Milan-based brand La DoubleJ has debuted its Spring Summer 2022 collection, Sun Salutations, and it’s a typically joy-inducing, exuberant offering from multi-faceted designer and entrepreneur JJ Martin. And as the name would suggest, it’s all about spreading that bright and light energy from heart center out into the world via your sartorial choices. That comes through in the usual offering of printed pieces for the maximalists in our midst, and the new unveiling of luxe, technicolor footwear created in collaboration with Roveda. Ahead of the collection reveal during Milan Fashion Week, we caught up with Martin across the pond to hear her tale of determination and dedication. From spirit animals to finding her ultimate lovechild in her work, here’s her backstory.
What did you originally want to be when you grew up?
I didn’t grow up in a creative environment at all. I grew up in L.A. in an extremely athletic family. It was very masculine energy-based and we were always on camping, hunting, and fishing trips. I grew up with my older brothers’ hand-me-down GI Joes, and I was always dreaming about Barbie. I had sort of a repressed dream and desire for what I though was the feminine: being ensconced in beauty and having the trappings of a feminine existence [like] clothes, makeup, and jewels. Later, I found out that’s not what being feminine is at all!
How did you make your way to NYC to pursue fashion?
It was always this exciting place and I was dying to go, but I didn’t think it was something that was even possible. I went to college in Berkeley and I wanted to be in something creative, but in San Francisco in the late ’90s, there wasn’t a fashion scene. I got into its ‘cousin’ industry—advertising—instead because that was extremely creative back then. I just loved it. All these young people making magic happen! Someone I knew who was at an agency in New York reached out randomly and said they had an opening. I moved straight away and landed in New York in 1998. I spent a year-and-a-half in this tiny agency on Spring Street in Soho; everyone was like 23-years-old and was the epitome of cool! One day, we got the Tommy Hilfiger account. It was so exciting! I’ll never forget it. I begged to be the account executive, and that was my first taste of fashion. Then, I later got into marketing at Calvin Klein.
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Major! Tell us about that, and how it led you to Milan?
I had the big job at Calvin, and I was felling fancy as the marketing director, always wearing just one color! I met an Italian guy and we started long distance dating between Milan and New York. He asked did I want to move and it felt natural, so I started trying to do some interviews. But doing anything remote back then? Impossible! I landed in Milan in August 2001, with no job and no friends. I had taken a six-week course to learn Italian on the Upper East Side and then when I got there, I buried myself in classes and would do six hours of one-on-one a day. I’m not really great at languages so I knew that I had to really commit to it, and after three months, I could speak the language.
How was the job search?
I was doing lots of interviews, but no Italian fashion company had ever heard of the term ‘marketing.’ Not one company had a marketing department. It’s so funny how the world has changed. I thought, ‘I am a marketing director from America. Why don’t they recognize that?!’ I literally couldn’t get a job. It was a very humbling experience and so full of learning. Actually, this August was my 20th anniversary of being here—I forgot to throw a party. I really need to!
When did it all start happening for you?
I was at a fashion presentation one day and I met [fashion critic] Godfrey Deeny. He was looking for a reporter for Fashion Wire Daily and I was hired the next day. It was the world’s first online fashion news service, and the Italians did not get it. [In their eyes] I had the lowliest job. I couldn’t even get tickets to show—I’d always be standing behind someone’s grandma in the 27th row scribbling on my notepad! But it was such a great training ground. I learned so much and I was thrown onto every [assignment]: Tom Ford’s opening a new store, Dolce & Gabbana shows, Prada’s IPO! This was not only before social media, but way before smartphones—thank you, Apple! You really changed our lives as journalists. It started to feel very deflating, working from my apartment, typing up show reviews in the back seats of Italian taxis, and hooking up to a modem in a hotel so I could file my copy. But I stuck with it, and I did the best I could. I thought no one was reading it. But one person was, and that person was Suzy Menkes. She was reading it because we were scooping her, so eventually she hired me to write for her and I went from being the lowest-ranking to the International Herald Tribune in a year. Pretty amazing! Kristina O’Neill also discovered me furiously writing at the Four Seasons hotel once, and the next thing I knew, I was writing for Harper’s Bazaar as their editor in Europe, which led to working with Wallpaper, and then the WSJ. Magazine. I was at The Daily for a year-and-a-half too!
Yeah! We were always writing the funniest stuff and laughing so hard, and we had such an epic team. [The Daily editor in chief and CEO] Brandusa is incredible, I really learned about story telling, interviewing, and humor from her. Christine Muhlke, who went on to Bon Appetit, was there at the time and was an amazing mentor to me.
Who else have you learned a lot from along the way?
Mark Jacobs—the other one!—was a big inspiration, and I would watch and learn how steely men or ice queens would melt in Godfrey’s hands. I learned how to be a proper journalist from Suzy, and from The Daily, I learned how to be a pithy, fun, and smart writer.
What led you to launching La DoubleJ in 2015? Did you envision what it would become today?
