“I don’t really mind not looking like anyone else,” says JJ Martin, the Los Angeles‐born, Milan‐based founder of fashion and lifestyle label La Double J. “I actually kind of like it.”
Known for her exuberantly printed clothing, Martin is staying true to form, dressed head to toe in eye‐popping pattern as she shows me around her sunlit apartment with her adorable pug, Pepper, trotting at her heels. “When I moved to Milan, I brought a suitcase full of vintage clothes—I remember walking around the city streets with people staring at me, like, ‘What are you wearing?’ Now, everybody wants to join in!”
Christened Jennifer Jane, Martin gained her nickname to differentiate her from the three other Jennifers in her high school class. “I grew up in a very masculine environment. My dad was a hunter and a fisherman, and I used to have a bowl haircut and go on camping trips wearing my brothers’ hand‐me‐downs,” she recalls. As a teenager, she rebelled, got a perm, and started wearing a combination of tie‐dye, pink lip gloss and blue eyeshadow. “I didn’t have any taste at all. And when I look back, I had no one in my life or orbit who had any either! But in my heart, there was always this attraction to fashion—I dreamt of being in that world, but I had no idea how to get there.”
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Instead, Martin studied rhetoric at the University of California, with a view to going to law school, but ended up working in finance at Paine Webber in New York; that was followed by a role in the marketing team at Calvin Klein. It was during her time living in Manhattan that she discovered her passion for vintage. “I became kind of addicted—I’d go to the Chelsea Flea Market every single weekend,” she says. “I loved the thrill of finding an incredible fur coat for $12.” Printed or embellished pieces hold the strongest appeal. “In 25 years of collecting vintage, I’ve probably only bought two black things.”
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While living in New York, she met her husband, Andrea Ciccoli, at a party, and the couple relocated to his native Milan a year later, where a chance encounter with the editor of a now‐defunct fashion news site gave Martin her entry into journalism. Her lively show reviews caught the eye of style critic Suzy Menkes, who asked her to write for the International Herald Tribune. Over the years, Martin worked as a contributing editor to Harper’s Bazaar US, WSJ and Wallpaper*, scoping out the best in Italian fashion and design. “I learned that the Italians appreciate beauty,” she says. “They see the importance of having friends and family around, and creating an environment where all of that can be enjoyed.”
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Milan has been Martin’s home for 18 years, but initially, she found it hard to adjust to life there. “I’m from America, where it’s all about doing, achieving and making more money. Here, it’s all about being, and your experience and your state of mind. Essentially, the Italians are just concerned with having a really good time.”
La Double J began life in 2015 as an online magazine selling pieces from Martin’s huge collection of vintage jewellery and clothing, modelled by some of the remarkable Milanese women she had met. “I wanted to pay homage to the sophisticated sciùra, which is the name for an Italian housewife—but these ladies are extremely chic and nothing that you would put on a reality TV show,” she says. “I was in awe of them. I couldn’t believe how they had it all together.” On a whim, she decided to design a simple twill dress in eight vintage patterns that she had unearthed in the extensive archives of Mantero, one of Lake Como’s oldest silk manufacturers. It was spotted by Ruth Chapman, the co-founder of MatchesFashion.com, which began stocking La Double J, and the label evolved into a highly coveted brand.
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Today, the online boutique offers ready-to-wear, swimwear and eveningwear as well as homeware, including plates, vases and bedlinens, with 90 percent of prints sourced from vintage fabrics and wallpapers. Along with Mantero, Martin works with textile producer Mascioni and ceramic manufacturer Bitossi, and continues to shine a light on Italy’s unsung historic producers. “With all the pieces, you can go from as minimal to as maximal as you want, adding on layers just like you would do with clothes,” she says.
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Martin’s creative flair is also evident in her apartment, which she found after three years of searching. “I’m a big changer—I like to evolve,” she says as we walk through the hallway, whose wall colour she has altered 15 times. The rooms are filled with extraordinary antiques and flea market finds, such as a set of Osvaldo Borsani chairs and an 18th-century Sicilian plaster bas-relief on the wall in the dining room. In the living space is a huge green De Padova sofa, and a mirror from a trip to the small Italian town of Pesaro. The armchairs are covered in vintage Holliday & Brown fabric from Prada’s 2004 collection, while artworks include a portrait by Karl Lagerfeld for Fendi and a watercolour that artist Ruben Toledo had sent to thank her for an article she had written about him. Retro Stig Lindberg fabric lines the walls of the guest bedroom, over which hang pictures of flowers painted by her great-grandmother. The flat also has an incredible wrap-around terrace that benefits from an abundance of jasmine and wisteria, and spectacular views over the city, including the Duomo; Martin has paved the space in blue glass tiles and installed custom-made benches by Dimore Studio.
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Naturally, Martin’s wardrobe also hosts vintage treasures, alongside colourful, flamboyant pieces from La Double J. There are beautiful Valentino and Emilio Pucci designs, an embroidered floor-length Yves Saint Laurent dress and an Oscar de la Renta gown from the 1970s. One wall is entirely covered by a rack of shoes by Miu Miu, Loewe, Aquazzura, Marni, Prada, Gucci and Salvatore Ferragamo. Another obsession, perhaps? “I do love shoes,” she says, laughing. “At La Double J, it’s all about good vibes. The clothes make you smile—it’s playful, easy fashion. My real objective is, ‘Let’s just make the world a little brighter.’”