The other night, I wore my vintage Bon Jovi Slippery When Wet T-shirt, which I bought from Front General Store in Dumbo, to dinner. My husband started frantically poking my back and said, in horror, "You have a hole in the back of your shirt!" Well, one, duh, and two, never tell him how much it cost. And, wait, how did we get to this point where old, beat-up tees cost the same or much, much more than a brand new designer one?
Well, we could blame Patrick Matamoros, founder of Chapel, the purveyor of throwback T-shirts beloved by celebrities, including Kanye West, Kylie Jenner, Rihanna and Frank Ocean and deep-pocketed vintage stans alike. In 2015, Matamoros and Chapel collaborated with Jerry Lorenzo's Fear of God on Justin Bieber's $1,500 customized Nirvana tee for the American Music Awards and partnered again with Lorenzo on a super on-brand and synergistically-named "Chapel of God" collection of 65 throwback tees at Maxfield in 2016.
In order to shop his goods, Matamoros's devoted clients contact him directly to set up appointment-only pop-ups in New York, Los Angeles, Nashville, Miami or London. But soon, any vintage T-shirt fan with a generous credit line with internet access will be able to browse his offerings (well, mostly), even if the entrepreneur never personally passed you his mobile number. Matamoros recently parted ways with his Chapel partners, CEO Alessandra Brawn and her restaurateur husband Jon Neidich, and branched out on his own with a new brand, Saint Luis, and an e-commerce site going live on June 23.
Pronounced Saint "loo-EES, with the accent," the vintage expert's new label is named after his grandfather, Luis, and his son, Alfred William Joaquin De La Santos Luis Matamoros Dixon — well, sort of. "I just couldn't have any name," he says over the phone from his Los Angeles residence (he also spends time in New York). "It couldn't be named just for my son, that's great, but I need to have a real story — something a purpose. Everything with a purpose has a reason to be in existence, a reason to live."
If you can't already tell, Matamoros possesses an almost religious zeal when it comes to collecting, nurturing and then matching vintage T-shirts with his chosen buyer, who will shell out upwards of $500 to $1,000-plus for one of his babies. He's a fan of spouting somewhat-philosophical, and very grandiose quotes and, a few times, rails against "bite"-ers.
"I consider myself a caretaker — or like I'm running an orphanage — and I'm just the temporary home for these things and I need to find them the right home and that right there is the heart of Chapel," Matamoros, says. "It's not just selling you a T-shirt, it's finding the right T-shirt for you — and that's why I'm success."
The Saint Luis e-commerce site will offer the buying public a subset of Matamoros's vintage Ts costing between $100 and $500. But, like Chapel, Saint Luis features a level of exclusivity with a higher-priced, specialty collection accessible only by password, obtained from Matamoros, of course. "You have to get it directly from me because, again, I have to make sure that certain pieces are going to the right person, and, again, I never mean someone who is a celebrity," he says. "I literally mean the right person."
Saint Luis will also debut Matamoros's own line of original designs printed on vintage T-shirts. He estimates those will be priced between $250 and $500, but he's "not really sure," as of yet. "Pure luxury, pure perfect, nothing else. Nothing watered down, ever, with Saint Luis," he says. "I thought Chapel had gotten watered down so that's why I wanted to start something new."
Which, at the risk of sounding clueless, begs the question: Why is the thinner, the flimsier, the more destroyed and ridden with holes, the more in-demand — and expensive — the shirt? It is a conundrum that some of us have fallen victim to (guilty!). "I created that," Matamoros says proudly. "That didn't exist before I did that. I'm sorry. I'm not saying I'm the [first] person to sell a thin vintage T-shirt. I'm not. But I am absolutely the first person in this cycle that started about 15 years ago."
His explanation for the sheer factor actually makes total sense. "No one wanted thin, vintage beat-up T-shirts except tattoo artists or people with tattoos," he says. "And those are the kind of girls I tend to like: girls who like tattoos. So I was basically buying [for] just a certain type of person, which was tattoo artists and people with tattoos, and they wanted the thin beat up shirts, so that they could see their tattoos through them."
There's also a labor cost, as Matamoros performs his own method of customization to the shirts he finds from un-revealed sources. (Although he does at first contradict himself, saying: "I find them like this and if they're not like this, they don't go on my rack.") "Pretty much my entire collection, I've had my hands on them in some kind of way," he says. "Stretching them, shrinking them. Sometimes I'll destroy them on purpose and then bring them back to life and then repair them."
Matamoros says that his proprietary stretching technique can take anywhere from a day to "a couple of months" and that he's the only one in the market who offers this option, inspired by a famous customer. "I don't want to say who it was — clients that I have, you know who they are — so, [stretching vintage Ts] didn't exist until he said, 'I need T-shirts that are bigger,' and I was like, 'Great, I'll make them bigger,'" Matamoros says.
Of course, the musical artist and, if applicable, the concert tour are also factors in determining the value or demand-level of a T-shirt. "The low-hanging fruit is a Rolling Stones tee," Matamoros explains. "Not because it's not amazing, but because the Rolling Stones played hundreds of thousand of concert venues, five nights a week, in the '80s." He finds more potential or "rarity" in a "smaller" bands or artists, who played fewer venues, and therefore boast a certain prestige. He points to singer-songwriter Sade, whose throwback concert T-shirt West wore last year, while answering a paparazzi-posed question about Taylor Swift.
"If you're a young kid, you only know Sade because Kim and Kanye wear Sade tees," Matamoros says. [Editor's note: Depressing.]
Also, people are just willing to pay a premium when it comes to warm and fuzzies for those early teen years. As an example, he wishes he kept all his skater T-shirts from the mid-'80s. "[It's a] what-you-loved-when-you-were-12 thing," he says. "Because that's just a human feeling of wanting nostalgia. It's just such a basic human feeling, like you want that thing back, you want to recapture this, or relive a moment. That's never going away."
An artist being part of a "movement," like early '80s alt-rock band The Jesus and Mary Chain, can also move the price ticker into the triple/quadruple digit direction. Matamoros points to current interest in the early-aughts pop explosion starring Britney Spears, Backstreet Boys and 'Nsync ("which is the one that Justin Timberlake came from?"). "I sell Spice Girls T-shirts 1000 times faster than I do a Stones T-shirt or even a Tupac," he says.
But for future buyers looking back on the "movement" from 2010s, Matamoros is skeptical. "Unfortunately, they have Bieber instead of Michael Jackson or Prince," he says. Plus, the current craze for music merch might be downgrading the future resale market on your Starboy T or Purpose hoodie, especially considering the heavy touring schedule of popular artists.
"Bieber will be like the new Rolling Stones T," Matamoros says. "It will have a value, but it will never be a crazy value." Let's hope Biebs kept his Nirvana shirt, then.
Visit Saint Luis for more details. Select pieces from Saint Luis will also be available at Maxfield, Maryam Nassir Zadeh and Selfridges this summer.