I began with an online shoppable magazine: a true fusion of editorial and e-commerce. I was selling vintage clothing and jewelry, as I’d built up an incredible collection having been collecting vintage since I moved to New York in ’98. I wanted to wrap up vintage in this platform that celebrated real Italian women. I was always watching how incredibly glamorous they are. The style! The dinner parties! And they make it look so easy and flawless. My jaw was on the ground for the first four years. And so, I needed to learn and I took notes. When I launched the site, it was featuring all of these women. We had [sections for] ‘Great Gorgeous Girls’ and ‘Legendary Ladies.’ I was so obsessed with them all. There’s a term in Milan reserved for super sophisticated housewives: sciure. I started the section, School of Sciure, and that got attention. The stars aligned and we had a partnership with Justin O’Shea and Mytheresa. He loved what we were doing—it was like the Net-a-Porter of vintage—and he bought a lot of [the jewelry]. But selling vintage is tricky. The fits are weird, there’s stains, there’s moth balls. If it’s perfect and everyone loves it, well, you only had one! It had taken me 20 years to amass the collection so keeping up the inventory was challenging.
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So you decided to create your own pieces?
On a fluke, we made a new dress using vintage patterns that I’d found in a silk archive in Lake Como. The material—silk twill—and print was new, but the pattern was old. We made one dress in eight patterns and I called Ruth Chapman from MATCHESFASHION. She said she loved it, but what are you going to do next! She said we had to build a collection.
Now you have it all!
Evening wear, ski wear, swimwear, jewelry! And we’re launching shoes soon too. As I started developing, I wanted to keep our roots—vintage and Italy—intact. I stared striking deals with historic Italian manufacturers and we’ve done tonnes of collaborations with Italian and European brands. I’ve enjoyed shining a light on what these companies and doing and everything we do is 100% made in Italy.
What’s something surprising you’ve learned about yourself?
My spiritual practice and working on myself has made me a more conscious human being. Being really aware of what my fears are has made me a much more confident individual, a better creator, and a much better leader.
What mentors have been instrumental?
A person who has really helped is Tory Burch. She was one of my first supporters. We did a pop up shop in 2015 and she came and shopped. She’s such a cheerleader and she’s just lovely. COVID was tough, we got through it, but it’s always a struggle. We’re completely self-financed; part of that is purposeful because we want to maintain our freedom and march to our own drum beat. But that also means that I haven’t had big structural and financial support. My business partner is my ex-husband and he has helped so much and it’s given me a business school education just by talking to him every day, but he has five other companies. Tory gave me some great advice on what to sweat, what’s not important, and building a team.
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Tell us more about your spiritual practice and how it helps.
It’s really kicked into gear. In 2015, I was doing my weirdo energy healer, Yoga mediation stuff. I spent like six years trying to get pregnant before I launched La DoubleJ. The fertility journey was an awful, nauseating nightmare. To really get off that, I reached into this energy practice instead of pulling, pushing, and insistence. Suddenly, the baby rolled right out and I gave birth to La DoubleJ. It was vintage and Italy: the two things I was obsessed with. My spiritual practice got deeper and I thought, ‘Holy shit! The creativity coming out of me is so much more than vintage and Italy.’ I’ve learned to harness that through deep meditation, deep trans work, and deep multi-dimensional spiritual work.
What other things inspire and fuel you?
Travel! I’ve found my happy places in Sicily, Portofino (not the yachts and the luxury), and the island of Pantelleria, which is energetically very potent. The mountain above Capri and the water itself, there’s something really happening there. Really good vibrations! I’m also super inspired by churches. I’m not religious at all, but I use them as transducers for my meditation practice when they’re empty and have the right structure.
Do you love writing?
Yes. I’m workin on five books!
You’re making me feel bad.
You want to feel better? I have had 15 books baking inside my computer for 15 years. I was feeling so overwhelmed, but slowly and surely, they’re consolidating.
What are you most proud of?
I’m proud that I hung in there. There were actually very dark, dismal moments when I wanted to throw in the towel with Italy, my company, my self, the universe. I just wanted to check out of planet Earth sometimes! I’m proud that I didn’t.
I allowed the beauty and the ease and the flow and the real feminine energy to actually penetrate me. It’s very difficult to transform a Type A New Yorker: it took a lot for me to crack that armor and to let in this air and this spaciousness. The silence, the art, the sweetness of not doing anything. I’m proud that I allowed Italy to crack me open!
What’s coming up in 2021 and beyond for La DoubleJ?
We’re always collaborating with a historic company! With the shoes, we’re working with Roveda: one of the most incredible luxury brands. We’ve a capsule coming out. I’m also working on the Salone del Mobile [furniture fair] which was postponed from April, and it’s Milan Fashion Week.
How are you keeping calm?
I created a bat cave in the sacred grotto [at the Milan store], so I’m going to be a bat woman!
Bats need a good publicist!
The power of them as spirit animals can’t be understated. Bats are very mystical mysterious power of transformation…and right now, who doesn’t want to tap into that!
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See the full Spring Summer ’22 collection below: