One year ago JJ Martin, the designer and erstwhile fashion editor, had a wake-up call. Her five-year-old Italian brand, La Double J, known for its vivid colours and vibrant 60s and 70s inspired prints, was having a banner year –stocked at Bergdorf Goodman in New York and Le Bon Marche in Paris, pop-ups at Le Bristol and a palazzo in Palermo. Even the most hardened members of the black-clad fashion set had succumbed to the irresistible charm of JJ’s vibrant and swirling Italo-disco dream world.
In a city that was once famous for its austere chic and decidedly chilly embrace Martin is appreciated, and credited increasingly abroad, as a cheerleader for the city’s modern renaissance. Her energy has become synonymous with the new color in the famously grey town. And somewhere in between this relentless pursuit of changing hearts and minds on the subject of Milan, she’s built a successful global brand from the foundation up. Tiring work.
“I mean, it’s been a tornado. For too long I was just not realizing that I am the driver of my life and I can go really fricking fast. But one year ago I realized I don’t want to work all day. I don’t want to work on the weekends. And actually I need a one week break every two months. So that’s what I do,” she says on the phone from Milan, having moved to the city 18 years ago.
Her bi-monthly trips this year have all had a common thread; to expand her knowledge of mysticism, meditation, yoga, energy healing and Qigong, and ultimately, of herself. By the end of the year she will have been to Bali three times and spent an entire month in Sicily. “These volcanic islands kind of bring out the best and the worst in you. In Sicily, what needs to come out, comes up. If you go and humbly ask for guidance from the Island itself, so much will open to you. It’s amazing.”
In Sicily, she concentrated on the south-eastern coast, staying in a town called Scicli, making her way through the Baroque churches and chapels, largely on her own. “I found myself having the most unbelievable out of body experiences. I’d go when they’re empty; no priests, no congregation, and either meditate or bring my computer and just free-form write. The energy is incredible and the artwork is otherworldly. You have to remember, true creativity in the 14th, 15th and 16th centuries was really only expressed inside of these places. That’s honestly what I am connecting to. I’m not a monk, but I really covet these moments of just hours by myself. Then I’ll go and meet my friends for lunch.”
Martin started the brand as an e-commerce platform to sell her collection of vintage Italian fashion and jewelry. Its retro graphics and quirky content caught the eye of family-owned Italian houses Missoni and Giorgio Armani who then hired her as a consultant and three years later she was in a position to finance her first peasant-style dress designs using vintage Italian prints from the archive of the 150-year old Matero silk mill in Lake Como. Meanwhile she had a day job filing show reviews for Wallpaper* magazine as its editor-at-large. A post she left in 2017.
As Martin takes an inner journey of the spirit, she is taking her brand along for the ride. The ethos underpinning La Double J–which began as a way to celebrate the country’s forgotten prints from a golden age for Italian fashion–now celebrates the best Italian design of today, as collaborations with Murano glassware in Venice and Kartell furniture from Milan can attest. But there’s more to it.
“I’m starting to see La Double J, the company, as an energetic enterprise.” She explains: “I’ve decided that there’s no sense in me keeping my personal life out of the company because it’s so much a part of who I am. So we held some women’s circles in London recently to have conversations about the Greek goddesses which inspired the fall collection. I brought my Qigong master from Bali and he was doing energy sessions…It’s my spirit baby. I couldn’t have real children, so I gave birth to this instead.”
Where was your last vacation? I went to Bali in October. The Island itself is kind of one big temple because Indonesia is Muslim, but Bali is the only corner of the country that’s Hindu. So you get this totally different vibe— peaceful, very pacifist, they practice ancestor worship and nature is sacred. For me, spiritual practice is about what’s my experience on a deeper level and how can I connect with something bigger? Break down blocks that are within myself and I found their rituals, such as daily purification in the water temples, to be super helpful. I stay with this Qigong master on his compound and there’s a local Balinese family living on it. So there’s no one around except for these very peaceful people that are praying and offering flowers and doing incense all day. It is so mellowing that it’s almost like I’m hypnotized when I’m there.
Where is your next vacation? I go to Chanf, the very last town at the end of the Valley where St Moritz is. There’s this beautiful 10-room bed and breakfast called Villa Flor. Ladina, the owner, basically only has space for her friends, and most of them are artists and gallerists. It’s hilarious. To ski, St Moritz is a 15 minute drive.
What can’t you travel without? My dog, Pepper, a 14 month Pug. She goes to Sicily, she goes to Paris fashion week, she went to Basel with me on the train. I almost didn’t go to London a couple weeks ago because they wouldn’t let her on the plane. She’s small enough to stay inside her little cage. I haven’t figured out how to do Bali yet, but I will bring her to LA when I go visit my mom in May.
Who would you most like to be sat next to on a flight? The Dalai Lama. Not because I get nervous. I feel great in an airplane. I love the sensation, I even kind of like turbulence. I’d just love to chat with him.
