“I’m not a designer,” says JJ Martin, dressed in one of her exuberantly printed peasant skirts and a black cashmere sweater. “I see myself as more of a curator and editor — I bring in people and places and things that I think are great together.” – JJ MARTIN
J.J. Martin is a woman who knows how to stand out in a crowd by her loud and proud vintage style – prints on colors on more prints – proclaims an unmistakably sharp sunny individualism among the other dark designers of the fashion parade. She was a journalist and editor at large for Wallpaper magazine for a long time and then she launched a second career with a passion project inspired by her extensive vintage collection: LaDoubleJ, a site which turns archival prints from the 150-year-old Italian silk mill in Lake Como Mantero, into saturated hero pieces and tableware featuring insider stories about the stylish occupants of Milan in vintage pieces sourced from all over Italy. Her simple concept includes a classic, simple piece of clothing which are available in a variety of vintage prints and fabrics. Apart from working with Mantero, she also works with the textile producer Mascioni and the ceramic company Bitossi, taking the traditional, local Italian workshops to a global audience.
Italy and Martin got off to a rocky start where nothing worked and everything was always closed. She had all kinds of trouble with the bank machines which were broken most of the time, the clerks at the post office where she had to wait for about 20 minutes to pay a bill, at the dry cleaners that took more than 5 days to deliver a material, and at every other corner.
For Martin, writing for an online fashion news website was a major challenge in a world where smartphone had not yet been invented and in a country that had no practical use for the net. She would type out her fashion reviews on her Sony laptop in the backseat of a taxi and then jet into an expensive hotel where she would beg to let her hook up to the concierge’s ancient-fax-sounding cable.
After 5 years of howling, she calmed down after starting to accept the Italians for the innately optimistic, refreshingly authentic and truly passionate lovers of life that they are. Life got a whole lot easier once Martin caved to the fact that absolutely nothing had a timetable and nothing could be accomplished over the telephone and everything had to be decided over a two-hour seated meal. According to Martin, Milan first seems like a dull, flat and very grey place and most international fashion journalists complain continuously about a lack of depth and creative talent. This condemnation now irks her because she finally realized that this is a city that brims discreetly with intriguing creators and incredible interiors. All the good stuff happens behind closed doors and isn’t marketed, sold or packaged for visitors. For the last 13 years, her job shifted to fashion-and-design journalist roles at Harper’s Bazaar, Wallpaper and The Wall St. Journal, she slowly started to penetrate Milan, hopping inside buzzing architectural and design studios, famous fashion ateliers, workshops, dusty vintage shops and grand fashion designers’ homes, and peeling back the cold layers to expose the city’s heart-thumping core.
La Double J’s success would not have been possible without The Level Group, a firm that builds end-to-end e-commerce platforms for brands including Dolce & Gabbana, Stuart Weitzman, and New Balance. In the late ‘90s, Martin started working in the marketing department of Calvin Klein. During that time she met and consequently married Andrea Ciccoli, the Man who co-founded The Level Group five years ago. She moved with him to Milan in 2001. In this sense, it becomes a family business,
“Our homeware division was unexpected, so much that we are just now— 6 months after launching— finally keeping stock levels at our warehouse. Previously, we were continuously sold out and fulfilling pre-orders,” said Martin who now has her eyes on other categories and old-school Italian workshops (from tableware to furniture and stationery, and any other item that can benefit from a colorful retro print).
Martin’s business is booming and is growing into a much larger operation as well. To her, La DoubleJ.com is her love letter, wrapped up in a vintage envelope, to the merciful Milanese who taught her everything she really wanted to know, as well as who she wanted to be. Martin said with respect to her business, “It is my baby, but I’m ready for her to be a self-sufficient, walking, talking toddler.”
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