Owing to the instructions issued by the British Government on Monday 23rd March, the Fine Jewels auction will now take place online 31 March – 7 April. We thank you for your understanding.
From 20 -24 March, JJ Martin, founder of luxury Milanese brand LaDoubleJ, took over Sotheby's London galleries for an exhibition of pieces from a number of upcoming Spring sales including Modern and Contemporary African, Middle Eastern Art and Fine Jewels, from which JJ Martin has curated selected picks.
A Private Look at Sotheby’s Fine Jewels Exhibition
JJ Martin does not do subtle. From bold geometric prints and giant florals to clashing colours, feather trims and enormous chandelier earrings, for Martin, more is more. When she first launched her luxury label LaDoubleJ in 2015, there wasn’t a single black dress for sale amongst the vibrant and flamboyant vintage pieces that made up her first collection. “I was always nuts about pattern and colour,” she says. “I think Italians appreciate that, but maybe they’re not as maximal as I am. That’s kind of my American, California side, just letting it rip. I don’t have a lot of restraint, inhibitions.”
Since that first collection, the renowned fashion journalist and long-time Milan resident has turned her label into a maximalist mecca for print-lovers. In a high fashion form of upcycling, LaDoubleJ sources vintage print patterns from Italian archives and repurposes them into new designs, worn by the likes of Sienna Miller, Oprah Winfrey and Cate Blanchett.
Famed for transforming understated spaces into vivid spectacles of print and pattern, Martin is bringing her magic to Sotheby’s London galleries and designing a dazzling backdrop for an exhibition of Spring sales. “We do takeovers of really conservative shops and we go totally nuts and crazy,” she says. “The same thing is at play with Sotheby’s, which is this hallowed hall of sophistication and cultural importance, and it’s just wonderful to come in and shower our special playfulness into that. I hope that we don’t come across as like a child with chocolate on their fingers! We want this to be something that is heartwarming and hopefully, smile-inducing.”
Speaking in the middle of moving house in Milan, she only has half her furniture but has found a way to keep busy, sending a photo of her floor carefully laid out with dozens of stunning vintage necklaces. “I want to hang them on the wall of my bathroom and make them like artwork,” she laughs. “Don’t you think that’ll be cool?! I find an amazing jewel is a conversation starter. It’s a connector between people.”
Evidently she is the perfect person to have curated a selection from the upcoming Fine Jewels sale in London: “I honestly feel like I was born to do this. There’s nothing I like more than picking out the best jewels from a catalogue. I find it really easy and natural. My eye just goes right to those pieces that are the most delicious, the most impactful, the wildest ones, the ones that have the most personality, the playfulness. My love of jewelry is not really tasteful, minimal, slight things. I’m all about the high impact jewel.”
Hence why her choices include an eye-catching smoky quartz heart-shaped pendant, a 19th century enamel and ruby bracelet made up of colourful miniatures and a striking watermelon, tourmaline cocktail ring. “I really love antique jewelry but I don’t like it when it’s really small and dainty,” she explains. “I love the workmanship and the detail but most of the pieces I selected are the most bold pieces from the sale. They’re full-on.”
But it’s not only the visual impact of jewelry that Martin is drawn to; she is equally enchanted by the spirituality of jewels. “I’m not so interested in the preciousness of jewelry, or, let’s say, in the diamond’s worth. It’s more the energetic property of the stone that I’m very fascinated by now,” she says. It’s for this reason that her current obsession is black opals, which she describes as “really great spiritual connectors, to the deepest core of who you are. It’s a very mysterious stone. In the past, opals have kind of had a bad rap, of almost black magic. But that’s not what it is at all.”
Admitting that this might all sound slightly “woozy” she compares it to the impact colour can have on our moods: “On a basic level, your chakra system – which is your energy system - has a different colour associated with each chakra. Each colour in the spectrum vibrates at a different frequency and there are different qualities associated with it. You feel different in a bright red room than you do in a cool, light blue room, as opposed to a black room as opposed to a white room.”
