The annoying thing about a ‘great tip’ (i.e. the advising kind, not the monetary) is that you wish you had thought of it first. But you’re grateful nonetheless, especially when it comes from a friend in the know, someone whose opinion matters, generally. And in Milan it was raining tips. With the fascinating result that I, and consequently everyone who will finish reading this, will be even more astute and prepared for the oh-so-fashionable world out there.
The first tip came from an old muse. Candela Novembre, one half of the Argentine model twins I featured here about a year ago and who has since become one of the beloved It-Girls of Grazia in Italy, pulled me aside at a show and swore I had to shoot “J.J. Martin! She has the most incredible wardrobe and soooo much vintage, even couture pieces!! You will die!” Stop the press! I could not let an opportunity like this, even if inevitably fatal, pass me by. It took us about three tries to actually bump into each other organically on the runway circuit but by then I had seen her street style pictures show up just about everywhere. Candela was right. Jennifer Jane Martin would make a great muse: a sophisticated, intelligent woman with style and class who smiles freely, carries great bags, makes vintage look artfully modern and isn’t afraid to show her colors.
And so here I am, at her home of six years in the heart of Milan. I don’t die, but I do nearly faint when I see her clothes. They take over an entire wall of the bedroom, racks and closets in the guest room, the corridor leading to the study and also the “big basement in our apartment building that I transformed into a huge storage area.” I’ve never agonized more about what looks to pick out. I end up with a stack as high as my poor old arms can reach and dress her up like I would a model for some magazine editorial – her clothes, jewelry, shoes and bags are that good. “To be honest I am not really a snob about vintage,” she shrugs. “I get as excited about the $35 polyester coat with the psychedelic neon print that I found at the garage sale in LA as I do the very precious Valentino couture dress from the 80s with the illusionistic embroidered back that I bought from an important dealer. I got married in a vintage Pierre Balmain couture dress from the 60s that is covered in Lesage embroidery that I found at Didier Ludot in Paris. My friend, the designer Lawrence Steele, made some tweaks to it and added a vintage lace train in the exact same shade of pale celery as the dress. It’s very special. Very me. My husband loved it.”
For the last three years J.J. has been Wallpaper magazine’s Editor at Large in Italy, “which means I sniff out and write about everything from architecture and design to fashion, food, and contemporary art,” she says. Her story starts much earlier though and is relentlessly entertaining, especially in her own elaborate wordings: “I grew up in Los Angeles, in a small town on the west side called Pacific Palisades. My brothers were surfers and beach volleyball players, my dad was a very big hunter and fisherman and everything in the family revolved around sports and outdoor activities. I was a gymnast for thirteen years (the tallest one in the history of the universe!) and I went to a stuffy all-girls school called Marlborough (with pastel uniforms and saddle shoes – which by the way, I really appreciate now). Then up to UC Berkeley for college. I stayed in San Francisco after college and knew I wanted to be in fashion but had no clue as to how anyone did it. So I got in the closest creative field I could find: advertising. I worked at a boutique ad agency in SF (Hal Riney) and then another one when I moved to NY a couple years later (Kirshenbaum, Bond & Partners) which is where I finally got a taste of fashion. We landed the Tommy Hilfiger account and I did cartwheels in excitement. A year later I got a job in marketing at Calvin Klein in New York. It was a prestigious job but it wasn’t very fulfilling. I never saw the designer and everyone was wearing black all the time. I would show up to work in wacky outfits I’d found at the Chelsea flea market and my boss would just shake his head. When Andrea asked me to move to Milan, I tried to find a job in fashion marketing but at the time, in 2001, no Italian company had ever heard that word. So I moved without a job, spent three months in six hours of one-on-one classes per day (I am HORRIBLE at languages) and then got hired by Costume National to handle their eyewear and fragrance launches. Nine months later I met Godfrey Deeny at a fashion show and he asked me to be his reporter for Fashion Wire Day. That was the start of my journalism career. FWD was the first online fashion news reporting service and it was a grueling, very low-brow, gopher job — but it was full immersion and hugely educating. I used to sit in the back of taxi cabs between fashion shows banging out my reviews on my Sony Vaio and then run into a hotel to hook up to an internet cable to send them off. It all paid off though. Suzy Menkes was a big fan of what we were doing and six months later she asked me to write for her at the Tribune. I wrote regularly for her for almost ten years.”
But the stream of information doesn’t end there. While we play dress-up, the tips start rolling in.
1. To all the single fashionistas out there (I am inclined to include myself here) I say: marry an Italian man. When I ask J.J. what her husband thinks of her maximalist outfits and if he ever begs to “just wear a black dress”, she laughs: “He likes my outfits but not my pear shaped ones. He wants something a little less maternity and more sexy. (I think he’s referring to my Marni moment five years ago.) Italian men are hysterical! They are the only heterosexual men on the planet you can actually take fashion advice from. And Andrea likes to participate in my dressing so he has found a very good vintage jewelry dealer in Milan where he buys gifts for me. I’m very lucky.”
2. Do your own decorating. Don’t leave it up to the architect or your house will end up looking like a Knoll catalog. J.J. bought most of her furniture at the few vintage dealers she found in Milan. “I befriended each one and would stop in on them once every two weeks. I do have some important pieces—the dining room chairs are Osvaldo Borsani and I re-painted them and covered them in fabric from Costume National’s archives. The palisandro 1950s chairs are by Carlo Ratti. I have a few objects from Fornasetti and some Pierre Cardin vases. But mainly, I would just scoop up any furniture pieces that struck my eye. It all ended up being from the 50s, 60s and 70s—my favorite decades from fashion as well. I am obsessed with chairs and have them all over the house. None of them make much sense, as my husband frequently points out.”
3. They may say that 40 is the new 20, but until you’re hitting the mark you want to steer clear as long as possible. Right, ladies? (I am also inclined to include myself here.) But when the big day finally taps you on the shoulder, throw yourself a decadent, obliterating party, like J.J. did. “I just turned forty,” she sighs, “and I wasn’t especially thrilled about it. So rather than get totally depressed, I decided to throw myself a really big party in Rome. Black tie at a fabulous villa. Three days of activity for a hundred people. It was almost as big a production as my wedding eight years ago. All my friends from high school and college came, in addition to all of the Europeans. My dear friend who works at Prada made me a princess gown for the night. We ate with gold cutlery at a table set with acres of white flowers and candelabra. So that kind of kicked me into middle age with a bang!”
4. If you’re not keen on trends, or buying new designer head-to-toe looks every season, try to find “vintage pieces that reflect what’s going on on the runways.” J.J. gives an example: “I own not a single piece of plaid, but after seeing so much of it in the fall runway shows last season and on so many great looking friends last month in New York, I was inspired to pick up a very cute 1950s plaid cropped jacket with round shoulders. I would never wear Kurt Cobain plaid, but this jacket is so me.”
I could tell you a million more heartfelt, insightful and funny quotes Jennifer Jane shared with me but I am running out of white space. And I only got halfway through the pile of vintage I gathered, because I have a masseuse waiting for me at the hotel! Ciao!!