J.J. Martin and I are cut from the same cloth (such a bad pun, couldn’t resist). For years we have both been fashion journalists, and both wrote for Harper’s Bazaar (I even assigned her pieces along the way). While most fashion editors could be found showing off our new found Celine and such at the fashion shows, J.J. always stood above and beyond in her brilliant, sometimes riotously mix-and-matched, vintage ensembles. It seemed like a natural extension of her persona when she decided to launch a site of vintage finds La Double J, which has since morphed into a full-blown collection of new designs based around vintage prints. (Don’t miss the stories on ultra-chic Milanese women/entrepreneurs on her site.) Today her designs are sold everywhere from Matches Fashion to Bergdorf Goodmans, and she’s expanded into home textiles and table top. Even for a mostly print-phobic person like myself, it is hard not to love the vivacious aesthetic of La Double J.
How do you come up with your prints? The prints come from Mantero Seta [silk]. I love shining the light on these under-discovered, underexposed Italian companies and partners. I went into the Mantero factory the other day; they’re printing for Louis Vuitton, they’re printing for Chanel. Our vintage prints are from their archives. Our fabrics are all made there and we mention them on our hang tag, because every print used on the clothes is vintage.
This collection we have a couple of prints like the Palazzo Rosa and the Pavone. I think the Pavone is from the 19th century and the Palazzo Rosa is from the early 1900s. But most of our prints are from the 60s and 70s. That’s what makes the clothes fun and punchy and that’s the part of vintage that people really like. Nobody wants a vintage fit. The fit of the clothes is always so miserable, it’s the fabric or the print that is so amazing.
That’s what’s fun about recreating these things now. And it’s not just with Mantero, we launched housewares in April. We partnered with Bitossi Home, which is part of Bitossi Ceramica; they were formed in the 1950s and have an amazing heritage. And same with this company that does our table linens, Mascioni; they are expert linen makers. Nobody’s ever heard of them, so it’s really fun for us to do this song and dance around these heritage Italian companies and talk about Italian excellence.
When I had my handbag line one of my sample makers worked in the basement of his home in Modena. I had to take the train to visit him. He made samples for Chanel. Where else do you find artisanship like you do in Italy? Totally. And it’s so special. The bottom line is there’s so many products out there and I’m the first person to say I’m really not a designer. My background is journalism, writing and editing. I see myself on this project as more of a curator of cool people and cool things. That’s the different perspective that I’m taking.
I’m not just looking back in Italy, but dancing around with some of the local talent. We just had a big pop-up shop during Milan Fashion Week with Dimore Studio, these hot, interior design, radical people. They’re super good friends, and that’s what 16 years of living in Italy does, you meet all these people and decide “let’s do something fun together”. This is also something very Italian, to hang out and do things with your friends. An Italian person never wants to work with anyone they don’t like.
This season we really kicked it up a notch. This is the first season we’re doing outerwear. We did a nylon zip-up hoodie. We did a sweatshirt in this scuba-like material, it’s super cute. And this is the first time we’re working with velvet, so in addition to the coats, we did A-line skirts. Then we also took our first design, a swing dress, which is just a super basic short-sleeve dress that goes down in an A-shape to your ankles, and did it in velvet. It’s a dress that’s universally flattering and you can wear it to breakfast on Sunday or dress it with heels for a cocktail party. That’s the whole idea here, it’s not to reinvent any wheels and go crazy but to create a couple key silhouettes every few months that are cute and right and then jazz them up with our vintage prints so you’re pretty much good to go. It’s not brain surgery, and it’s definitely not Balenciaga.
If you’re a print phobic person like me, how do you delve into wearing them? I’m definitely not a print-phobic person, I’ve been attracted to color, prints, jewels, everything since I was a small child. I’m very happy piling print on print. It took me a while to understand how to do it. I have to thank the Italians for that. I remember when I started writing press releases for Veronica Etro ten years ago, I think in ten years she’s done one show where there’s been solid color. She is full-on print on print on print. And Prada too. I have learned so much from the Italians in terms of how to make it so wrong that it’s right.
How do you do that? By practice. Look at other people who are great mix masters. For example, my friend Emiliano who’s one half of the Dimore studio guys, dresses like an art canvas. It is incredible the way he’s always got these crazy socks and the weirdest coat and this screaming shirt and it just works.
Sometimes it’s very hard to put that into words because I feel like it’s a creative thing, but there are certain things that you can do in order to make it easier. One is keeping one color from one print to another. If your pants are red and white checks then it’s good if you’re mixing a top, even if it has a lot of colors in it, that has a little red and white too. Another thing to work on is a sense of scale. If your bottom half is a big print, then your top half has to be a small print. The other thing is that it’s great to mix geometrics with florals, rather than mixing a floral with a floral.
