Take one vintage fiend, one antiques collector and one pet pug, put them together over a serendipitous cappuccino, and there you have the beginnings of La DoubleJ’s Transylvania collection, babe. Like no other LDJ collection before it, Transylvania is inspired by a rich storyboard of traditional craft, folk dress and storytelling, which started with a chance meeting between J.J. and Miki Von Bartha, the founder of the world-class Swiss art gallery, Von Bartha, and ends with an exquisite collection of history-steeped dresses, voluminous skirts and intriguing homeware. How did it get there? Come behind the scenes with our J.J. Martin…
…was at breakfast in S-Chanf, a tiny town at the end of the Engadine Valley in Switzerland. I was staying at the Villa Flor hotel, which is filled with incredible art, and Miki, a gallerist and art dealer, would come in every morning for his coffee. He told me he normally hates pugs but that he loved Pepper, my pug. He was fascinated with print and pattern and what I was wearing, which I thought was so funny since his art gallery, Von Bartha, is extremely modern and minimal. He said: ‘Not only do I love pattern and print, you have to come to Basel to see me…’
At the beginning I didn’t think that much of it, but Miki was persistent, and the more I met him the more I adored him. We went to Basel, and at the back of the Von Bartha gallery he has a small room completely dedicated to Transylvanian furniture, textiles and ceramics from the 18th and 19th Centuries. The minute I saw that room I knew it could be a collection. It was like a preserved fairytale.”
“The minute I saw that room I knew it could be a collection. It was like a preserved fairytale.”
…and I wanted to deep dive into the energetically rich Transylvanian culture, which has passed hands of Hungarian and Romanian ownership since the 9th Century. Because the Austro-Hungarian Empire encompassed Transylvania for a chunk of time in the 19th Century, Miki and I went to Budapest for a research trip. We jumped into some incredible antique shops that sold original garments, textiles, ceramics, furniture – you name it – and that’s where I did a lot of research for the collection.
We went into many bookshops looking for historical Transylvanian graphics. What was amazing to find out was that motifs that were stencilled on the outside of homes would be the same as you could find incorporated inside an embroidered shearling jacket.
…was the late composer Béla Bartók’s home, which has been transformed into a museum. Bartók dedicated the latter part of his life to collecting and observing traditional folk music from Transylvania and the Pannonian Basin, and his entire house is also a marvellous collection of folk furniture, pottery, carpets and folk instruments from the 18th and 19th Centuries.
We met the historian Edit Katona, author of the incredible book Objects with Inscriptions, to dive into Transylvanian, Hungarian and Romanian history and their peoples and cultures. Miki took me to see a performance by the Hungarian National Dance Ensemble, who wore a series of traditional costumes from the 1800s to the 1960s, so you could see how dress transformed over the eras. We had planned a whole tour to Transylvania to track down our references and see the architecture, but then Coronavirus hit.”
…beautifully romantic and feminine at the same time and very graphic and cool. For me, it’s all about the richness of the embroideries and I was really inspired by the color palette. Miki’s main collection of textiles is largely red and white traditional pillowcases and bed covers from the 19th Century. That was the starting point of the collection, and from there we designed our Parnaveg print.”
…and others, not at all. The Tulip print you’ll find on our Sorella Dress [left] is an exact motif that was traditionally stencilled on the outside of Transylvanian homes, a detail that we found in a book. With our La DoubleJ artist, Kirsten Synge Kongsli, we developed three new original prints based on embroidered jackets I found in antique shops. We loved this idea of an enchanted wood, so Kirsten came up with our new Tree Of Life print as a response.
Our new exaggerated silhouettes are inspired by giant bell sleeves and airy shirts found in traditional folk dress. The Folk Dress, with its open collar and round yoke, is so feminine and abundant, and what’s fun is that the prints look great on sleeker shapes too.
My faves? The Artemis Dress with the placed Catala print and black collar – the print looks beautiful at the back – I love our new ruffle Dolce Skirt in Parnaveg blu print, too. The Sorella Dress with those tulips is one of my favorites, because it was a collaboration with our Como-based textile manufacturers Ghioldi to get the print perfectly placed.”