"There are levels to this shit," said hip hop artist Meek Mill. That quote, a lyric from his 2013 smash hit aptly titled “Levels,” has become a meme, a cliche captain, and the touchstone of an ideology in youth culture since the song’s release. No one has ever accused Meek of impersonating Socrates, but the jury is out to a long lunch on his final chapter. Either way, that one quote transcended far beyond the Philly streets Meek sprang from. It's a testament to the fact that when a statement is undeniably true, it lives in a million ecosystems at the same time. In the era of triggered undergrads “speaking their truth,” we’ve lost touch with what, in fact, the actual truth is. Meek’s quote is actually true.
Matthew Growney exists on the highest of those levels.
Growney just may be in the running for the most interesting man in the world title. An attorney by trade, a VC by choice, and a creative by virtue, his world is unlike anyone else’s. He is one of the most influential men in art, fashion, and progressive thought on earth. He has turned himself into the man you need to know to gain access to the levels that matter. Any asshole with 100k followers and a Louis Vuitton hoodie can viably call themselves an “influencer” but very few actually influence anything other than self-loathing.
Growney, originally from small suburbs of Chicago, resides in Concord, MA. However, he’s well outside of the Boston area most of the time. Flying back and forth from his studio and brand clients in New York, Miami, and Paris, he is as mobile as one can be. It’s not new to him either. He departed the US at a young age to study abroad in Paris and never looked back. He returned to the States to attend college at Michigan State and law school in Boston, but his heart was always on a jet to another metropolis.
Thousands of miles from the streets of South Philly, the place known more for a ludicrously high crime rate, dirt bike gangs, boxing gyms and cheese wiz on everything, there exists the City Of Light. There are no starker contrasts of culture or disparity. There may still be gang elements in Paris (it’s a major city), but there is no Louvre in South Philly. There’s no South Philly Fashion Week. But there are still the aforementioned levels. Matthew Growney exists on the highest of those levels.
From 1998-2006, Matthew was Co-founder & Managing Director of Motorola Ventures (MV), the corporate investment arm of Motorola Inc., outside of the city where pickles dress hotdogs and pizza comes with a waiver. Matthew was directly responsible for building investment offices in Chicago, Boston, Silicon Valley, Tel Aviv, and Beijing.
By the age of 27, Matthew co-managed a $400M portfolio of 70+ companies. Matthew created the investment program in 1997 and established it as one of the premier corporate venture practices in the world. He developed MV’s investment strategy and focused on placing bets in emerging wireless networks, devices, and creative platforms.
In 2008, Matthew departed Motorola to create Isabella Products, one of the industry’s first mobile Internet companies focused on creating digital learning solutions like Fable®, a tablet designed exclusively for children. But the arts were always his interest.
Growney grew up in 90's punk and alternate rock bands in the Midwest, and his time in Europe groomed a love and an eye for the fine arts and fashion. Moving to Paris to live with an exchange family opened him up to new experiences, from cafe culture to high fashion and modern art. He found it to be not only enlightening, but a foundation for the trajectory of the rest of his life.
“Prior to leaving for Paris, my parents had consistently downplayed apparel and a fashionable appearance. In fact, I had been dressed almost exclusively in clothes obtained from Chicago-area garage sales for the first nine years of my life. We did not grow up of means until later in my teen years, so I had to wear clothes with other people's names on them or clothes with slight tears or rips in them. So when I was afforded the opportunity to buy new clothes for the trip to Paris, I went to Marshall Fields and bought Generra and Bugle Boy's first Parachute Pants. Ironic, they’re back now. I’m back on trend.” Growney reflects.
“When I moved to Boston in the late 90’s, I lived across from Copley Square. I befriended the men’s’ stylist in Neiman Marcus, Kelly Smitherman, who put me onto the worst habit ever: luxury brands. I lived next door to the Copley Mall and therefore had to go through it every day coming back from class. I began to not only collect Prada, D&G, McQueen, Burberry, Gucci.”
Kelly Smitherman, who was the stylist for Aerosmith’s legendary singer and fellow Bostonian Steven Tyler, made quite an impression on Growney. He explained fabrics, textures, the nuances that exist within design and luxury. “He encouraged me to try everything too- nylon Prada button-up shirts, mohair Dolce and Gabbana oversized sweaters, purple leather biker jackets. I went through my color phase with Benetton in the 80's and then went through my all black phase with Prada in the late 90's.”
By the early 2000’s, Growney had established himself in the business world with Motorola. “As a young professional adult, I was sort of tossed into representing Motorola with the urban community that started to buy and rep Motorola's products like the 2-way pager and flip cell phones. Rather than send the old head white guys from Chicago, they would send me to help support events at Jimmy's Uptown with Diddy & Bad Boy Records or charity events put on by (rapper/actress) Eve.”
Hiphop Mogul Sean "Diddy" Combs with the Motorola Timeport 2-way pager at one of Matthew Growney's early 2000's progressive Motorola activations in NYC.
Growney started to connect with many of the hip hop and young urban designer community regularly. A convergence of world’s happened, and he was the first to make sense of where they crossed over, and more importantly, why.
“So when I was sent to France in 1982, I lived with the Renou family. My french brother was an amazing photographer who went on to become a designer for uber-French line Baccarat. That, coupled with long days and nights in Paris, raised an awareness of what convergent cultures could look like, how they could bring people together, and how they could reinvent the story.”
“A few years back, an old neighbor put my name in front of the CMO of PUMA as a trusted resource for innovation and design. Adam Petrick called me, and we had an hour chat about how to help PUMA think about technology. So, I started working on my first project with them which was around the connected athlete. He introduced me to Laurent Claquin, President of Kering USA, who I also began to chat with about new designers and eCommerce.”
“So around this same time, my friend, (graffiti artist and skateboarder) Trevor Andrew, was also just going through the process of solidifying his partnership with Kering massive brand, GUCCI, as the creator of the GUCCI GHOST, so it seemed like all roads for me were pointing at Kering family and the creative brand space.”
Trevor Andrew, AKA "Gucci Ghost" poses with Growney at Art Basel shortly after the release of the groundbreaking collection with iconic Italian fashion house Gucci.
With Growney firmly entrenched the GUCCI GHOST corner, the collection became a statement that had legs far beyond fashion. Not only was the drop a global smash, but it resonated and reverberated on the umpteen-dozen layers that culture itself operates on. It was a giant dripping middle finger to opulence and traditional luxury, using perhaps the most iconic face of traditional opulence as its canvas.
Growney began reimagining and curating culture in fine art, fashion, music and luxury on the largest of stages. Art Basel in Miami, Fashion Weeks in Paris, Milan, NYC and Los Angeles. His experience and eye in various worlds crafted a unique touch perhaps only shared by Nike’s “gatekeeper of hype” Fraser Cooke.
It’s impossible to summarize what Growney does. Maybe that’s why it works. Maybe that’s why his work doesn’t really live in any one particular place. It belongs equally everywhere and discernibly nowhere. It’s the texture of ether. Sometimes it's framed. Sometimes, cut and sewed.
My grandfather used to have a saying when I was a kid that I didn’t fully grasp until recently.
You can either play an instrument or conduct the orchestra. I wonder why I never shared that anecdote with Matthew. Maybe it’s because I felt on some level, he was keenly aware of that quote and didn’t need to hear it again.
He’s living it.