Fashion editor and Milan insider J.J. Martin is bringing fresh energy to the world of vintage with her lifestyle brand La DoubleJ. Beloved for bright colors and retro patterns, the collection has grown to include womenswear, swimsuits, housewares and girls’ dresses. Indagare contributor Amanda Taylor spoke with Martin about her favorite stores in Milan, the best items to shop for abroad and how to travel to Italy in style this summer.
Tell us about La DoubleJ. What was the original inspiration behind the brand and how did it evolve? I started La DoubleJ three years ago as a shoppable online magazine selling vintage clothing and jewelry. I had been a journalist in Milan for 14 years prior, and I had a lot of stories to tell about the incredible creative women in the city. At the same time, I was obsessed with vintage and had a large archive to sell. A year later, we started making new clothes with vintage patterns that I source from Mantero Seta, a silk archive in Lake Como. We started very slowly with just one simple dress, but now the line has sprouted into a full collection of clothing, plates and table linens. For the Salone del Mobile in April, we launched espresso cups, mugs, and porcelain trays with Ancap, as well as a collection of Murano glasses made with Salviati. All of our partners are high-quality Italian manufacturers who specialize in their artisanal crafts. It’s been really fun to shine a light on them, since many of these companies are not known outside of Italy.
You are a self-proclaimed lover of textiles and prints. How did this passion develop? I’ve always been crazy about color and print. You should have seen how I was dressed while working at Calvin Klein in New York in 1990—I was not wearing black! The pattern bug isn’t new and isn’t from a particular place; it’s just something inside me. That said, my point of view and taste level were refined when I moved [from the U.S.] to Italy in 2001 [after marrying my Milanese husband]. I’ve had 17 years of watching the flawless Italians.
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Living in Milan has made me attentive to quality. I have very low tolerance now for cheaply made fabrics. I don’t buy fast fashion or cheap clothing; I find it really scary how those brands exploit the people making their clothes. I don’t think I’ve stepped inside of a Zara or H&M for at least 10 years. The Italians also have a fearless attitude about fashion: you see men in pink pants and women who are walking works of art. No one goes around in their gym clothes. It’s very inspiring to witness.
What is your insider tip for travelers in Milan? My favorite thing to do is to walk into churches when the priests and congregations are not there.
. Locals love this restaurant, but not many tourists do. It serves very simple home cooking and the menu is small, and there is a bossy grandmother who runs the dining room.
What are some of your favorite shops in Milan? Six Gallery is one, as much for the gorgeous setting as for the vintage furniture. It also has a very cute restaurant for lunch. Also great are the vintage furniture shops of Raimondo Garau and Il Valore Aggiunto; both of the owners have excellent taste. I shop for modernist tabletop items at Arform, and my favorite fashion multi-brand stores are Banner and Biffi. They are completely dedicated to a Milanese clientele and their selection from the big brands looks like nothing else. I also love the atelier of Marta Ferr—if you want to get a handmade dress in Italy, she’s your girl.
Do you have any advice for shopping in the city? Milan is not very easy to shop in. The good stuff is sprinkled around randomly. You can find all the big labels in the city center, but for more interesting shops, you’re going to have to plot out your strategy across town. Sorry!
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The cities I love most are small Sicilian Baroque towns, like Scicli and Noto. I feel completely at home in these places, even when they are abandoned. I’m absolutely obsessed with Baroque churches, and I spend a lot of time in them meditating and writing on my computer when no one is in there. I find that I am able to connect to deeper parts of myself, and I do some interesting spiritual and energetic writing, which is a hobby of mine. I do this in Milan as well as any place I visit, like St. Moritz or, most recently, Beirut. It is a very intense yet calming spiritual experience for me and has become my strange travel ritual.
