For more than three decades, Italian designer Ilaria Icardi has resisted following in her father’s footsteps, Umberto Icardi, by becoming a jeweler. He and his brothers, Giuseppe and Piero, started their family-owned high jewelry business, Emmeti, in Valenza in the late 1960s and made valuable gold coins for private clients and eventually larger brands such that Tiffany & Co. Valenza, a small industrial town in northern Italy surrounded by rolling green land that the region promotes as Little Tuscany, has been renowned for its goldsmith’s work for centuries, but the house has attracted little Icardi. “My father tried to get me into the business, but I instinctively refused him,” she says. “I wanted to go out and escape.”
She escaped: to study fashion design in Milan, then an impressive 25-year career in women’s clothing – with positions at Yves Saint Laurent under Tom Ford and Stefano Pilati, then at Céline with Phoebe Philo – followed . Since 2013, she has been the Design Director at Victoria Beckham in London, where she lives with her 8 year old daughter, Theodora. Although she sometimes imagined jewelry in these roles, it wasn’t until her father passed away four years ago that Icardi found herself truly drawn to her craft. “It kindled a flame in me,” she says of her death, which ultimately prompted her to launch her eponymous line this year. “Everything was already there. I just had to bring it to life.
Icardi’s debut collection is a concise and deeply personal offering inspired by her own blend, including jewelry her father made for himself, pieces from the Emmeti archives, and knick-knacks she collected during his travels in Japan, India and North and South America. “The idea is that they are like heirlooms acquired over many years,” she says of the seven commissioned creations, which she produced with the help of her younger brother, Lorenzo Icardi, a gemologist who lives and works in Valenza.
At the heart of the collection is a reproduction of her father’s beloved gold chain necklace, which she inherited. A pointed dresser who favored bespoke suits, Umberto designed and manufactured the piece himself and has never been without. “Now I wear it every day,” she says. She likes to associate it with another of her creations that she has also reproduced for her line: a rectangular talisman pendant in gold engraved with a motif of ears of wheat – “for luck and prosperity”, she says. – with a brilliant cut diamond located in the upper right corner that evokes a sun. There are also 70s-inspired 18k gold signet rings – one of which is encrusted with a striking lapis lazuli center – with its own design and more playful elements, like a gold pendant in the shape of an astronaut. Finely detailed whose shape is reminiscent of a jewel, inspired by a pair of spacesuit legs, which she found in a New York flea market a few years ago.
The eclectic designs are united by a heavy retro feel – Icardi sees the ’70s as the peak of his father’s career – as well as the brilliant 18k yellow gold. Gemstones are used sparingly – just lapis lazuli on the signet ring and brilliant-cut diamonds on the pendant and an engagement ring – but a subtle hand-engraved guilloche adds texture to many of the more solid shapes. Some memories were more difficult to replicate than others, however, including the uniquely shaped mineral green diopside pendant encased in a heavy gold frame that her father gave her mother as an engagement gift in 1969. “He is hard to match that green, and that was driving my brother crazy, ”says Icardi.
Working so much with the permanence of precious metals was a new experience for the designer – and indeed a cause for slight feuds between siblings. “If a dress doesn’t look right, you can remake it, but with fine jewelry the sketch should be precise,” she says. “I learn that when I say yes and my brother pushes the button, there can be no change.”
In addition, Icardi and Lorenzo have largely had to refine their collaboration remotely, using video calls and WhatsApp. Last summer, however, after months of separation, the siblings, their mother and Theodora managed to reunite for a family vacation on the Ligurian coast near Portofino. “Lorenzo came to carry all the prototypes like an Italian mafia,” says Icardi, laughing. Her father, however, still feels present. “I never sat down and cried when he died, but when I work with these pieces I get waves of memory,” she says. “It’s like he’s looking at me. I can feel it. “