Plane, train or automobile? Train. It’s amazing how Europe works with trains. I just went direct to Milan from Basel, four hours door to door. So easy. But I will do anything not to get inside an airport. They give me anxiety. I can’t deal with the lines and the security and worrying about missing the flight. I miss flights all the time because I get distracted and I forget when take off is.
What is your in-flight ritual? It’s hilarious. I hate chapstick. But I take the one in the little case which I’d never put on my lips, and you know what I do? I lather it all over my feet and then I put the socks on and binge watch the movies. It’s the only time I watch movies or TV.
Which language do you wish you spoke? Japanese. I would live in Japan. There’s such a gentle culture and just a beautiful energy there so I’d like to be able to communicate. The Japanese are so sweet, but they’re just always like nodding their head and they don’t understand a word you’re saying.
When were you happiest while travelling? I honestly think I’ve never been happier than in Bali. Feeling so free, riding a motorcycle without a helmet, getting a massage for two hours, you eat so well.
If you could live in any hotel which would it be? I feel like I have yet to visit my hands down best hotel in the universe. I have a feeling it’s somewhere I’ve never visited, inside a thick forest in India or hanging off the cliffs of Bhutan. That being said, my top memories are Il Pellicano when Marie Louise Sciò is in the house (because she just makes it so much homier), Heckfield Place in the English countryside, and the Aman in Tokyo that made me feel like I was living in a human bento box.
What is your room service indulgence? In France I just go for the bread and the butter. Living in Italy, there’s no butter and no good bread.
What’s the strangest place you’ve spent the night? Istanbul Airport when I lost my flight. I had a super long layover and then I forgot to go to the gate early enough. I was hysterical. It was hilarious.
What is your favourite market? I have a real soft spot for the Rose Bowl Flea Market in Pasadena. It’s just like my heartstrings are attached to that market. I found so many wonderful things there when I started La Double J. I found an Oscar de la Renta evening gown that was just ridiculous.
If you could travel to any place in any epoch which would it be? Ancient Egypt without a doubt. I’m sure I had a past life there. I feel like I know all those people and I’ve never been to Egypt. I want to be immersed in that clothing, in that jewelry, I want to get my hair cut like that, I want Cleopatra’s eye makeup and I want to write the hieroglyphs.
Where are you ashamed you’ve never been? Egypt. I need to go to immediately. I want to be led through a fully immersive spiritual experience in Egypt, to see those incredible statues of Ramesses II and the megalithic scale of everything. I’m just nuts about it.
What are the show off spots in your hometown? In Milan, there’s a church called San Maurizio al Monastero Maggiore on Corso Magenta that will knock your socks off. I’m a sucker for a painted ceiling. Cucchi cafe is one of the last historic, independently owned cafes in Milan. The others like Marchesi and Cova have all been bought and expanded and merchandised throughout the world. They’re totally disorganized, it takes you an hour to get your coffee. But I’ve been going there for 18 years and I used to have my office by there. And now we’re doing this collaboration and La Double J is taking over for a Christmas pop-up. For restaurants Da Giacomo never disappoints but usually if someone is telling you that they want to meet you for a restaurant, they don’t like you very much, because if they liked you more, they would invite you to their home.
In which places would you happily spend a weekend, a week, a month, a year?
A weekend in Portofino. It’s two hours from Milan and just what you need. But it’s expensive so you don’t need to stay a week.
A week in Capri but only if you can stay at a friend’s house. Seriously, you never want to go to Capri in July or August. You only want to go to Capri in September, October or May.
A month in Sicily to really immerse yourself. So there I would do like the whole Eastern coast including Noto and Scicli.
A year in India (where I’ve never been) for a meditative, yoga, spiritualistic journey, and some textile research on the side. Oh wait, when am I going to Egypt?
What is your biggest extravagance on the road? Business class. I don’t fly economy ever. Qatar is my favourite airline.
What was your most memorable meal? The first time I tried the vegetarian food at Sage in Ubud. What surprised me was how good and fresh, and Venice beach like the menu was. I was shocked with the quality of the matcha lattes, quinoa salads and avocado.
What is your idea of travel hell? Logistics. I don’t want to book, plan, call, get online ever or do anything while I’m traveling. I want to be the guest of a friend, or with locals, immersed in their culture and just like taken along for the ride. I really don’t even care what we do. And that’s very Italian.
What are your three favourite stores on earth? Erewhon in Los Angeles for the best salads and vegetarian take out food in the world; Mystic Journey, my favorite spiritual book shop in Venice Beach, California; Nilufar Depot for most inspiring mid-century interiors in Milan, Galleria Moshe Tabibnia in Milan for millefleurs medieval tapestries; Il Sentiero del Vento for my crystal collection in Milan and gifts; Blumen Galerie for flowers in St Moritz.
Why do you travel? To open new doors. Open my eyes. It’s just the new smells, new feelings, new food. A new vision, you know?
Andrew Barker is an award-winning editor, content creator, and consultant. Prior to joining C Magazine as Chief Brand and Content Officer, he was Editorial Director of Mr Porter in London where he was voted 2017 BSME Editor of the Year in the Style category by his UK industry peers.