How and where do you travel around Italy? I’ve lived in Milan for 17 years, and in that time, I’ve perfected the local art of the weekend trip. The Milanese do it every weekend—with the exception of fashion and design weeks, and a few beautiful moments in September, March and April (the best times to visit Milan). I like to explore corners of the country, where I find many of the artisans and producers who work on our La DoubleJ products, from silks in Lake Como to porcelain in Verona. But I’m also a creature of habit. The minute I find a place that I like, I always go back and it becomes part of my yearly excursion rotation. In the winter, we always go to the Engadine, the long valley in Switzerland where St. Moritz is. For mellow weekends, we stay in Soglio, a tiny hilltop town just beyond the Italian border, which is really special. In the spring and summer, I always plan a trip to Il Pellicano, a long weekend in Capri and two or three weekends in Sicily, in a baroque town like Scicli, in Palermo or in Pantelleria, which is a magical island with a very intense energy—but no sand beaches, no umbrellas and very few hotels (most Americans do not like this island). We also go to Otranto in Puglia to visit our friends at their masseria (farmstead). In between, there are excursions down the Adriatic coast to my husband’s family town of Pesaro.
What is your favorite long weekend getaway? My favorite one is the least cool one: Pesaro, where my husband is from. I find it very relaxing that we know exactly what hotel we like, which trains to take and that we will always be fed at certain hours by his mother. The town itself is very old-school and hokey, but really fun for me. We stay at the Excelsior—an amazing property right on the beach—and I always bump into the fashion designer Andrea Pompillio, who is also from Pesaro. There is an insane multi-brand shop called Ratti, a good midcentury art dealer and a lot of weird herbalists and healers that I’ve tracked down. I find it grounding to go there, even though I detested it for the first five years that I lived in Italy.
I was recently traveling in Istanbul, and I must say that the Grand Bazaar is a lot of fun. There are tons of knock-off fashion items, but there are also wonderful handicrafts, delicious spices, great jewels and fruits and special patterns—if you take the time to look around. I love all kinds of markets, from dirty souks and flea markets to posh vintage fairs. Whenever I travel, I always seek them out. I especially love the flea market on Lincoln Road in Miami and the monthly flea market at the Rose Bowl in Los Angeles. I’m pretty die-hard about that one; I wake up at 4.30 a.m. on Sunday and drive to Pasadena to be one of the first shoppers
What are some of your favorite items to buy abroad? In Istanbul, I stocked up on dates (a newfound obsession), nuts and spices. My birth town of Los Angeles has now also become “abroad” for me, so when I return home to Milan, my bags are crammed with the latest health craze: vitamins, supplements, all of the latest goodies from Erewhone.
What is your favorite travel splurge? A giant hotel room. In Istanbul, I stayed at the Soho House (which I highly recommend), and my husband and I had the most beautiful two-story suite. It was like a glorious private apartment. Another thing which I rarely do—but is the greatest thing ever—is to hire a driver. It is much less stressful than trying to navigate an unfamiliar town.
My husband and I stayed at the Aman in Thailand for our honeymoon and it was heaven on earth. I also love the Hotel Esencia in Mexico, where we did our La DoubleJ pop-up shop in January 2017. It was the perfect blend of mellow, chic and sophisticated—and it offered amazing yoga in a tree house.
Have you ever taken a trip to a destination that surprised you? I was recently in Beirut, and it completely blew me away. I never expected something so modern, liberal and vivacious. It was filled with cool Australian coffee shops, barbershops in giant lofts, fabulous food, great shopping and art at the Aishti Foundation and the locals were so friendly. They were all wearing short shorts and were all dolled up; I was definitely the most conservatively dressed woman that I encountered. I had no idea that half the population was extremely liberal and Christian, and it was quite a culture shock knowing that Syria was just a two-hour drive away. That kind of surprising experience really inspires me.
What are some destinations on your travel wish list? I’m dying to go to India, Bhutan and Tibet. I would be very happy to disappear into an ashram and never return…We’ll see what happens in the next chapter of my life!
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