After proving her entrepreneurial skills with Lil Milan, which in a few years has garnered the attention of Millennial customers with its approachable, unfussy designs and sweet-spot price points, founder Veronica Varetta decided to step into the secondary market to launch a brand aimed at giving new life to vintage gold pieces.
“Even if Lil Milan has nothing antique to it but is fresh and modern, I’ve never looked at contemporary brands,” Varetta said. To further prove her point, Varetta said whenever she meets a person, rings are the first piece of jewelry that catches her attention and the ones she finds most interesting “always turn out to have belonged to mothers or grandmas. That’s how I understood that I had a certain fascination for vintage.”
In addition to a personal inclination, the new venture is set to be strategic business-wise for many reasons. First, with the surging price of gold already presenting challenges for the Lil Milan brand, launching a label that leverages existing designs represents a new, diversified way to tackle the booming jewelry market, which ever since the pandemic has found new momentum thanks to customers’ rediscovery of gold as a safe-haven asset.
The ethos behind Âgée is also very much attuned to the sustainability quotient consumers are increasingly looking for in a brand. “I’ve thought of launching a cheaper line for a target aged 13 to 18, or one made in silver but the conclusion was always the same: I was still thinking about producing new pieces, so with a consumerist approach,” said Varetta, underscoring that “only the secondary market is really sustainable.”
“So I prefer to have lower margins but to give a second chance to existing jewelry rather than creating new pieces,” she added.
Varetta additionally noted a gap in Europe when it comes to vintage jewelry retailers that can also boast a presence in the digital space. She originally intended to operate as an online intermediary for local jewelry stores, to support them in reaching a new audience and in the digital sales process upon commission. But when she started to propose the idea to local retailers, she met strong resistance.
“They are very attached to their selections and their existing client base, so the reaction was that they didn’t need me nor the online tools….That’s the moment I decided I would do it myself,” she said, pinpointing the inception of the project to last year.
Varetta looked at local auctions to scout pieces and put together an initial inventory, supported by a consultant with experience in the matter with whom she identifies the selections and commissions the purchases.
“For the moment, we’re focusing on auctions in Italy, but the goal is to look at European ones soon, in order to have a wider offering in terms of design and eras,” said Varetta, who mentioned auctions in France, Germany and Poland as future targets.
The selection of pieces is dictated by Varetta’s own instinct, using criteria that include original designs, the use of color — “which is something not really present in Lil Milan’s offering” — and unique manufacturing details, with the founder attracted to techniques that “are almost rare because they would cost too much to do nowadays.”
Currently comprised of 30 exclusive pieces in 18-karat gold featuring diamonds or colored gemstones, the assortment includes mainly rings — mostly coming in geometric shapes — as well as earrings, a couple of necklaces and bracelets, such as a bangle in diamond and rubies.
“They are all very different one from another, but there’s a harmony once you see them altogether,” Varetta said.
Before hitting the brand’s online shelves, each piece is checked, revamped or fixed by the company’s goldsmiths. The array of styles matches a wide price range that goes from 700 euros to 5,000 euros, which enables the brand to reach a wider audience.
“To be honest, I would like to lower the entry price point in the future, maybe with the inclusion of some pendants,” said Varetta, underscoring that, in sync with Lil Milan’s mission, the goal is to empower women to purchase jewelry as an act of self-gifting. “It is intended as something you buy for yourself, that’s why there are no classic solitaire rings in the selection but more design-oriented styles.”
In sync with Âgée’s spirit, Varetta is planning to introduce a service enabling customers to redesign jewelry pieces that they already own with the help of the company and its goldsmiths.
In the meantime, Âgée will officially launch on Thursday, when the vintage range will be available to purchase on Lil Milan’s online store and the Lil House showroom-cum-store in Milan will host a celebratory event. While a dedicated corner at the location will showcase the pieces to enable customers to try them on, Varetta is already planning to launch a separate e-commerce site for the brand.
To wit, even if sharing the same mission and temporarily the same distribution, Âgée and Lil Milan remain two separate entities in the eyes of the founder, who doesn’t worry about one cannibalizing the other’s customer base.
Launched in 2017 and manufactured in factories in the Italian golden districts of Valenza and Vicenza, the Lil Milan line encompasses gold chains, delicate ear cuffs, small hoops and extra-fine rings made in 9- or 18-karat gold at prices ranging from 60 euros to 550 euros. The offering quickly attracted a following of women aged 20 to 25 finishing their studies and wanting to indulge in gold self-gifts, as well as customers aged 35 to 50 looking for everyday and simpler alternatives to their luxury pieces.
To further reinforce their distinct identities, Lil Milan’s signature pink-hued visuals will stand in contrast to the bolder and more irreverent communication featuring heavy fonts and mixing lilac and acid green tones of Âgée.
“This is the older sister of Lil: she’s more determined and unapologetic, like if she had 10 years of experience more,” said Varetta, confirming that even in the long term she doesn’t envision any cross-pollination between the two labels.
Meanwhile, on the product front, Varetta is gearing up for the second drop of Lil Milan’s Precious line — a higher price point collection with diamonds first launched in 2020 — as well as increasingly toying with bespoke engagement rings. Business-wise, expansion in the U.K. is at the top of her agenda, as she aims to establish a second headquarters and open another Lil House flagship in London soon.