Designer Spotlight: Mateo
Jessie Ajluni | Wednesday July 19th 2017
I’ve long been smitten with the enchanting designs from jewelry maverick Matthew “Mateo” Harris. First discovering his gorgeous pieces while on set shooting for Moda Operandi, I became instantly hooked on his timeless, yet unconventional creations. But, it wasn’t until one blustery winter day last February when Tamu and I were filming her come with me to NY Fashion week video that I had the privilege to meet the man behind the brand. As he showed us around his gorgeous Soho shop we got a glimpse of some of his latest creations including the gorgeous new Elizabeth bag, one of his first forays away from jewelry and into accessories.
Now with some bright things coming up on the horizon, including a recent nomination for the CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund as well as an expansion into more leather goods, we thought it would be the perfect time to sit down for a chat about jewels, personal style, and how to buy jewelry for that someone special.
Have you always wanted to go into jewelry design?
To be honest I stumbled upon the art of jewelry making. I studied hotel management, being that I am from Jamaica. Thought that after college in the US, I would have returned there and work for one of the large hotel chains.
I started going to the jewelry district on 47th street in New York to learn as much as I could and experiment. Being self-taught is a blessing as it only makes me want to continuously get better and better at my craft.
When did you first decide to start Mateo and how did you come up with the name?
I decided to start Mateo in the Spring of 2009. The name MATEO is really my nickname. My name is Matthew Harris but everyone just calls me Mateo, which is the Spanish or Italian equivalent. Plus I think plain Matthew is just boring. Mateo has more zest and spice!
What were some of the changes you faced starting up your business?
I am a self-taught jewelry designer, so that was a challenge within itself.
The business is self funded which also poses obstacles from time to time. But every business comes with challenges; its how you overcome them that matters.
You started out as a men’s jewelry line, what do you feel are some of the differences when designing for men vs women?
There is not so much of a difference. When I design I always have the man or the woman in mind. I know what he or she likes, I know what she does, I know her style. I tend to define my man or woman before I even start sketching. So personally, for me there is little or no difference.
What are some tips you would give to someone wanting to start up a jewelry design business?
Learn the craft and learn it well. Always be willing to take risks and try new ideas. Be persistent and ensure that this is a passion as its hard work.
Read Think and Grow Rich by Napolean Hill
Take us through your design process. Where do you find your inspiration, source materials, etc…
I am always looking at Modern Art. I’m obsessed with the works of artists such as Alexander Calder and Wassily Kandinsky. I believe that’s where my design process starts. Then a sketch is drawn. After that a wax model is usually created, but often times we skip the wax model making stage and start working directly with the gold. The piece is then set with stones, polished and then voila! The piece is ready to be presented.
What are some of your favorite pieces from your current collection?
I love my Alexander Calder Mobile Earring and obsessed with our signature Pearl Orbit Ring. The pearl appears to be floating. Adore!
I also love our romantic black velvet pearl choker. Reminds me of Marie Antoinette.
What do you believe is the one staple piece that every woman should have in her jewelry collection?
I believe every woman should have a great pair of earrings. They not only frame the face but can also elongate the neck. The right pair will take your look to a whole new dimension.
When buying jewelry for someone else what would you recommend?
When buying jewelry for someone, I always ask myself, “Would he or she wear this piece everyday?” That’s always my starting point, to think as if I am getting a gift such as jewelry, I would want the receiver to cherish the piece. It’s also best to understand the person’s style to ensure the piece suits the receiver.
What are some tips or tricks you have to keep jewelry in good condition?
I believe in buying really great personal jewelry, so never brass or costume. A simple jewelry cleaning cloth works best, particularly for sterling silver and gold pieces.
You decided to expand the business into handbags, any plans for further expansion?
Yes, we just tested leather good for Spring 2017 where we introduce the Elizabeth Bag. We had a successful test at Bergdorf Goodman and will officially be launching our full collection of Handbags for Spring 2018.
We are also planning to launch bougie candles for the holidays. Each scent bares the name of a precious gemstone.
If you had one tip on how to live a more stylish life what would it be?
Just be happy.
Photographer: Tamu McPherson
Photo Assistant: Matt Maneri
Stylist: Jessie Ajluni
Model: Stephany A MSA Models
Hair: Emily Heser