Designed by Constance Gennari and J.J. Martin, the La DoubleJ for The Socialite Family collection is an ode to...
J.J. Martin, the most Italian of Americans, invites us into her new apartment for the release of the collaboration between our two companies: La DoubleJ for The Socialite Family! An interior located in a neo-Gothic building in Milan that dates from the 1910s, which the founder of the ready-to-wear and homeware brand that bears her initials can boast of having unearthed by dint of scouring the map of her city. Here, within these historic walls, the former journalist combines her love of colour and pattern more than she ever has before. Superimposed prints and materials leave no room for doubt; this designer who has adopted Milan as her home is no fan of empty spaces. “In fact, my home doesn’t even have one single white wall!” she eventually concludes. Instead, this enthusiastic maximalist is guided by a fundamental principle of profusion and exuberant ornamentation, and has put together an eclectic setting full of vibrant energy where the fantastic is never far away. Although the entrepreneur’s creations are inspired by stylish Italian women, the works of the Renaissance and religious architecture, the outline of this apartment owes its rhythm to a dreamy and exotic imagination. “My dining room (…) is based on my various trips to Bali, and the bedroom is a homage to Ancient Egypt, with the Book of the Dead hanging over my bed,” she laughs. Timeless and magical without sacrificing chic, this attractive lair now displays – beautifully balanced – some exuberant pieces from our new collection. The result of a new story, written with Constance Gennari, founder and artistic director of The Socialite Family.
J.J, could you introduce yourself, please?
Hi, I’m J.J. Martin and I’m an American who has been living in Milan for 21 years. I used to be a journalist and now I run my own fashion and homeware company called La DoubleJ.
And introduce us to LaDoubleJ, your brand.
I started La DoubleJ in 2015 by selling my gigantic collection of vintage clothing and jewelry. It was kind of this mashup of color, print and editorial. We photographed all of the pieces on the creative women of Milan and showed people how to live like an Italian, sharing how these incredible women were setting their tables and decorating their homes, getting dressed, entertaining. And the we moved into creating our own clothes, starting with just one dress, one skirt, one pant and one shirt, and now we have an entire collection of new ready-to.wear and homeware as well.
Tell us about your education. What sort of environment did you grow up in – and how did that affect the way your tastes developed?
My family and formative years growing up in Los Angeles did not inform my aesthetic experience AT all. I grew up in a very athletic, masculine family with two older brothers. We were always running, jumping, surfing, skiing, playing sports – there was no fashion happening in my house whatsoever, however I always just loved pattern and print and embellishment as a child. I really admired it on other people even though I really wasn’t experiencing much of it myself. My “fashion manifestation” and my introduction to the fashion world happened at a later stage in my life. (I didn’t even get my first Barbie until I was older, because I’d had a G.I. Joe when I was young). I actually started in the business working in advertising at agencies in San Francisco and New York before moving into marketing at Calvin Klein. And then I became a journalist in Milan covering fashion and design for fifteen years.
Which designers and artists have had a strong influence on you and your work as a fashion designer?
I got my design education in Milan starting in 2001. At that moment the biggest brands were Tom Ford at Gucci, Miuccia Prada at Prada and Miu Miu and Consuelo Castiglioni at Marni and then over the years Valentino really started to pick up. These were the brands who were really red hot at the time, so they inspired me for sure. I was wearing a lot of those brands, I was excited by them. These were also all brands that were really focussed on prints and embellishment, which obviously speaks to my tastes. I would say though, that, more than other fashion brands, I get inspired more by the Italian women themselves in classic Italian locations – gorgeous Capri, romantic Sicily, bountiful Puglia – I get very very inspired just by the energetic settings and environments that I’m in. I also love finding inspiration in the Italian churches that I walk into, all of the patterns, all of the Renaissance artwork, even the painted tilework that you can find all across the Amalfi coast. It’s not just one thing. It’s a mix. As a vintage collector I was just inspired by the magic of fashion, the power of really bold print and magnetic color.
How would you define your style – it has such a strong visual identity?
