Interview with La DoubleJ's JJ Martin
LA DOUBLEJ WAS FOUNDED BY AN AMERICAN EXPAT LIVING IN MILAN WITH AN OBSESSION FOR VINTAGE STYLE AND ACCESS TO AN ARCHIVE OF LUXURY TEXTILES.
By Britt Burritt
In Italian, the expression bella figura refers to someone who is perfectly put together, tidy and elegant looking. It's a charming compliment bestowed on those who've mastered the art of self-presentation. And there's no better place to study belli figuri than Milan, Italy's fashion capital.
American expat JJ Martin has made a life of doing just that. The former fashion journalist (who contributed to Vogue and Condé Nast Traveler) arrived in the city 15 years ago. Her love of vintage style and design led her to launch a little shop that's since evolved into a stunning line of glamorous, easy-to-wear clothing that makes it a breeze to fare una bella figura. The retro-inflected designs incorporate vibrant prints pulled from Milanese luxury textile house Mantero's century-old catalog.
We spoke with Martin about her collection and living in Italy as an American.
How did you end up relocating to Milan?
Like all American ladies that call Italy their home, love made me do it! Not long after having met my now-husband [Andrea Ciccoli] at a party in New York, I quit my job at Calvin Klein and moved to Italy to learn Italian. At the beginning, it wasn't a match made in heaven. The New York pace I was used to hardly fit into the slowed-down Italian lifestyle and often-closed Milano shops, and, on top of that, yoga classes and food to go were nowhere to be found. I was very close to appealing to the American consulate in Milan! Then a few years later, I somehow got attuned to Italy's quirks and follies, learned to make the best of them, and now there's no other place I'd rather call home.
Tell us about the print house you work with, Mantero.
I first take a good browse through Mantero's archives and pick the vintage patterns, artwork and illustrations that I'm most drawn to. After that, we rework both colors and print designs ourselves. I've always tried to keep the selection very spontaneous, following my instinct rather than planning it all out. Lots of the prints come from many decades ago and are in need of a little refreshing, so what you see printed onto the fabrics never are the original colors.
What inspired the prints and silhouettes in spring 2019?
For Edition 16, we set out on a journey that eventually led us to a massive tropical jungle with lots of luscious leaves, bright blooms and juicy green plants. We used vintage prints and also new ones that our creative team designed. The result was punchy patterns with loads of clashing possibilities. Have you seen our Tom Tom featuring climbing monkeys and Elefante with huge elephants clamoring through the foliage? Those are so The Jungle Book that I can totally picture Kipling himself being into it! For silhouettes, we went for fringe trims and asymmetrical hems on both skirts and dresses.
What tips do you have for wearing bold prints?
First rule: have fun! Follow your instincts and don't be afraid to mix and match. Try to match items featuring at least one of the same colors so it doesn't look like you went about blindfolded in your closet. Another key is to balance the size of your patterns: if your bottom half is a small print, then your top half would work as well as a small print. If maximalist dressing gives you the creeps, just resort to a simple floral button-down shirt to wear with your cherished black or navy trousers.
How did you get into vintage?
It wasn't until I moved to New York at the end of the '90s and discovered the Chelsea Flea Market that I fell head over heels for vintage. I would go every weekend and sort of learned all of the tricks to find the jewels. I didn't have much money to spend, so my wardrobe was mainly vintage. From there, I started sifting through all kinds of flea markets and crappy junk stores wherever and whenever I traveled across the globe.
What are some of your favorite vintage shops in the world?
Chelsea Flea Market in New York is where everything started, so that's one. I also have a soft spot for the flea market on Lincoln Road in Miami and the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles—that would see me up with the lark on a Sunday after a good drive from Santa Monica to Pasadena.
What are some of your favorite places in Milan:
Marchesi is the Prada of cafes (quite literally, since the two newest were conceived and opened by the Milanese powerhouse!) where there's no shame in ordering cappuccino after 11am. For a traditional, low-key Italian meal served by a true Italian nonna, I turn to the Latteria San Marco.
DD by Davide Diodovich is where I unwind after a draining working day while having my hair done; my yoga studio, City ZEN, is also a safe bet—when I'm not on my terrace with my favorite [yoga] teacher Migliavacca.
To see art?
Dimore Studio and Six Gallery are the best design galleries in Milan, and both of the owners are dear friends.
Any tips for living like an Italian?
Enjoy life and focus on your passions rather than your bank account. In any aspect of life, focus on quality rather than quantity or temporary aesthetics. That applies to your home and closet but also lifestyle. Don't rush, rush, rush. Take a little bit of time to truly enjoy things and don't mind being a little late—though there's fairness in madness: a sort of a circle forms where the person who bears the waiting will also have another waiting. And for any reason, never ever overcook pasta. Honestly, 10 or 12 minutes are more than fine. You won't have your visa extended if you do that!