Matthew Izzo: Life is Art

Executive Director of PhillyGayCalendar

As I was raised in Philadelphia I remember covert day trips to Olde City. I also remember my older cousin telling me, hand in hand, en route, “Don’t tell your parents we went to Olde City.” The cast iron buildings, late Victorian storefronts, and historic buildings were only then just being taken over by a young renaissance of artists and retailers. There was still a fine layer of grit, and graffiti, everywhere, despite this first wave of gentrification. Visits to my cousin’s then-boyfriend’s photography studio, the odd gallery, boutique, where I marveled at her buying a blazer for $300, and lunch at the outdoor tables of something described as a “dive bar” pepper my recollections of those adventures.  Yes, at the time I thought dive bar meant there was a swimming pool within. “We went to a movie. You saw Funny Farm with Chevy Chase,” and similar statements were always her parting words as she dropped me off at home.

The district, however, is still undergoing a renaissance. The business owners and residents are still removing and reinventing the grit. Fortunately, however, it still attracts premiere, offbeat, independent businesses, while so many sections of town host corporate retailers. Yet, it is fitting, it does make “common sense” that independent retailers are so successful in Benjamin Franklin’s old neighborhood. I went to Matthew Izzo’s official opening party for March’s First Friday. I normally would apologize for the delay but the store’s namesake, like Olde City, seems to constantly evolve.

Everyday is an opening for Matthew.

The new space is bigger, warmer. It boasts an original, wooden, retail floor on the ground level, with a large, classic display case, holding jewelry, and shielding cash registers. Upstairs we sat on comfortable, mid-century-inspired furniture, paired with a vintage mid-century coffee table, while sipping wine. We felt as if we were in an artist’s personal atelier. Not a gallery. The staircase displays a variety of art, a mix of old, new, and somewhere-in-between, that seems to personify this warmer, fresher, location.

(I want the colorful, balloon-festooned stool, for starters! Go see it if you’re curious.)

Sebastian Fortino: Olde City has maintained and become quite the melting pot of unique eateries, retailers, and art galleries – a SoHo in Philadelphia if you will! Is this what drew you from Walnut Street?

Matthew Izzo: The new location is our best in 8 years! I am so happy to be here in the heart of the best shopping in Philadelphia. It has everything and does it with charm and class. Was it all about location or are you trying to bridge the gap between clothing, artwork, interior design, and fashion? Are you scaling back from selling clothes on site? I noticed Trovata was missing, my favorite, guilty-shopping-pleasure, but your modern take on apparel with fun attentions to detail are still quite – thankfully – prevalent.

MI:Well kind of both! My art is important to me, and it sells very well. Having a beautiful space to show it, with better light was a must. My interior design business is always growing. I am very lucky to have worked in some amazing homes in Philadelphia, NY and around the country. As for Trovata we have moved on to new less pricey with great style. We have changed with the times as its always important to look [and find style] that won’t hurt you wallet.


SF: Your mother, whom I feel should be politely addressed as Madame Izzo, and Justin told me the new space is warmer, and that the public has not kept themselves away despite the economy. Do you think the personality of a space directly affects a person spending right now?

MI:Of course! It’s so much nicer here and we’re all happier! I love it when people come into the store and we can make them smile. It’s important that people have a good time while they shop, especially now! We all work very hard! I work 6 to 7 days a week just to make it all work. This year has been tough but it makes me push hard to be the best we can. But when a customer shows me they appreciate what I’m doing it’s all worth it.

SF: How long have you been painting? Your sleek, bold, bright pieces are both eye-catching and painterly to me – former student of art history, and gallery employee.

MI:I have been painting for 24 years. I have been very lucky to have been selling my work all the way back to my early 20s. I’m like 100 now! It’s where my heart is. It’s important for me to support the arts [locally], especially now that I have a great space in Philadelphia’s best location for artists.

SF: It seems you have several other artists. How do you come to decide whom you are promoting in the gallery section? What draws you to these pieces?

MI:I’m drawn to artists that make me look twice. I love vintage art that shows the artist has a deep love for what they are making. It’s not about money or fame, but about a warm, charming work of art that comes from a warm heart. Not a big ego.

SF: I remember your first shop. Having just moved back here from NYC I was so happy to see an independent boutique carrying innovative, hip clothes. I was further impressed when you moved to Walnut Street. It seems as if you are constantly evolving your vision and mission. Can you tell me a bit about that?

MI:I live every day in a new vision of the future. It…keeps me alive. That and very hot coffee! So many businesses now rely on their internet sales. Offhand – do you know how many of those customers learned about you from being "walk-ins?"

MI:The internet is my LIFE! We have a huge website! I wish more people in Philly would use it. Our internet sales are much higher then our street level. We have several thousand products on the site and over a thousand people come to the site every day. Our top states are NY and CA with at least one sale a day coming form another country. We are a somewhat larger company out side of Philadelphia, and not many people know that. So check out and our supper cool blog,

SF: If you had to have a motto for your new location what would it be?

MI:"Big daddy’s got to eat! Go shopping!"

SF: What would you like to see happen at this new location?

MI:Lots of people shopping! It’s very hard for retailers right now. Even people that have lots of money are scared to shop because of all the bad news on TV! If you can – do your part for the country and go support a local business. They all need you right now. If we don’t support our neighbors we will lose them. I feel they are more important to our city then the big corporations that just made a big mess. Trust me: big retailers don’t need your money, Main Street does.

In response to a question I asked about Matthew’s favorite music, designer, movie, and artist he gave me a very simple, very elegant summation. “Life is art, I find.” In this minimal, post-modern response he has quite summed up his feelings. Clearly, with his fashion sense intact, he has created a design destination, in which to view, be inspired by, and acquire elements to make your life art as well.

Matthew Izzo, Olde City

151 N. 3rd Street

Philadelphia, PA 19106

Phone: 215-829-0606

Fax: 215-829-0668

Store Hours: Monday-Saturday 11-7, and Sunday 12-5



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