LA DOUBLE J: JJ Martin, Milan's Patron Saint of Patterns

Welcome to the wonderful world of La Double J. Photo: Erica Firpo

Welcome to the wonderful world of La Double J. Photo: Erica Firpo

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It’s not easy being a saint, and JJ Martin does it in style. As the creative force behind La Double J, a Milan-based clothing and homewares company, JJ has maxed out whimsical maxi dresses to fabulous formal wear and epic casual looks. La Double J dresses, skirts, blouses and outwear have sashayed through every party and decorated every It girl. Laura Ashley, it’s not.

"I love waiters that never change….”

JJ is enthusiastically particular and particularly enthusiastic. You can tell from her prints and from any conversation with her. She is neck-deep in Milan and can get down about anything- from vintage dresses and vintage waiters to the city’s renaissance which is happening right now. She considers herself a home body yet she’s up and on top of La Double J, its collaborations and her friends, a collective of creatives. Attentive, dynamic and incredibly well researched, JJ does the work which is why she was able to transform a vintage clothing e-shop into an international label of her own designs. And it helps that she’s in Italy, where historic design and textile companies are still (fingers crossed) producing.

Even though I am innately overwhelmed by prints, I fell in love with La Double J dresses for the peculiarity of some of the designs (my favorite is the Bouncy Dress with rainbow doves flying all over it). and for the quality of the fabrics, another fascination of JJ’s.. She sources fabrics like Crepe de Chine, crispy cotton (a thick, almost started cotton), silk and Jacquard from Italy’s heritage textile companies, and works with Mantero, a four-century old print archive and silk company whose revolutionized to the 21st century, for her prints. For her homewares, she collaborates with Murano glass makers and Italian ceramic artists. The result is that every La Double J piece is entirely made in Italy. And you can feel it.

JJ’S Milan includes the historic Marchese Pasticceria, Caffè Cucchi, the garden Bar at Bulgari Hotel, The Botanical Club (the first Italian micro distillery), and Lu Bar for those fabulous Milan aperitivi.


Want to know how JJ went from fashion journalist to fashion house? Why La Double J is all about Italy? Where JJ hangs out in Milan? And finally where can you find your next La Double J dress? Pull up a chair, press play on the player above and catch the conversation with JJ Martin of La Double J.

CIAO BELLA is An ongoing conservation with those creative minds who are redefining Italy. New episodes every Monday. If you want to be part of Ciao Bella, support the podcast by visiting my Patreon page for behind-the-scenes, and for-your-eyes-only content. Keep in touch with ideas and comments for more Ciao Bella episodes.

A Local's Guide to Rome, Italy.... By The Way

My favorite question is being what I really do in Rome- where I really go and what I really love. And as a travel writer, I can tell you that there is no bigger compliment than being asked to write about her neighborhood. You can imagine how flattered I was when Washington Post as me to be a contributor to WaPo’s new travel platform By The Way. For my Rome guide (yep, it’s all mine and all about me) I share the places I hang out- where everyone body knows my name, my dog and even my kids. Next time you are in Rome, stop by anyone of these places and look around- you’ll probably catch me.

All photos by Ginevra Sammartino

All photos by Ginevra Sammartino

Rome is beautiful chaos and contradictions, and this should absolutely be expected from a city whose thousands of years of history and personalities have formed its pulsating present. You first get a hint of its noncommittal nature while driving into the city from the airport, passing fields with roaming sheep. The highway flows into an austere neighborhood designed in the 1930s, where every building was intended to be a monument. And then the chaos begins: Congested neighborhoods snake up the Tiber River leading to the centro storico (historic center), where Baroque palaces and churches fight with ancient monuments for a little elbow room. 

There is no patience, and there shouldn’t be. This is Rome, where anything goes. The energy can be overwhelming. Keep walking around; eventually, you’ll realize that Rome is not quite as big as you thought — geographically and socially. Everyone knows everyone. If you visit the same places and piazzas a few times, you’ll find that they know you, too.

Photo by Erica Firpo.



Monti is the perfect mix of busy bars, great restaurants, trendy stores and some of the most recognizable historic sites. This is where you’ll find cool, chic and even quirky boutique hotels and some of Rome’s best Airbnbs. Don’t expect brand names, but don’t worry about it. Find this neighborhood.


Villa Borghese

Villa Borghese, specifically, is the city’s prettiest park and sits quietly between the historic center and Parioli, a residential neighborhood. The few hotels lining its perimeter have panoramic views and hidden pools. It’s just close enough to the center to feel in the know and just far away enough to be a breath of fresh air. Find this neighborhood.


3 things locals think you should know

  1. Nobody nurses their morning caffe. Drink it fast, and then go.

  2. The word “piacere” (or “pleased” to meet you, pronounced pee-ah-CHAIR-ray) and a smile go a long way.

  3. Once you sit down at a restaurant (and unless told otherwise), the table is yours for the rest of the evening. Basta.

(Rome illustrators Blend Studio for The Washington Post)


Roscioli Caffe

After they cornered the market on pizza and bread at Antico Forno bakery for four generations, the Roscioli brothers opened a neighborhood coffee bar and pastry shop, which, despite little standing room, never fails to please locals. Along with spectacular coffee drinks (hot ones come in heated cups), the pastries are divine. Many are old-school, hard-to-find Roman dolci. If you don’t do sweet, the selection of salati (savory sandwiches) is big and creative. Go for the thinly sliced pastrami on homemade cornetto and the club sandwich with an over-easy egg.

