Why Italians didn’t get vintage style, and what American fashion editor JJ Martin did about it

Martin, who recently launched LaDoubleJ.com in Italy to introduce a retro culture there, talks about the difficulties of selling vintage and how she made her website fun

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 12:31pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 January, 2017, 12:31pm

Journalist turned e-commerce entrepreneur and eternally sunny street-style favourite, JJ Martin talks about her passion for, and the problems with, vintage.

When did you become a vintage hound and what are the best places to hunt?

I got into vintage fashion while I was living in New York in the 1990s and went to the Chelsea Flea Market every weekend. I could pick up beautiful fur coats for US$40. It was real fun. Miami has some of the best vintage stores – vintage is everywhere. Los Angeles is good, and when I go home I visit the Rosebowl Flea Market in Pasadena.

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How good is vintage shopping in your adopted home of Milan?

It is terrible. That is why I wanted to launch my website LaDoubleJ.com, because in Italy they don’t have the culture for wearing vintage. They find it strange that you would want to wear someone’s old clothes. It is a very American and English phenomenon. It is starting to change and now the Italians think it’s just funny. We launched the website in January 2015 selling real vintage clothing and jewellery that I have collected over 18 years, things from my personal archive.

What do you look out for?

I have been nuts about colour since I was five, but since living in Italy my eye has been honed and refined, so I have the Italians to thank for that aesthetic revelation. The Sixties were the best for patterns and prints. My favourite ’60s designers are Donald Brooks, Oscar de la Renta and of course Valentino, and I love Yves Saint Laurent from the ’70s.

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Are there any problems with buying vintage?

Buying vintage online is crappy and pretty depressing so I wanted to create a website that showed vintage fashion and jewellery in an original way. LaDoubleJ.com is a reflection of my aesthetic, very maximal, very colourful. My life is completely surrounded by print. The tricky thing with vintage is that sizing is always tough and the shapes are a little weird. If you have one great item only one person can buy it and nobody else. So we thought let’s try making some great, easy silhouettes in punchy colourful prints, because that is what I am attracted to. LaDoubleJ Editions started with one easy dress in eight different prints from Mantero’s Como-based silk archives. It was a total hit.

Humour is key element of your website with its illustrated model faces and joyful writing?

Are you kidding me? I am like a kid about fashion. We do weekly newsletters that are meant to make people laugh. The website is a shopable magazine and features places and fun Italian women and the way they decorate their homes and get themselves dressed. The whole thing has mushroomed with vintage-patterned furniture and installations like the Wunderwall we did for Milan Fashion Week. It has been so successful we are now doing digital content projects for Armani, MaxMara, Pomellato and Tory Burch.

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So how does an American end up in Italy launching an e-commerce site?

I come from a sporty non-fashion family in Los Angeles and after college got into advertising with an agency in San Francisco, then New York. The Tommy Hilfiger account was my first fashion experience and then I got into marketing at Calvin Klein. I met an Italian guy and we started long-distance dating and I moved to Milan in 2001. It is his company that powers my website, so I luckily had an in-house helper.

After a random meeting I got a job as a stringer for Fashion Wire Daily, and then started writing for the Herald Tribune, Harper’s Bazaar and Wallpaper. It was really fun, but I have to pull back from a lot of that because of the amount of content we have to produce for the site to stay relevant, even if it is just a stupid Tweet or Instagram. It is how people are getting their information, not opening Vogue any more.