When it comes to jewelry, “it’s more than just a decorative element,” she says ( “although there’s nothing wrong with that – why do you think I’m hanging my bathroom wall with my vintage jewels?” she laughs). “Finding gems which have been buried in peoples' basements, cupboards, suitcases, thrift markets and of course places like Sotheby’s have such untold emotional value – that’s one of the reasons I love vintage so much. From exquisite fine jewelry to exceptional vintage costume jewelry – which is unparalleled in my opinion – you can find yourself something for a fraction of its original price that is only going to become more precious over time whichever way you look at it.”
Originally from Los Angeles, Martin was living in New York and working for Calvin Klein when she relocated to Italy in 2001: “I moved very randomly, just because I had met a guy [her ex-husband and business partner, Andrea Ciccoli]. I moved for love. I came, I didn't have any job, I just studied Italian.” She fell into writing and established herself as a fashion journalist working with various magazines from Harper’s Bazaar to Wallpaper* before launching LaDoubleJ after years of collecting vintage clothes and jewelry. Despite being an LA native, Martin has left behind West Coast style (apart from the yoga pants, but only for exercising in – never for lunch afterwards). Instead, her style and design are informed by her adopted home: “I would say I really got my fashion and design education here in Milan, just by doing the job. By showing up at Rosanna Orlandi’s gallery, by showing up at Nina Yashar’s home, by having to interview Angela Missoni ten times.”
It was during this time that Martin developed her love of vintage and although LaDoubleJ now produces its own prints alongside heritage patterns, Martin still most enjoys sourcing a vintage treasure: “There’s no bigger thrill! It is like hitting the jackpot,” she enthuses. “I kind of compare it with those early settlers in California that were panning over rivers to find gold. It’s just so great. It’s really hard to come by amazing pieces now and it’s the thrill of this hunt for something special, something that not everyone has.”
She gravitates most towards the 1960s – “I just love the design, architecture, fashion, prints and colour from that era” – but also concedes to having a soft spot for “kind of a 19th century neo-Gothic moment... I have this weird old grandma in me as well.”
She’s even embracing the idea of fashion changing hands: having decided that 65% of her wardrobe is not being worn, she is planning a big re-sale once the lockdown is over: “A lot of girls never get the chance to wear a Prada dress and if it’s on sale for 90 euro, then they get their first Prada dress – that’s so great!”
But as such a magpie, does she find it hard to let things go? “At the beginning of my fashion career, at the beginning of the time when I finally was able to buy nice things, I held onto them with claws. And then the more I started practising my meditation and my spiritual practice, and especially the basic tenets of buddhism, you really learn that attachment is one of the worst things. I don’t mean to criticise it but it’s a very slippery slope. I’ve started gifting things to friends now. It’s kind of easier to put on sale the 65% of your wardrobe you don’t wear anymore. It’s really difficult to gift something you adore. But it’s a nice practice.”
Martin is clearly someone who doesn’t take fashion for granted and appreciates the value of finding something unique, especially in a global luxury market: “Basically in every city, you have the same store brands, the same names, the same products”. It’s why she is so dedicated to LaDoubleJ staying loyal to historic Italian suppliers and manufacturers. “I guess that’s kind of our giveback, our philanthropic proposal, if you like. Because we could be going to China right now and making more money and lowering our prices but let’s do something meaningful. Let’s support these amazing Italians and let’s create a wonderful brand while we’re doing it. We do everything from Murano glass to porcelain made in Verona to silks and cottons made in Lake Como. we’ve done a furniture collaboration with Cartel. We’re going to be doing an amazing collaboration with a ceramic company in Perugia.”
It’s true that the brand has expanded impressively from a small vintage collection to an empire of clothing, accessories, sportswear, bed linen, tableware, candles and candles. It would be entirely possible to furnish your entire home and dress head to toe in LaDoubleJ but Martin encourages baby steps and balance, especially if endless pattern seems daunting. “We always say there are degrees of maximalism, of how high you want to raise the intensity,” she explains. “It’s really fun to dress up but it’s also wonderful not to feel pressure that you have to do that, and you absolutely don’t. Dressing in beautiful clothes and with beautiful jewels should be a joy. It should be something you do for real pleasure, not for any sort of duty.”
Ultimately for Martin, it always comes back to how clothes and jewelry make you feel, and she is in no doubt about her intentions behind her maximalist methods: “Our prints are joyful. They are uplifting, they are mood-boosting. They’re eye-popping… heart-bursting.”