Well it’s interesting, I’ve designed and decorated two homes in Milan and the important thing is that if you’re a maximalist like I am and you tend to like a lot of patterns and color, you have to really balance that with rigorous, straight clean lines somewhere else. My first home here was quite a modern box which made it easier to allow all of the color and the print to fill in that space rather than being in a very Baroque interior, for example. I also feel it’s very important when you’re mixing prints, especially if they’re vintage, to work with different eras. I don’t like it when everything is from the 50’s or 70’s or everything is 19th century. I like to mix eras and also have a mix of different materials. So, if we’re using wood in the interiors we also need a touch of metal, whether it’s brass or something shiny or transparent. Then it’s also really great to layer in solids. Truth be told my house doesn’t even have one single white wall but even at DoubleJ in our ready-to-wear collections we do sell some white pieces, as I find it’s really great to layer in solid color with the print and find that balance to that power of the pattern, or to even tone it down if needed. Sometimes a beautiful silk print needs to be toned down with a tweed – yes, there’s still technically a pattern in the tweed, but it’s not as bold as the print. So there’s different ways that you kind of play with this. But, rather than this being a science, this is really more of an art, and as such it really comes from your heart and from your stomach, not from your head.
Tell us about when you first came to Milan. Why did you decide to live here?
I moved here like every American did in the early 2000’s. I met an Italian guy, I fell in love and I left New York!
What were your criteria when you were looking for an apartment?
I was recently divorced and looking for apartments everywhere using a fancy broker that kept showing me really ugly apartments. She kept telling me that I’d never find anything that I wanted for my budget. So I took the whole procedure into my own hands and started using my energy practice. That led me to walk down one of my favorite streets in Milan and I just started interviewing doormen, walking in and asking if they had heard anything, if they knew if anything was available in their building or in the neighborhood. At first, they were all like “No, no, no signora, mi dispiace° etc. etc. Then I finally spoke to one and who said“Oh my God! I actually do know of an apartment. It’s on one of the most beautiful streets in Milan. It’s two blocks from here.” I ran over and this building was available!
As a vintage collector I was just inspired by the magic of fashion, the power of really bold print and magnetic color.
How have you arranged yours? What does this interior say about you?
The building is a 1910 Neo gothic situation, it’s really fabulous. You’ve got this entryway that’s all tiled with mosaics, and it’s kind of dark and mysterious. And then you walk into my apartment and it’s just this flash of color. So, again it’s about working with the different styles and periods and materials. What’s interesting about this space is that it’s been a pure project of intuition. It was not done all at once, it was done in phases. In the beginning I was living there in this empty house for three months at the start of Covid and then everything kind of unfolded really naturally. Ultimately, what’s happened is that each room has become a sort of different reflection of me. My dining room, for example, is all based on my different travels in Bali, and the bedroom is this homage to ancient Egypt with the Book of the Dead hanging over my bed. The Meditation Room is really my sanctuary. The kitchen has a mix of 90’s Milan with 19th Century designs. So the whole house has kind of balanced out to be this very rich mix of so many different aspects of me. The best part about it is that there’s just fantastic energy in this apartment. It feels really good to be there.
“LaDoubleJ for The Socialite Family”, the collaboration between our two companies, is being released on Tuesday 11 October. Can you tell us a bit more about this project?
I’m so excited about this collaboration. I love partnering with creative women like Constance and with brands that share our commitment to celebrating quality European craft. We’ve taken some of the most iconic pieces from The Socialite Family furniture and homeware collection – the Gioia Lamp, the Rotondo couch, the Divino cushions – and re-imagined them with four different La DoubleJ prints. It’s this kind of magical blend of our Milanese maximalism with chic Parisian minimalism. I love that all of the pieces are suitable for different design aesthetics – whether you’re minimal or maximal, you can find pieces in the collection that would look fabulous in any home.
Apart from that, where will we see you over the coming months?
I’m heading to Egypt for a fortnight, where I’m co-organising a spiritual retreat with a friend of mine, who is a high priestess. Then I go to the Middle East for a fortnight on business. Before coming back to Milan. So it’s a busy autumn season, to say the least! (Laughs)
So the whole house has kind of balanced out to be this very rich mix of so many different aspects of me.
Photography : Jeanne Perrotte – Text : Juliette Bruneau @thesocialitefamily