BTW: Come before 9 a.m. to get a place at the counter. The back table is bookable, too.



Rome finally has a little hygge, thanks to pastry chef Sofie Wochner and her partner, Domenico Cortese. The simple micro-bakery and restaurant may be one of the first sweet-and-savory brunch venues in the city. Guests come from around Rome for Wochner’s confections, including cinnamon twists, as well as homemade butter (made from kefir) and rye bread. Cortese, the mastermind behind dinner and lunch, makes daily sandwiches that are chef’s choice, with mustard aioli and Wochner’s sourdough.

BTW: Marigold doesn’t take reservations on the weekends.


Mercato Testaccio

This local market’s 100-plus vendors (produce, cheese, meat, fish, specialty foods, housewares) make it a great community hangout. Lunch standouts include fresh pasta of the day at Le Mani in Pasta (Box 58), vegan burgers and tacos at Sano (Box 3), mini pizzas at Da Artenio (Box 90) and fried delicacies at Mastro Papone (Box 96). In other words, every kind of eater can dine here all afternoon.

BTW: Bring cash, and if you are really hungry, head straight to sandwich shop Mordì e Vai (Box 15) before the nonni beat you there.



The kind of hole-in-the-wall you’d walk by without giving it a second look. But stop: The small Supplizio is chef Arcangelo Dandini’s full-service incarnation of Rome’s staple fried fast food, the suppli, (deep-fried rice balls filled with mozzarella, tomato sauce and chicken giblets). Dandini’s are award-winning, and here he introduces different interpretations, from classico to carbonara, and cacio pepe (yes, your favorite Roman pasta, fried).

BTW: Beyond rice balls, Dandini’s lineup includes polpette al mio garum (fried anchovy balls) and the fave dessert, crema fritta (fried cream custard).



Luciano Cucina

Luciano Cucina is a next-generation trattoria, thanks to chef Luciano Monosilio. He’s known as the King of Carbonara, a title he rightfully deserves since elevating the typical Roman dish to Michelin-star status. The restaurant, with an absolutely-not-rustic, very contemporary design, features an exposed pasta lab and open kitchen and a menu with his award-winning (and must-try) carbonara and other traditional favorites. But the fun is in his creative Contemporanee (contemporary) and Ripiene (stuffed) pasta dishes: fettuccella ajo, ojo e bottarga di muggine — his version of pasta sauteed with garlic, pepper and olive oil and topped with cured fish roe.

BTW: Contrary to what you’d think, reserve no earlier than 9 p.m. It’s when Luciano gets lively.


Seu Pizza Illuminati

Seu Pizza is the precise opposite of a typical Roman pizzeria: stylish, with mod furniture and art pieces, and the feel of an art gallery. But you’re here for the pizza. Daniele Seu, the pizzaiolo (pizza-maker), is a dough magician whose thicker impasto and crusts will quickly obliterate any recollection of thin-crusted Roman-style pizza. (It is that good.) His menu is anchored with classics, but it’s Seu’s occasionally mind-bogglingly delicious creations — like the Gamberita, raw red shrimp atop buffalo mozzarella — that keep people coming back.

BTW: Choose a bunch of pizzas to share, and ask the waiter to serve them in the chef’s preferred order. 

Photo by The Jerry Thomas Project.


Jerry Thomas Speakeasy

Although Jerry Thomas may no longer be a secret, it is still the choice of the late-evening-cocktail crowd. The bar is immaculately styled in 1920s retro, tiny and limited to reservations. (Call in the late afternoons.) Created as a hangout for restaurant-industry professionals, Jerry’s bartenders are colleagues and friends who make expert cocktails and personal creations. Bonus points: The team rolls deep in female bartenders who are innovating the mixology arena.

BTW: An ideal spot if you don’t want to be seen.


L’Angolo Divino

L’Angolo Divino is the enoteca (wine bar) of your dreams: a rustic corner spot with low lighting, lots of great labels and an owner, Massimo, who has something to say about every single bottle. The wine list includes the usual suspects (yes, you can try a Super Tuscan, Amarone or Barolo), as well as unexpected bubbles, natural wines and hard-to-find producers. The list may be heavy on Italians, but international wines are represented.

BTW: Ask Massimo about his favorite Lazio wines. A world of conversation and tasting will start, and you may make a friend for life.

Bike the Appia Antica

Loving Rome means getting out of the city, so we’re lucky the Romans built amazing streets crossing the country. The oldest and longest is the Via Appia Antica, and you need to travel only a tiny stretch to feel like you’re in the country. From just before exiting the ancient walls to, heading southeast, the edge of the Parco Appia Antica, most of the road is still original basalt stone and is one of the prettiest bike rides the city has to offer. The ride is lined with ancient monuments, tombs and Roman pines along fields of green. Expect to pass flocks of meandering sheep.

BTW: You can rent bikes at Appia Antica Caffe, a fine starting point, and have a great home-cooked meal there.

