Brick and mortar maximalism
When I read LaDoubleJ (those fabulous maximalist dresses from JJ Martin, Patron Saint of Patterns) was going to open its first retail shop,I couldn’t wait to see its interiors, not just because I’m a decorator but also as a fan of JJ Martin’s colorful brand. As luck and business would have it, I had to travel to Milan to meet with a new client. And Erica, knowing that visiting the new La Double J store was a “must” on my list, asked me if I could write about the store. JJ was gracious to carve out some time in her busy schedule to sit down with Ciao Bella to discuss the design of her new store and her brand.
Arlene Gibbs: First question. What inspired you to open an actual store, brick and mortar, at this moment when all we hear is that retail is dead. It’s all about e-commerce. No one goes to stores anymore.
JJ Martin: Well, we started as a direct to consumer business and an online business so I totally agree with that. I don’t think it makes sense at all, these brands that were built on brick and mortar with three hundred shops around the world. It doesn’t feel relevant anymore, especially these cookie cutter shops that all look the same. When you scan these streets, you can’t even tell the difference. They all have white walls, really bright light, chrome or gold finishes.
AG: You could be on Rodeo Drive.
JJ: You could be anywhere. So, a huge network of stores was never my vision nor will it be. However, we stared in this little showroom in Milan that was our showroom, our atelier, our office, our workroom, everything, and we were also selling clothes at the very beginning from there. It literally did like five things. What we kept hearing from people all the time was, “don’t you have a place we could try on more clothes?” As we got bigger, we couldn’t sell to people anymore (from the showroom).
I do think having a store is really helpful. Although we’re now in about one hundred boutiques worldwide, you never get the opportunity to convey your message in someone else’s shop. We’ve done incredible pop-up shops at Bergdorf’s, Liberty and Matches. Places like Hotel Pellicano and Hotel Esencia. But they don’t last, not enough people get access to them, and they never convey the entire world. So, this is a mix I would say between a showroom a shop of course but I almost feel the shopping part is secondary for me. This is more you want to manifest physically your ideas.
It’s the swirling emotion and the frequency we emit and that women feel when they’re wearing color, print. Look at this table. It’s just happiness. However, it’s great to have an anchor. To have a 3D world. To not have it all in the ether.
AG: Tell us more about the design of your store. Your inspiration. Design details.
JJ: I designed this space with three things in mind. Number one, I didn’t want it to look like any other store.
AG: It doesn’t!
JJ: Number two, I wanted it to be a place where I would genuinely feel good coming here. Don’t you feel cozy in here?
AG: Yes, I do and this dark green is not only cozy but it’s chic as well.
JJ Martin: Yes, exactly. I love it. And the third thing is that I wanted it to be place where we could convey the wellness aspect of the brand and encourage women to come and almost use it like a community center. This is something for me as a human being but also as a professional woman who has a lot of masculine energy, as most ambitious American entrepreneurs do because you have to plow forward and get things done which takes a lot of masculine energy. It’s taken a lot for me to even recognize the beauty of the feminine and to exalt it and to practice it and to embody it. It’s a reminder to me that these are my icons, my mentors, and my guides. It’s a beautiful thing to share with other women. We just had on Wednesday night twelve women, and one man, downstairs doing a meditation on guided visualization on transforming fear into joy.
JJ: The whole room downstairs is devoted to the feminine. The feminine is about receptivity, accepting, and feeling your emotions. If you want to feel clear you have to also feel your fear. You have to get cozy with your fear and then you can transform it. It was such a meaningful moment. We knew a lot of the people in the circle and one is a yoga teacher here in Milan, Christina Curry, she’s left me twelve messages saying how much it meant to her. She’s been in a Covid funk and has two small children. She said it’s amazing how you literally put a store on top of a meditation space and this crazy divine mother grotta. I love surprising people, touching people, and bringing joy to people.
AG: What is your favorite design element of the store?
JJ: The lotus leaves on the ceiling. The idea popped up from our architect/interior designer Paolo Badesco. We have been working with this incredible Milan-based artist Joanne Tam who designed them. She found this organic sustainable stone paper, she painted them, folded them by hand and then hung them one by one. There are hundreds of them.
Another favorite design element is the divine mother archetypes. I commissioned those from an artist in Romania, Aitch, who I found on Instagram. I really resonated with her work and thought she was so amazing. I told her my ideas about the feminine and initially, she’s saying, “what are you talking about” but she liked it and went with it.
JJ: At La Double J we’re super scrappy. We have limited budgets, limited resources, and limited time. We have all these projects surrounding us like constellations. However, one thing I’ve learn is that when you fly over collective fear things line up. Your individual fears are something you can’t fly over. You have to get in there, look at them, explore them etc. I’m talking collective fear, you have to fly over it because that will kill you.
AG: Right because you also have no control over the things that cause the collective fear. None.
JJ: My ex-husband was saying we had to get the store ready in two months. [It was initially proposed for August 2020]. That didn’t happen. We opened on April 23rd and literally the next day Milan went from Orange to Yellow (the covid situation per Italian region). That day a giant cricket entered the store.
AG: Isn’t that sign of good luck?
JJ: A huge good luck sign! What’s funny is the entire staff was trying to move it out and I said, “hold the cricket!”
AG: We’ve discussed the surprises but what should people expect when they come to the store?
JJ Martin: They should expect a mood boost. They should expect that their kids will love it more than they will. One thing that I’ve noticed is that children love this shop. Expect to smile. If you’re in a bad mood, come on over. We’ll fix you up!
AG: We keep hearing the buzz word authenticity especially during these pandemic times. I feel when you walk into this store that it’s very authentic. There’s a strong point of view.
JJ: I have never had so many compliments on this store from people in the fashion and design community here. Let’s be honest, I’m very aware of what my place is in the design industry. I’m not a designer. I’m not a runway wizard. I’m not someone who went to Saint Martin’s and was Yves Saint Laurent’s assistant for twelve years. I recognize that. I’m bringing a different side to creativity, to fashion, to homeware, ascension. Our pillars.
La Double J located Via Sant’Andrea 10/a, in the heart of the luxury fashion triangle – Milan’s Quadrilatero della Moda. You can’t miss it. The store stands out with its bold color, vibe, and lack of pretentiousness. It’s not easy to execute one’s POV in commercial interiors. This store is a stunner and it could only be a La Double J store. You can also enjoy JJ’s favourite cocktail spots in Milan.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.