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.”