Italian lifestyle has traditionally focused on family and entertainment. Several generations meet to celebrate regular occasions, with food and drink front and centre, to share memories and moments around the dinner table.
Fascinated by these traditions and the art of entertaining, JJ Martin, the American founder of lifestyle brand La DoubleJ, moved to Italy more than 20 years ago.
“I really consider Italy to be my first spiritual teacher; I’ve learnt so much living here,” she tells The National.
“Not only did I get my real education in design and fashion while working as a journalist, but I’ve also learnt so many life lessons from the culture and people here – how to slow down, how to make work more relationship-based rather than transactional, how to access my creativity on a more conscious level, which ultimately enabled me to create my company."
The designer, who now lives in Milan, is fascinated with the Italian lifestyle and how embracing it has changed her own life. So much so her new book, Mamma Milano, documents her personal and professional journey since arriving in the country.
The book, in Martin’s words, is a “part spiritual toolkit, part inspiration activation guide, part history of my seduction by and surrender to this beautiful country”, and features tips on slowing down, with ways to find a happier, more relaxed lifestyle.
“Within the book are all these lessons that I’ve learnt from living in Italy," she says. "This city, this country has given me so much – this is my gift back to it and to the people in our global community who can gain something from these Italian life lessons.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing, however. Coming from the bustling atmospheres of California and New York, Martin was used to a much faster-paced lifestyle.
“Eventually, despite my kicking and screaming, I fell totally in love with the magical rhythm here – it’s about rituals, really indulging in the pleasure of things, taking more time for vacation, being present in the moment.”
After the initial adjustment, Martin began to embrace her new lifestyle and her career in journalism took an unexpected trajectory as she fell more in love with her surroundings.
With a background in fashion and a passion for design, Martin was inspired by the vintage prints she found in Milan’s thrift stores. Taken in by the Milanese way of life, she decided to create a brand that would celebrate the Italian lifestyle and heritage, and she launched La DoubleJ in 2015. The initial intention was to start as a small clothing brand, taking inspiration from the prints.
“In the very beginning, we had only one dress, made in silk, and we sourced all our prints from the vintage archives at Mantero,” she says of the brand’s simple beginnings.
“Now our collections are so much larger and varied, and we have more in-house designed prints than ever and about a bazillion different fabrications.”
Over the years, Martin has evolved the brand to create a La DoubleJ universe, most recently expanding into homeware collections. Based on the Italian art of entertaining, the home line incorporates accessories in some of the same prints as the brand’s clothing. The latest offering, the Mamma Milano collection, perhaps best epitomises the brand’s ethos.
“While every item we produce – a plate, a dress, a glass, a shoe – is a celebration of Italy, this particular Mamma Milano collection is really an ode to La DoubleJ’s hometown," she says.
"So much of Milan’s allure is its mysterious beauty, so the prints are largely inspired by all the hidden cortiles you find throughout the city, the beautiful wrought iron gates, the terraces and balconies overflowing with jasmine."
The collection, which has recently arrived in stores, features autumnal colourways including rich greens, warm oranges and dusty pinks and yellows. The highlight is the six-piece dessert plate set, of which each piece features a different mismatching print that somehow blends perfectly together.
“I’ve been so lucky over the past couple of decades to build really strong relationships with some of the most incredible manufacturers here in Italy,” she adds.
"Making beautifully crafted products with historic partners like the Murano glass blowers at Salviati or sourcing vintage prints from the Mantero archive in Como, has enabled us to really highlight the emphasis on quality, material, and care that is so embedded into the culture here."
La DoubleJ is based on the concept of joy, with each item designed to bring happiness to its owner. “Joy has been our fuel from the get-go," she says.
"Sourcing, harnessing, creating, and spreading it is at the core of what we do."
Today, that joy has gone far beyond material products, with Martin beginning to create a 360-degree experience with the same vision.
“We get to host breathwork workshops at Bergdorf’s, sharing circles in Dubai and develop collaborations that give back in ways we couldn’t when we were just starting out,” she adds.
This includes several charitable projects, including a collection in collaboration with American blogger Leandra Medine Cohen and Italian sustainable development non-profit organisation Alice Cooperativa, which was crafted entirely by women serving time in Lombardian prisons.
She adds: “The brand’s unique voice, the out-of-the-box mindset, the mission to wrap the world in joy – that stays the same. It’s just that now, we have the platform to really amplify that voice and those of our supporters in much louder, bolder, brighter ways. We’re just getting started.”