Galleria Nazionale

Where Italy’s national collection of modern and contemporary art is held. A walk through the neoclassical building is a visual lesson in Italian art as told via magnificent paintings, sculptures and videos by era-defining artists like Canova, Modigliani, Manzoni, Clemente and Penoni. The collection also includes non-Italians, such as Twombly and LeWitt. Their order is not chronological (either confusing — or fun).

BTW: The best location for art selfies, especially because La Galleria is the last place anyone ever visits. 

MURo and street art in Quadraro

For art history in the making, take a 25-minute drive southeast. Quadraro, a small enclave embedded between ancient history — aqueducts, Roman villas, case popolari (1930s low-income housing) — and Cinecittà is the city’s first outdoor museum dedicated to urban art (Museo Urbano di Roma, a.k.a. MURo). Walk around, and you’ll come face to face with murals by artists including Gary Baseman (his gray-toned piece is a nice starting point), Diavu, Alice Pasquini, Ron English and more.

BTW: MURo (founded by Diavu) offers artist-led tours of the neighborhood in Italian, English, Spanish and French. 

Artisanal Cornucopia

Artisanal Cornucopia is part salon, part gallery and part concept boutique — a cornucopia of fabulous clothing, shoes, accessories and art pieces. Owner Elif Sallorenzo’s collection covers the entire gamut of social opportunities, from cuddling in front of the TV and beach days to dinner parties and weddings. She loves craftsmanship and selects pieces from both emerging designers and coveted creators, including Aquazzura (Edgardo is a good friend), Giulia Barela, Misela and Segni di Gi. And she likes things that are 100 percent made in Italy, so expect to find one-of-a-kind handbags by Benedetta Bruzziches and more.

BTW: If Elif is in, talk to her. She knows everyone and every place. 


Villa Doria Pamphilj

The largest landscaped park in Rome, Villa Pamphilj is a favorite afternoon hangout and workout area. If you want to run, bike, play volleyball, soccer or informally TRX out in the open, this is where you want to be. It’s open until 9 p.m. in the warmest months.

BTW: Back in the day, Moammar Gaddafi, the longtime ruler of Libya, loved its beautiful, bucolic vibe so much that he set up camp here with his entourage.

Villa Farnesina

Villa Farnesina is probably the best-kept art secret in Rome. The two-level stand-alone villa was originally a vacation home for one of the pope’s financiers who had the foresight to invest in architect Baldassarre Peruzzi and his friend, the up-and-coming artist Raffaele Sanzio, a.k.a. Raphael. The entire ground-floor fresco cycles are painted by Raphael, while the first-level frescoes are by Renaissance greats Il Sodoma and Sebastiano del Piombo.

BTW: Most days, the museum is quiet, and you’ll have Raphael’s masterpiece Galatea fresco all to yourself. 

Fashion Find: Gucci Garden, Florence

This Store Rejects Labels

Gucci Garden by Florence's Palazzo della Signoria. Courtesy of Gucci.

This article originally appeared in American Way Magazine, April 2018.

Gucci transforms a palazzo into a multifaceted retail fantasy

Gucci has fun blurring the lines between fashion, food, history and art with its latest enterprise, Gucci Garden. The space, which recently opened in the 14th-century Palazzo della Mercanzia in Florence, explores the Italian brand’s past and future, and rocks a trattoria with a menu by three-Michelin-star chef Massimo Bottura (pictured right).

While an on-site boutique sells items only available at the Gucci Garden, creative director Alessandro Michele insists the project is less about creating a retail environment and more about dreaming up a fantasy world— with the Gucci brand at its center. “The Garden is real,” he says, “but it belongs above all to the mind.”

Read the April issue of American Way magazine here.

Boutique. Courtesy of Gucci.

Massimo Bottura's Gucci Osteria. Courtesy of Gucci.

Artist Jayde Fish's whimsical murals. Courtesy of Gucci.

Did I mention there is a cinema? Courtesy of Gucci.

Barbie conquers Rome #BarbieTheIcon

"Dress me up, make it tight, I'm your dolly", Barbie Girl, Aqua 1997

I am not a Barbie girl.  More like a frenemy. Sure, my sisters and I had a few Barbies- from a basic Barbie to the more particular, but they were worse for the wear.  Malibu Barbie was left in the sun for days and then locked in a drawer for weeks to mess up her tanning skills. I over-spun the arm on Growing Up Skipper to see how fast I could reverse the effects of puberty. We tried to erase the make up on Angel Face Barbie, and every Barbie got a buzz cut.

We didn't hate Barbie.  Not at all. We just liked changing her.  And more than that, we loved her lifestyle- the fabulous gear in day-glow colors, 1970s vibe and that distinctly Barbie plastic smell.   It's probably that thinking about that sickly sweet smell that brought me to the Barbie The Icon exhibit at Rome's Museo del Risorgimento.

Wedged in the back of the Vittoriano, the oversized white monument in the very center of Rome, the Barbie show is a a chronological catwalk in miniature- 380 dolls in five areas of full Barbie immersion, beginning with Semplicemente Barbie, a visual history of evolution of the doll, and then to areas covering careers, divas and Barbie representing different nations.  The Barbie is easy- she has been, well, Barbie, since 1959 and for the record, she started off life as a brunette named Barbara Millicent Robert.  She has friends, a serious range jobs and has traveled around the world.  The show is worth it just to see the collections in their entirety - hello, Bob Mackey! Most of the dolls come from Antonio Russo, Barbie Italia's No. 1 and one of the world's top collector.

