Designer Matthew Harris is taking his Mateo New York brand back to where it all started, relaunching his men’s jewelry collection while keeping a keen eye on the evolution of his brand.
“I want to bring back a worldly man,” Harris explained of the customer he is targeting. “We live in such a global world now. It’s the right time to bring it back.”
The debut offering uses pieces made with 14-karat gold, diamonds, pearls — a Mateo signature — and semiprecious gemstones. Pieces lean into the keepsakes a modern customer might find as they traverse the globe. Harris explained he wanted his creations to have an international feel using beads, charms, anklets, “like what I see so many guys wearing in Europe,” he said. “My customer has grown up a lot. He now travels, Mykonos, Puglia, he picks up trinkets. He has an affinity for jewelry now. He wants to layer the pieces. He’s no longer shy about it, he’s past all that.”
Imbued with personal style, Harris credits his father’s flamboyant style — a man who he says “literally always had on jewelry” — as an early arbiter of his taste. “He really thought he was a rock star,” he said with a laugh. “So for me, pearls, chunky bracelets, earrings…they are second nature to me,” he said of his aesthetic.
Launching his brand in 2009, Harris — who splits his time between Texas and Portugal, but said he has New York City in his heart — began his brand’s journey with men’s jewelry, based around the utility of pieces found in a toolbox.
His modern styles stood out at a time when the landscape for men skewed Gothic, with few sole men’s-focused jewelry designers in the market.
“I never liked all that dark stuff, I wanted something more modern,” he said.
It was a gamble that paid off, leading to a lightning-strike moment by way of Rhianna wearing a chunky razor necklace, putting the brand on the radar of celebrities and buyers. “It sounds like a fairy tale, but that is how it happened.”
The name Mateo comes from a childhood nickname: “First my Italian friends started calling me Mateo and then when I was modeling my agent, who happened to be Italian, said we will call you Mateo. I guess it made me more exotic than I already look,” he quipped.
The relaunch retails exclusively with Mr Porter for six months, and revisits Harris’ foundational collection, bringing back key styles, like his scissor necklace — a nod to his seamstress mother — and the screw pendant necklace that started it all.
Self-taught, Harris learned his trade by way of YouTube tutorials and books. “YouTube was the saving grace,” he said. “I sat down and watched tutorials until my eyes popped out of my head, but it was worth it.” He still uses the site today, learning about photography and photoshop, which he uses to help craft images for his creations.
“My jewelry has always had a unisex sense. When I started selling, I thought I was selling to men, but it was his girlfriend who ended up stealing the bracelets,” he said. Soon after a small women’s-focused capsule collection was born.
An emerging brand with a tiny team, in 2014 Harris pivoted to solely women’s, deciding to put the men’s line on hold. The move was well received, and the brand grew with a cult following for his nontraditional eye. He became known in the market for crafting everyday pieces with a modern edge, like a detachable ear jacket that creates the illusion of pearls floating in midair, square-cut citrine diamonds centered within asymmetric spiral rings, or gleaming spheres of lapiz suspended from gold mobile structures. His pieces have been seen on Bella Hadid, Kerry Washington, Meghan Markle, Simone Biles, Vanessa Hudgens, Yara Shahidi and more.
In the years since, his brand has grown, adding candles and handbags to the mix, catering to a customer who wants “more than just jewelry” from the designer.
Could Mateo NY be a burgeoning lifestyle brand? “I love the that idea,” he said firmly.
In fact, the designer is already plotting his next category — inspired by time in lockdown and by renovating a home in Portugal, he’s planning to launch tabletop and homeware toward the end of 2022. “The sketches are done and it’s almost ready,” he said. “During COVID-19, I really got into interior design, and my obsession with furniture and art has only grown.”
Harris previously sold to a handful of retailers such as Net-a-porter, Browns, Matchesfashion and FarFetch. This year he has pushed to open distribution to grow his global footprint, adding Saks Fifth Avenue in the U.S. and Ounass in the United Arab Emirates among select brick-and-mortar stores. There was a time when he thought he would pull out of wholesale and focus on direct-to-consumer, but was convinced otherwise by Randi Molofsky and Meaghan Flynn, founders of For Future Reference, the brand development agency with a focus on independent fine jewelers.
“There a sense of timelessness,” he said of his work. “I’m bringing to the table great personal jewelry that a man (or woman) is really going to want to pass on. Modern heirlooms, as it were.”