For Italo Manca, going out without a bow tie and suit jacket would be unthinkable! An “aberration” that would make him, one of the most elegant men in Milan, feel naked, almost illegitimate. The owner of La Libera – a...
JJ, could you tell us about yourself?
I’m an American born Milan based journalist who has lived in Italy for 16 years. I started La DoubleJ 3 years ago, as a side project to my writing work. And then slowly the project began to grow and grow. So now I’m doing La DoubleJ full time. (Ps. The pronunciation is American, not French. Double rhymes with bubble…. HA!)
Where did the idea for LaDouble J come from? How would you like to develop your brand?
I had a huge collection of vintage jewelry and clothing that my husband suggested I sell online (his company, The Level Group, manages many brands’ ecommerce websites). But since I had been a journalist in Italy for so long, I wanted sell the pieces in a magazine format featuring all of the amazing creative women I had met. So I blended both this bright, pattern-crazy content together with the e-commerce and the site looked quite original. No one was selling things in such a weird way. Then a year and a half later, I began to make new clothes with vintage patterns found in the Mantero silk archive in Lake Como. Last April, I added homeware – porcelain plates, table linens, etc. And this is also an area which will grow a lot in the next year. So we now sell vintage, new clothes and new design pieces. This entire project has been very spontaneous. I’m just going with the flow!
Could you tell us the story of this apartment? What made you choose it?
I was searching for an apartment in Milan for 3 years. I saw over 90 different apartments before finally finding the perfect place. I really wanted to have a lot of light and a terrace, which in Milan is like having a giant diamond. I paved the entire terrace with blue glass tiles so now it feels like we’re in a swimming pool on the top floor of the building. I love it.
How long have you lived in this neighbourhood?
9 years. We are across the street from the courthouse, and next door to a church and a school. In the evenings it’s very quiet which I love.
Is there a link between your interior design and your own sense of style?
Absolutely! I love a balance between clean lines and colorful decoration. So the clothes I wear and the rooms I live in all have straight lines so that there’s plenty of room for fanciful, joyful color and print. You saw the guest room with the vintage Stig Lindbergh fabric walls that was originally designed in the 1940s, onto which I placed my great grandmother’s flower paintings that she did in Los Angeles, also in the 1940s, yet the lines of the house are very 1950s Italian modernist.
What is your favourite colour? Do you have any favourite materials at the moment? What would be an ideal colour combination in a print for you?
Blue. I’m obsessed with the sky, the Pacific ocean where I grew up and the mediterranean sea which I live near now. Aren’t we lucky that nature gave us so many great blues? I love blue mixed with a bold clean green and a happy purple. I also love green and purple with orange and pink. I’m not afraid of color at all. In fact, all color has a special vibration and the more you notice that, and embrace it, the more you’re able to tap into something deeper in yourself. Color is power.
Which designer pieces – both clothing and furnishings – would you say that you can’t live with out?
I have some wonderful vintage pieces from Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent and Oscar de la Renta from the 1970s. That decade was truly special in its mix of glamour and joy. Right now, of course I can’t live without La DoubleJ as creating these new designs and hunting down these old patterns has become something of an obsession!
Could you tell us about the works of art and the furniture that fill your apartment? How did you come to select them? What do they say about you?
I’m not a snob about names – either in fashion or in design. There are many important pieces in my home like the Osvaldo Borsani dining room chairs and then there are no-name chairs from the 1950s which I bought at flea markets or junk stores that have fabulous shapes. The art work is not famous. Its just a collection of things we’ve loved, like an 18th century Sicilian plaster that hangs in the dining room, or old fashion show invitations from Christian Lacroix or Karl Lagerfeld photos for example that I’ve saved and framed. Our house is a great big jumble, not one style or thing, and it’s also very comfortable—so that’s me I guess.
In which room do you spend most of your time?
My bedroom since I sleep there and I like to go to bed very early and put on my essential oils, be with my crystals and read my spiritual books for a few hours. I’ve created a little shrine inside my bedroom.
What’s your relationship like with Italy, and with Milan in particular?
I had a very bad relationship with Italy when I first moved here 16 years ago. Nothing worked, everything was always closed, there was too much paper work to be filled out, nothing was digital or electronic, and I couldn’t find good yoga or any food to go. I ate out at restaurants every night and I screamed a lot at Italy. A few years later, I just learned to give up what I thought I needed and I went with the flow. I learned to cook. Pretty soon I started loving Milan and then a few years after that all the things I always wanted (great yoga, food to go, etc) popped up in Milan anyway. That was a very good life lesson. Stop complaining, just go with what’s in front of you and develop a relationship with it anyway.
What do you like about the city?
It’s like a “perfect giant small town“. You can get across the entire city in 30 minute with traffic. That’s impossible in new york, London or paris. Because it’s so small it’s cozy and you develop great relationships with your barman, coffee maker, mechanic, everyone. Plus it’s filled with a lot of cool creative people doing great things. I like having a lot of dinner parties at home.
What are your plans for the future?
Photography: Constance Gennari – Text: Caroline Balvay @thesocialitefamily