The best part of the Barbie the Icon show? The Barbie Life section, a Mattel flashback to my Age of Barbie with homes, cars and pools.  While my sister and I never achieved DreamHouse heights or camped out with the Country Camper, we had three fundamental Barbie products that to this day bring a smile to my face:

  • The Townhouse. For one day only, we set up and played with that Townhouse , a slick plastic multi-leveled apartment with yank-pull elevator, until we grudgingly gave to my mom's friends after a fire destroyed their home.
  • The Afghan Hound. My sister owned the Afghan Hound, a long haired, long legged, long snout pooch which she heroically saved after a mysterious deep sea dive to the drain at the bottom of the Faris’ pool.  Its hair never recovered.
  • The ‘Vette. My gorgeous 1980s hot pink Chevy 'vette (I did not have the Ultra) that I rolled through my house while I singing Prince's Little Red Corvette.

What's your favorite Barbie gear?

BARBIE: THE ICON through October 30, 2016.

Not to miss: #FendiHQ and A New Rome

Head  & Shoulders was wrong, you do get a second chance to make a first impression.  EUR, Rome's "new" city is a  travertine- bedecked neighborhood of rationalist architecture and rectilinear streets designed by Fascist-era architects for the 1942 World Exposition.  The idea was E42, as it was to be called, would show off the best of the 20th century empire through beautifully designed buildings and other features for cultural and sporting activiteis.   EUR is now just another one of Rome' s satellite neighborhoods, with shops, offices, families, prostitutes and parking issues... and it is all home to the hear of Fendi.

Inaugurated this past October, the Fendi HQ takes residence in the EUR's most monumental building, the Colosseo Quadratic, a looming and modernist version of everyone's favorite arena- the central hub of admin and atelier.  And thanks to Fendi and Uncle Karl, EUR gets  a second chance for a first impression with  "Una Nuova Roma" (A New Rome), a beautifully curated temporary show all about EUR.

  For the first time in its 72-year-history, the Colosseo Quadrato opens its doors to the public with Fendi's full force exhibition that shows off EUR from its inception to its 21st century incarnation through photography, video, news real, paintings, sketches, film and interior design. Una Nuova Roma is free (I've seen it two times so far!) and is up through March 7 in Fendi HQ's ground floor gallery, a luminous, marble-coated space whose vibe is a bit meta-- imagine learning all about the evolution of EUR as you stand in the hallowed ground of its most epic building.  

My tip? Head to EUR first thing and walk the boulevard to Fendi. Enjoy the Palazzo and then grab a nibble at Palombini, one of those "broke the mold" bars-pasticcerie-tavola caldia serviced by white-jacket waiters and flavored with a little Fendi fab.

MI OLA: my bikini bitch just got a new look

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You're not going to believe but theBikini Bitch has just had a bit of a lift, thanks to Facebook.  Yes, Facebook.  For a long time, I've been quite content maintaining friendships the old fashioned way - visits, calls, letters, emails, not really using Facebook for anything more than a post or like. [I am pretty shy too].  That all changed with the social serendipity of stumbling into my university friend Helena through that trickle down via mutual friends, and the "confirm" button.  Next thing, I know I'm wearing Helena's bikini.

Wait a second. Back it up.

Helena's name appears on the screen and out of character, I make a friend request and suddenly, I am full immersion in a world of gorgeous photos: family life, sunsets and surfing, and a never-ending parade of sexy, kick-ass bikinis. Helena, a pre-Med midwesterner, was not just living pura vida in Costa Rica, it turns out she was making it and putting it on your body as designer and founder of MI OLA, Sexy Bikinis that Stay On-   Mind-blowing and awesome, so of course I had to try the bikinis.  I spent the entire summer in her bikinis.   I tested them out in every scenario- from sunbathing and cocktails to paddle boarding and rock jumping, they don't lie.  MI OLA suits stay up, even with a six-year-old pulling on them.  My summer was also all about the underbum-  it was me and the flirty Super Cheeky bottom.  I loved how tiny it was, but yet covering up the butt perfectly.

If you've heard me talk Bikini Bitch, you know that bikini shape is key for whatever your body type is.  It's all about cut and confidence.  Helena totally gets it.  She has an incredible eye for body types, which she shows off with the MI OLA  range of styles and fun palette of colors and prints meant to mix and match.  But I am old school and was caught up in Pescadito (black metalic fish scale pattern) for both the Pin Up top and Super Cheeky bottom.  I felt sexy, sporty and ready to make some mischief.  Maybe I just loved the bikini or maybe the bikini just loved me...

#dontgosummer… we just jumped in! || swan dives with @insta_susi by @kkbrunvaer || #getoutthere #miolawesome

A photo posted by MI OLA (@miolasurf) on Sep 16, 2015 at 5:39am PDT

The Q & A:  an email interview with Helena to find how she went from Ivy League and Chanel to bitchin' bikinis.