If you wear these clothes the way we style them in the lookbooks you will get stared at if you walk down the street. I’ve never really had a problem with that. I don’t mind if people look at me. But some people really don’t like that. In that case, wear one of the items by itself. It’s really easy to incorporate print if you’re not a print lover. all you have to do is wear your black Celine pants and jacket with one of our printed shirts.
The other day I came into the office and my staff did not recognize me. I was wearing these Acme black wide-leg crop trousers, a white T-shirt, and then I had taken our silk shirts, the boy shirt. in a very dark brown print with turquoise blue birds on it, and wore it almost like a jacket over the white T-shirt. They looked at me and they’re like “this doesn’t look like you at all” but suddenly there’s this very minimal way of wearing print.
If you want to be more minimal with print keep it all one shade of color. Don’t introduce too many colors. It gets nuts when you start introducing a lot of color, which you can do but it’s a little bit more impegnativo as the Italians say which means high-maintenance. When you’re wearing a lot of print and a lot of pattern, it’s best to keep your silhouettes and the shapes of your clothes very simple. The same thing applies in the home.
Talk a bit about housewares. I live in a very modernist house. I live in an apartment designed in the 1940s that was at the center of mid-century modernism and has that kind of fascist architecture that’s very rigorous. Our apartment has super super clean lines, but within that I’ve always been very fanciful and exuberant with the prints, color and decorating. I’m not really a huge fan of opulent architecture and opulent interiors. It’s nice to have the balance.
A juxtaposition….I always used to mix up our tables when friends came over. I never had enough plates in one family so I was always mixing the table–the wine glasses would be different than the water glasses. I would have different silverware sets—some were silver, some were gold, some were vintage, I’ve always just liked a really mix and match table.
One thing that I used to do was always give everyone a different dessert plate. I had these really fun ones that were a painted tin things I found at a store in Milan and they were always a source of conversation at dessert. So when we did the home line I wanted to continue this idea and create a set of dessert plates that were already perfectly mixed and matched for you.
It’s like the six prints seemingly have nothing to do with one another but all six of them together are really cute. The way I do my table is I’ll have a crazy tablecloth and I’ll use a different printed napkin, and then I’ll have a printed plate. But for a more print phobic person, they can just have a printed tablecloth and use their white plates. Or they can just introduce a fun printed napkin. Or they can use their white tablecloth and use our crazy printed plates. It’s like accessorizing yourself.
Milanese interiors are so different, especially when it comes to the use of color. Has that influenced your work? Yes. I got my design and fashion education in Italy. I’ve been here for 16 years, I worked at Harper’s Bazaar while I was living in Italy. Before that I was living in a shoebox-size apartment in New York and was dressing in Zara. I had no concept, I had never heard of Gio Ponti.
When I moved to Italy, everyone’s homes were already in these mid-century contexts, whereas in America, it’s only been in the last five years everyone’s been like “oh, I would like a mid-century couch”. I definitely was influenced by that, the lines in Italy, the cuts and the way things are presented.
I will say that in terms of color, I mean the men here wear red, yellow or pink pants. It’s very normal and very expected and appreciated for men to wear a lot of color. This country is colorful in general, which is amazing. Their lemons are like glowing balls of sun. I think Italians have an innate sense of style that is really remarkable. On top of it they are such consummate hosts and hostesses; they really understand the fine art of dining, entertaining, vacationing, all of that. It’s so great. I just love that.
Do you have a favorite color? I’m a blue-green girl. We had a huge terrace renovation project that lasted two and half years, as things do when you live in Italy. I tiled the entire terrace, 1,000 square feet, it’s humongous … with really small lapis-blue colored glass tiles.
Gorgeous! Everyone thought I was bonkers including the architect and my husband. They were like “no way, you are crazy!” And now, I’ve got to tell you, no one can believe how beautiful … it’s like sitting on a sapphire sea outside. It’s fantastic.
And I painted a lot of walls in our home blue as well. Now I’m also super into green and I’m also into chakras and spiritual things as well. Green is the color of the heart chakra. These colors have so much energy. I feel a lot when I’m working with color, I really do.
What do you want women to experience when they buy a piece of your clothing? I just want a smile and the joy coming from something that is easy, makes them look good, and doesn’t cost $5,000. Or even $3,000, which is how much a basic dress from Prada costs now. The products that we make are 100% made in Italy, with Italian fabrications at a pretty good price. That’s part of the goal. The whole point is not to be another luxury brand. I think there’s enough of those.
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portrait by Alberto Zanetti