was going to do something very American: I [was] going to try to create the best possible marketplace, which specializes in all the [commerce] things [Italian craftspeople] aren’t good at.”
Bringing the jewelry box to life
“[The new store] is at 900 Michigan Avenue, which is a luxury mall. The space itself was a little white box. The idea that we developed was to treat this little box as a jewelry box. We covered it floor to ceiling in felt, so you’re walking into a felt box. And then all the walls are magnetic, and the jewelry is out, so there are no cases. The idea is that a customer can walk up to the jewelry, try it on, look at it, feel it, enjoy it, understand it, be surprised by it — all ahead of having a conversation with a salesperson. By the time they get to ask how much it is, they’ve already thought about what it means to them and how much they’d wear it. It’s a very different journey. I’ve always felt sort of sad about the fact that something that is so intensely designed and handmade and relies so heavily on its tactical effect has always been penalized by being in the case. So the idea was to bring it out of the case and take the case away, so that the customer doesn’t even have that experience to deal with.”