I know we were out of a touch for some years but weren't you a biology major? And then you worked with Chanel? How did that happen, what's the story? All true! When I was a kid, I dreamed of being a fashion designer or an architect. But growing up in the Midwest, with a lawyer as a dad, I wasn’t really sure how to make that happen. So, I got into Penn and went. And, because I was at an Ivy League, I felt like I should be Pre-med, Pre-law or business. That seemed like the the thing to do.  I took art classes on the side… and tried to find my way towards a career.   I am not from a wealthy family…so practicality won over!  Ultimately I decided I’d be a terrible doctor, so I finished my degree in Neuropsychology and got a job in medical publishing. How fun is that? Hey, it paid the bills and got me to NYC. I sang in punk bands on the side and had fire engine red hair, before I shaved it all off, that is.

   **fast forward, Helena springboarded  to an interactive agency where she led Avon and Bloomingdale's businesses.  She launched the first e-commerce site for Avon, won several awards, which brought her to Hearst Publishing, where she was led the digital team on Harper’s Bazaar, CosmoGirl, and a few other magazines and TV shows.  She got an MBA and hit high fashion...Chanel.

I was always working on the business and marketing sides, though, never actually in design…until now.  And I’m only doing it now, because there’s a need for chic, sexy bikinis that stay put… what we stand for with MI OLA.   Our goal is get more women feeling good and empowered, and doing more of what they love (without worrying about losing their tops!)

I'm guessing Costa Rica was a getaway, when did it become The Destination? Gradual evolution or epiphany? I went to Costa Rica a long time ago and thought “been there, done that.” Then, I learned to surf in Maui after my MBA, and became obsessed. NY beaches were flat that summer, so I booked a trip to Costa Rica (to Witch's Rock Surf Camp – my FAVORITE place).   I loved it. I went down to WRSC a month later with friends. Then again. And again. I returned approximately 17 times over 3 years.

In late 2008, I thought I was getting promoted. Instead I got laid off. I threw a killer New Year’s Eve party, and then headed to Costa Rica for a few weeks. My travel buddy was trying to convince me to stay in Costa Rica, at that point. Instead I went back to NYC and there were no jobs or interviews to be had. At all. So I booked a trip back to Costa Rica for a month, to see if I could actually live in a town of 3000 people.   Loved it. I went back up to NYC and packed my stuff into storage, rented my apartment, and moved down to Costa Rica with my pooch. I wasn’t sure how long I would be here. And I wasn’t sure if I would stay in Tamarindo. But 4 months after moving here, I met my husband… and here I am. 

#miolagirls are mysterious || sly style with @lenamahfouf in our Reversible Wrap Top in Pescado || #getoutthere #miolawesome #sundaystyle

A photo posted by MI OLA (@miolasurf) on Aug 16, 2015 at 10:56am PDT

Tell me about completely switching gears to MI OLA and  bikini: when did you start? When I moved down to Costa Rica, I was surfing 4 hours a day, every day.   And I was constantly adjusting my bikinis.   You get into a rhythm… paddle paddle paddle, duck dive, pull up your bottoms, paddle out to the break. Get to the break, make sure your top is in the right place before sitting and waiting for a wave.   Then catch a wave. Adjust your suit. Surf, and do it all over again. Every time I went out to surf I was thinking “dude, why aren’t there better sexy, chic bikinis?” I didn’t want to start a bikini company.   But I had to. I had to make bikinis that would free up women to do more of what they want to do, with less stress and worry.

When you think about it… we’ve been pulling up our bottoms and pulling down our tops since we were 18 months old. Believe it. I have a 4 year old and this is when she started. Why do women put up with such an inferior garment? To look cute?   Well… with MI OLA, you can look and feel terrific without having to adjust your suit.

Do you have experience in design and sewing? is that a bad question? Ha! It’s not a bad question!   I do not sew!   And I did not have experience in designing clothing, but sometimes you need someone from outside the industry to come in and think about making things a different way….to really change what’s being done. Each time I work with a new factory, they question what we’re doing and think they can do it better. But we’ve actually considered and tested every stitch and material, and we’re making our suits this way for a reason. Making swimwear the way it’s always been done is not working well for the women who wear it. So we’re doing things differently.   I am the designer. I sketch every style. I also work with a great team of people that are able to translate my sketches and my direction, into actual suits that we can test and fit, who are experts in garment construction and sewing.).

What are you bikini-swimsuit inspirations? Our baseline requirement in MI OLA is that our styles must make our women look and feel terrific. I’m more inspired by fashion, than by other swimwear. I’m always inspired by Tom Ford Gucci and Alexander McQueen. Add in there a color palette that’s heavily influenced by my tropical environment and an obsession with layers – whether we’re talking armor, mermaid/fish scales, birds feathers, etc.



You had me at Sexy Bikinis that Stay On.  I have this working theory I call "Bikini Bitch philosophy".  Part philosophy and part way of life that comes from spending most of my life around Italian women who know that to love your body doesn't mean it has to be perfect but a bitchin' bikini and great accessories help.  Do you think Mi Ola bikinis fit the bill? (I do)I love the Bikini Bitch Philosophy! From working in fashion, I know if you’re going to wear something, you should own it. And being in Costa Rica… and being a mom… I don’t have time for body shame and not wearing a bikini. I do it and expect that my confidence, happiness, awesome bikinis and accessories will outshine any extra lumps.

