Live Like an Italian: La DoubleJ Founder JJ Martin’s Insider Guide to Milan

Los Angeles born JJ Martin, founder of print-proud label La DoubleJ, shows us around the city she calls home, Milan.

Milanese brand La DoubleJ's eye-popping prints and vintage-flavoured dresses made their first appearances on Italian strada in 2015. After teaming up with Mantero - the 100-year old Italian silk manufacturer used by Pucci and Dior - founder JJ Martin (JJ stands for Jennifer Jane), branched out into ready-to-wear, creating a selection of simple silhouettes in spirited patterns.

With a line that now includes porcelain plates and patterned linens, as well as La DoubleJ's staple silk twill dresses and fancy retro frocks, the American-born Milanese resident is living like an Italian.

Clad in bold, bright finery, JJ showed us around town and let us in on the hidden gems she loves to visit.

The best day of the week to arrive in Milan is...

Tuesday. Milan is a working town; all the action happens during the week. Tuesday is great for your first night in town, building to a crescendo on Thursday.

What's the best way to explore the city?

By bicycle - but it requires some balance as there are so many cobblestones and tram tracks. If you're not brave or agile, then just walk around the neighbourhoods; the centre, Brera and the Navigli are all good places to start. Personally, I cruise around in my vintage Fiat Cinquecento car with my pug inside - this car can be parked anywhere!

Where's the best place to wake up?

Honestly, the hotels in Milan are not the best. I much prefer small charming hotels over big chains, but if I were to pick one it would be the Bulgari Hotel Milan because I'm obsessed with greenery and its outdoor garden is wonderful.

What's the city's dress code?

No exercise clothes ever. That's what I love about Milan. It's sophisticated, sharp and cared-for. Everyone dresses up. No one goes around with flip flops in the summertime. There's a real sense of pride in getting dressed and attending to all of the details of one's appearance and happily there is also an appreciation for you from the locals when you do it. They also love colour, which is good for my business.

Coolest neighbourhoods worth exploring…

I like the 5VIE for shopping, Brera for the design shops and tiny boutiques, Navigli for the weekend markets, and Isola is good for aperitivos.

What key pieces do you always pack when travelling?

I love to wear the La DoubleJ printed jersey pants and matching polo neck when I travel. It is such an easy, comfortable and yet high-impact outfit. I love clothes that give you a sense of being dressed but don't sacrifice comfort. Another piece I always travel with is our silk twill swing dress as it goes with Stan Smith trainers just as well as elegant flats. Oh, and our Fancy dress in double georgette which never wrinkles.

Where do you go in Milan when seeking creative inspiration…

I go into old Renaissance churches that seem very plain on the outside but offer an explosion of decor on the inside. I'm obsessed with their soaring painted ceilings. In these interiors, which were really ancient artistic centers, I become so calm and grounded as well as creatively inspired. It's not religious for me, but it is deeply spiritual and emotional.

Do your surroundings impact your design?

Yes. Living in Milan for the last 18 years has really given me an education on so many levels of taste - from fashion and design to art and architecture - and even how I set my dining table. I have absorbed all of this and put it into the designs I make for La DoubleJ.

Tell us some historical and cultural landmarks to visit.

I'm crazy about all of the home museums in Milan as it's so amazing to see how the Milanese lived from the Renaissance up until the mid-century. My favourites are Villa Necchi Campiglio, Casa Museo Boschi Di Stefano, Museo Poldi Pezzoli and Museo Bagatti Valsecchi.

Underrated spots…

I like the Planetarium designed by Piero Portaluppi inside the Giardini Pubblici Indro Montanelli. I also love the rooftop of the Duomo di Milano. It's magical up there.

Where should we go for a low-key lunch?

La Latteria for an easy lunch. There are very few things on the menu but it's always so fresh - grandma is in the dining room taking orders while grandpa is in the back cooking.

Other food spots we should try…

For something fancy, try Cracco inside the Galleria Vitttorio Emauele II. For a chic bite opt for Sixième Bistro which is attached to my favourite design place, Six Gallery. I also love Ratanà which is in the Porta Nuova, a newly developed district.

Where should we go for a big night out in Milan?

I would start with drinks at the bar at Giacomo Bistrot followed by dinner at Vasiliki Kouzina - a fabulous Greek restaurant. Later, dancing at La Balera dell'Ortica with all the old Italian people. It's amazing.

Where should we head post-party?

For me, Bar Basso is great because the owners are my friends and will shut the door so everyone can smoke and turn up the music and dance like crazy. They will probably do that for visitors too, but you need to be friendly and fun.

One place only locals know about is…

Davide Diodovich, the only hairdresser in town who knows how to deliver perfect colour and cuts. His salon is inside a gorgeous Milanese apartment designed by Storage Milano. It is very exclusive and very chic - it's such a gift to be there for a few hours.

One misconception about Milan is…

That it's grey. Just walk into any palazzo and you will be amazed at all of the intricate detail and colour. Plus, there are magic green courtyards everywhere you go - you just need to get curious and be patient enough to walk around to discover them.

A great out-of-town option is…

I like to travel to Engagina. At the very end of the valley, past St Moritz, is the most beautiful tiny town with an eight-room B&B called Villa Flor. It's filled with art and is run by the lovely Ladina Florinth. Those mountains are magic.

A book to read before we go?

The Italians by Luigi Barzini.

What one thing should we bring back as a souvenir?

Chocolates from Marchesi 1824.

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