Women pretty much rule the world. So let’s stop worrying about the basic stuff: “Am I the cutest?” “Does my butt look big in this?” “Am I sexy?”… and focus on what’s important…. Living the best life.   It’s very “Oprah” but seriously… who’s having more fun?  Let’s care for ourselves (inside and out) a little bit more. And when you go to the beach, put on a great swimsuit!

I just have to tell you, both my sister and I tried your bikinis this entire summer and in every element.  We paddle boarded, rode waves, kayaked, rock jumped, sunbathed and fought of small children who pulled every string they could reach. Your suits really stay on.  I absolutely love this. Thank you for letting me know. That makes me proud.

We're the same age, do you think I could still learn how to surf? Better yet, do you have room for me and my 7 year old mini-me later this year? Yes, and yes. I would LOVE to have you two visit. I’m serious.

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If there is one thing I love more than an incredible bikini, it is an incredible woman who does her thing, and in Helena's case, that thing just happens to be making the world a better place for bikini wearers. And I am not the only one who know this. MI OLA has been a guest star in Sports Illustrated, Elle, Seventeen and Self magazines, and are the tops (and bottoms) for professional athletes (and wannabes like me!) in and out of the water. In fact, MI OLA's Instagram gallery is filled with on-site and in-action photos from a gang of ambassadors who are #MIOLAwesome, just like the suits.



Venice Biennale: The Season of La Serenissima and Luxe City Guides

If you know me, then you know I love luxe-- not just a fabulous shopping spree but Luxe City Guides, a company I have known, loved and worked with ever since I stumbled into founder Grant Thatcher in Hong Kong.  From 2007 forward, I've worked with Luxe to conceive, edit and curate its Rome City Guide, first in print, then digital and now mobile.  And I've it- from the very picky selection of all entries to emulating Thatcher's sass, style and eye.  And if it weren't for Luxe, I wouldn't have met my friends Phoebe and Magnus. With my hands in the Rome pot, I constantly am on the look out for Luxe Rome and on occasion, I turn off the Rome volume and write about amazing places and experiences outside of the Eternal City for the website.  This time, I've walked my heels off in Venice... enjoying every bit of the Biennale and La Serenissima.


What comes once every two years, widens your eyes with absolute wonder, runs you ragged for a few months and then, with the same blaze of glory that it entered your life, departs again?

Why, La Biennale di Venezia, of course! Venice may be known as La Serenissima – the most serene one – but during the months of La Biennale di Venezia, the floating city is anything but calm. This year’s fair brings together 136 creative talents from 53 countries under the theme of All the World’s Futures, curated by the Nigerian-born critic and art-ficionado, Okuwi Enwezor.

For almost seven months, the lovely lagoon is awash with artistic expression, international hi-so, unmissable exhibs and Champers-drenched events. While we encourage putting the map away and getting lost in the city itself, there’s nothing worse than a blundering biennaler. Here’s our guide to making the most of your art agenda – bring on the glamour, the food, and of course, the art…


Put The Gritti Palace on speed dial, as this ritzy flopspot hits the art target with suites honoring and inspired by aesthetic icons including patron Peggy Guggenheim, art historian John Ruskin and interior designer Angelo Donghi. Occupying a perf Grand Canal posi, the Gritti offers direct agacqua access with its tricked-out Riva Yacht, ideal for a spot of creative exploration. Zip over to the Arsenale or cruise the canals to see Venice’s gorgeous churches.

When it’s time to refuel, Jules, Venezia’s answer to finger-licking canapés, chicheti, is calling. Nip down a narrow alley behind San Marco in search of Osteria da Carla for fabby bar-side bites like bacalà mantecato, creamed cod on a bed of polenta – yumsome.


Appetite and whistle whetted, make tracks for Corta Sconta, where you’ve had the good sense to reserve a table in the vibey, vine-covered courtyard. The seafood antipasti go-to for those in the know, this tiny Castello trat also serves up a mean vongole allo zenzero (clams with ginger).

Alternatively, if you’re looking for something a little more glam, strap on those Rene Caovillas and stiletto-step over to the city’s prima piazza. Nope, no orchestra dining for you; head inside Caffe Quadri to the Mich-spangled FROW resto-with-a-view. Helmed by the Alajmo brothers of Padova’s tri-star Le Calandre, Quadri offers four spectac tasting menus executed by cucina capo Silvio Giavedoni, but keep your eyes on the Laguna menu that features flip-fresh fish sourced straight from the sea.


Finally, reward yourself with a post-prandi at Starck’s sultry PalazzinaG – park your Prada, and order a Martinez. Didn’t you do well, darling?

For more hotspots in Venice, check out the LUXE Venice guide or download our fabulous new app with maps!



La Biennale di Venezia 9 May-22 November, 2015

Various locations throughout the city

The Gritti Palace Campo Santa Maria del Giglio San Marco, Venice +39 041 794 611

Osteria da Carla Calle Corte Contarina 1535 San Marco, Venice +39 041 523 7855

Corta Sconta Calle del Pestrin 3886 Castello, Venice +39 041 522 7024

Quadri Piazza San Marco 120 San Marco, Venice +39 041 0522 2105

PalazzinaG Ramo Grassi 3247 San Marco, Venice +39 041 528 4644

Master Glass in Venice

 Master Glass originally appeared as the feature cover article for Discovery Magazine

Glassblowers wait for the moment when silica gets molten – that’s when the magic can happen

Glassblowers wait for the moment when silica gets molten – that’s when the magic can happen

On the Venetian island of Murano, glassmakers are quietly preserving techniques that have produced works of art for centuries

Murano is a mystery, a jewel in the archipelago of Venetian islands. For centuries, this tiny island has produced the world’s most beautiful glass pieces – goblets that grace the lips of popes and monarchs, chandeliers that light up palaces, and decorative objects that add a glimmer to the everyday. Through rigid regulations and even threats of death, Murano has guarded its glassmaking industry for centuries, surrounding the island in lore just as nebulous as the mists off the Venetian Lagoon.

The jewel tones of Murano glass (above right) are inspired by the island’s myriad colours

Only 15-minutes north of Venice, by water bus (vaporetto) and/or water taxi, Murano feels a world away from Venice’s crowds; a place of quiet empty streets and closed doors, privacy is Murano’s calling card.

Legend claims the islands’ glass history began in the fifth century when locals fled barbarians to the Venetian lagoon, bringing glassmaking techniques from imperial Rome. Venice officially dates its glassmaking legacy to 982AD when a certain Domenico signed witness to a deed, adding the term filario (bottlemaker) to his signature. With the cadence of ink, history was written. By the end of the 13th century, glassmakers became a powerful and exclusive guild of artisans known as arte vetraria. To protect its artisans, the Venetian government restricted all production of glass to Murano, with the guild declaring anyone caught practising glassmaking outside Murano be expelled or even killed.

In its heyday, the Venetian Republic fleet dominated the Mediterranean and the prestige of Murano glass was exhibited by its place on Europe’s finest tables. Painters such as Titian and Bellini celebrated its beauty with brush strokes. “To see an unmistakably Venetian piece of glass in an unmistakably Venetian painting is to experience the wonder of the city anew,” explains Dr Letha Chien, art historian at the University of California, Berkeley. “Not only could one possess the painting, but its representational contents as well.”

But almost in the blink of an eye, glass was gone, and just as quickly, Napoleon Bonaparte conquered the Republic of Venice. It wasn’t until the late 1830s that glass production resumed and, by the beginning of the 20th century, glassmaking was once again an enterprise. Firms such as Vetri Soffiati Muranesi Cappellini Venini – the predecessor to world-famous Venini & Co – and Barovier, were created by alliances between master glassmakers and Milanese businessmen. Renowned artists, designers and architects such as Carlo Scarpa and Napoleone Martinuzzi were recruited to helm creative direction, designing both original and modern reinterpretations of history’s greatest pieces, such as the wide-mouthed Libellula vase and Rezzonico chandeliers.












Murano has always been a tiny and tight-lipped community, and the same applies now. Its 1,000 glassmakers represent centuries of glass dynasties such as Barovier, Salviati, Zecchin, Toso and Seguso, and some just a few decades old, such as Galliano Ferro. But they aren’t easily approachable, despite what some of the more garrulous shop owners would have you believe. “Immediately upon your arrival, multilingual show openers greet you, ready to take you to studios,” says Franco Regina, veteran gallery owner and manager to Fabio Fornasier, one of Murano’s most avant-garde master glassblowers. His advice is to keep walking as visits to the best foundries and showrooms are usually by appointment.

Murano glass takes on all shapes, colours and forms, and all exhibit the highest level of workmanship

Glassmaking begins early in the morning, in studios or factories where furnaces operate 24 hours a day, every day of the week. In a choreographed ballet of movements – heating, blowing, reheating, pulling, stretching, cutting and detailing – master glassblowers and assistants focus on the delicate moment when silica becomes molten and magic can happen.

The glass chandeliers hanging in Venice’s Ca’ Rezzonico, crafted by 18th-century Murano glassmakers, inspire many modern interpretations

Fornasier represents one of the smaller studios, LU Murano, where he is master glassblower. “To me, this is an artist’s atelier, where anything is possible. It is an area of mystery,” he says as he pulls on molten glass. After an hour spent talking with Fornasier and watching him make his gravity-defying chandeliers, you understand. This space is much more than a workman’s studio – it is ongoing, kinetic invention. The only sounds are the crisp cutting of hot glass that has been blown and stretched in impossible directions, but the air is filled with energy.

The second-generation glass-blower chose to veer from the norm – “In Murano, many do the same thing, the Rezzonico chandelier, etc.” – instead combining traditional techniques with whimsical, experimental designs. “I believe I am an artist and thus must follow my instincts,” he says. Fornasier’s luminaries are enlightened art objects, and he produces fewer than 100 pieces annually. His handcrafted chandeliers hang in contemporary art shows with the same ease as they do in private residences, hotels and casinos.

Workmanship is just one of the factors that makes Murano’s glass authentic. The fronds of a chandelier or a goblet are handmade by artisans. As Regina explains, this contributes to the high cost of the glass. “Cheap trinkets are ready-made and can be found anywhere and in multiples but true Murano glass means workmanship and uniqueness.”

The colour of Murano glass is also incomparable. “The particularity of [our] colours comes by virtue of the environment, extraordinary colours that exist in nature around us, like the sunset, sunrise and in the reflections of the lagoon,” says Giampaolo Seguso, head of Seguso Viro, who should be considered a colour expert – for 22 generations, secret colour formulas have been passed down from father to son. His family dominates Venetian history. Since 1397, there has been a Seguso in a workroom, factory, gallery or museum, as master glassmakers or innovators, such as Artemide Seguso, Giampaolo’s father and impresario of inimitable colour and filigree techniques.

Fabio Fornasier’s chandelier designs have established him as one of Murano’s most avant-garde master glassblowers

Much like Fornasier, Giampaolo is the new embodiment of glass artisan. He is an entrepreneur, dedicating the past 25 years to upgrading the company’s vision with contemporary designs and cutting-edge, international designers. He is a poet, working with master glassblowers on art pieces that he then inscribes with his poems. And he is a historian, researching and preserving the archived, early-20th-century Seguso designs for personal records and reinterpretation in his product line.

Authentic Murano glass is not hard to find on the island or in Venice’s many boutiques, souvenir shops, restaurants and bars. Pieces come in every technique and incarnation – vases, goblets, lamps, figurines, candelabras, dishes, paperweights, jewellery and more – pieces that bear the Veneto region’s official trademark “Vetro Artistico Murano”, a tamper-proof sticker that authenticates the product. But for Regina, that isn’t enough. “Before coming to Venice, you need to inform yourself in advance on artists, styles and galleries. And you need to ask questions when you are looking at glass.”

After just a single day of studying Murano’s glimmering legacy, it becomes clear that its colourful, inimitable glass is a reflection of Venice’s vibrancy.

Giampaolo Seguso’s family has passed its colour formulas down from father to son for 22 generations
Canal views come with the territory at the Bauer il Palazzo hotel

Thank you, Fondazione Prada

Fondazione Prada, thank you.  I have been waiting for an arts complex like this to come to Italy for ten years.  An incredible fashion-based arts foundation with not just the big bucks but bigger balls to show off what seems like an entire contemporary art collection [nope, there's more in storage],  a temporary show bringing priceless antiquities from collections including the Vatican, debut its onsite cinema with a retrospective film on Roman Polanski, and hire aesthete auteur Wes Anderson to design its bar, all the meanwhile sitting pretty in a 19,000 sq m complex from mastermind starchitect Rem Koolhaas.

Koolhaas, an architect who is known for ability to transcend space with a good dose of ego,  transformed a former distillery in Milan's southwest into a 21st century artsy mall.  And of course, it balances the quintessential Prada vibe- sleek and cool-toned, with a slight hand at playful.  Gorgeous,  24 karat gold leafed covers the "Haunted House", a four+ level temporary exhibition area, the cinema is horizontal mirrored reflection of the "podium", Koolhaas' glass box where Prada's debut exhibition Serial Classic resides, a concrete cistern houses lets us get up front and above a Damien Hirst piece, and all is enclosed by perimeter walls housing more of Prada's never-ending collection.

More than anything, Fondazione Prada isn't just about the exhibition [though Serial Classic ranks as 'blockbuster', tens of sculptures exploring the multiples in antiquity, curated by archeologist Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola]- it's about the experience.  Like any museum or gallery space, you are meant to walk through halls of installations, sculpture and painting and more than anything you are meant to enjoy yourself in every single space- whether it be art car collection, the Robert Gober installations in the haunted, or an evening at the on site cinema.

Everyone seems to be talking about Bar Luce, the deliciously decor'd, ersatz vintage bar by filmmaker Wes Anderson. Anderson is a long time Prada collaborator who created and filmed the 2013 Prada short film Castello Calvacanti (starring my friend Giorgio along with Jason Schwartzman) which makes an appearance in one of the fully functioning pin ball machines in the bar's hall [the other is themed The Life Aquatic].  And I agree, it is charming- Anderson designed the wall paper, curated jukebox, and hand picked the food and beverages, as well as everything else. I just hope that aperitivi hour at Bar Luce doesn't overshadow the point of Fondazione Prada- art.

I'm just going to take a moment to add one more element to Fondazione Prada- it all about  repeat performance and the 5th wall.  In two months, I've visted Fondazione Prada in three different incarnations-- as intrepid art reporter- taking in the entire complex in a sugar-fueled afternoon,  as aperitivo aficionado sitting pretty at Bar Luce and as best daytime date ever when I took my husband Darius for a walk through Serial Classic so that he could see his favorite antiquities on, well,  repeat (mind you, I snuck in the Haunted House as well).  And I've already lined up a Friday night cinema date with my friend Laura.

Perhaps this is the new form of mall entertainment?

Bar Luce

My Favorite Street in Rome

DAA Oryx
DAA Oryx

A few months ago, Qatar Airways's Oryx Magazine reached out to me and asked me to put a different spin on my favorite street in Rome, by interviewing a resident who really knows and loves the city. I threw out a few choices and in the end, they chose someone dear to my heart-- Darius Arya.  It was a great interview and as you can probably imagine, it was like pulling teeth. Darius loves Piazza Farnese, find out why by reading the article (originally appeared May 1, 2015).