Matt Booth – Room101

June 6, 2010

CP – How did you, as a jewelry designer, get hooked up with the cigar industry?

Matt Booth – There is a big fashion convention called Magic, and I always throw a big promotional after party for the show. As I grew, so did my parties. It was at one of the parties where I was introduced to some cigar industry guys and we automatically hit it off. Shortly after I found a spot to smoke close to my pad. A place in Hollywood called VCut. I started going in there and really enjoying myself. I knew I dug cigars since I found a lot of similarities between manufacturing cigars and what I do. There is a handcrafted element with a cigar that as an outsider, I had never even realized. I never considered what went into the production of a cigar. I went down to Honduras and took a tobacco factory tour and got the royal treatment. I learned a lot and it made a huge impact on me.

CP – Going to see the farms and factories is something that every cigar lover should experience, there’s nothing like it.

MB – Big time. For a cigar smoker, going to a factory and farm is like going to the Mecca of cigars. From then until now it’s been a whirlwind educational experience for me on cigars. Everyday I fall more and more in love with just smoking, enjoying, the entire lifestyle and culture that goes with cigar smoking.

CP – What is Room 101?

MB – The short of it is that Room 101 is just stuff that I like. All of it is birthed from one sort of inspiration of one form or another in my life. Cigars and cigar smoking have become a larger part of my life. My personal experience with cigars was the catalyst for the creation of my smoking accessories.

CP – What I think is interesting is that if someone were to send you their favorite accessory, like a Xikar cutter for instance, you could customize or modify it to adapt to anyone’s personal taste or lifestyle.

MB – Absolutely. There are certain things that I haven’t been challenged to figure out yet, such as mechanics and application. But everything that I have done as far as the smoking accessories I feel very confident with. With the modification of the Xikar cutters there was a lot of engineering that went into it. I basically had to design components around an existing apparatus, and that was really cool. I am very proud of the end result, and that is only the beginning. I have a lot of other ideas. I’m not short on ideas…time and cash on the other hand are a different story.

CP – There seems to be a new generation in the business who don’t really follow any guidelines. While they follow very traditional cigar making techniques, they offer a new wave of style and presentation. What’s great about Room 101 is that you also seem to follow the beat of your own drum and cater to this new era of cigar manufacturers and cigar smokers.

MB – I find a kinship with the cigar enthusiast. To me a cigar enthusiast is a true individual that knows exactly what they want. They seek out quality and want specific things. They’re not the person who goes out to buy cigars only when someone is getting married or having a baby. I am making my accessories for those individuals that have discerning palates. It’s also the same thing for people who collect my jewelry, which is the cornerstone of my collection. There are people that are as religious to my brand as someone may be to their brand of cigarettes. They will not trade. They find a home with us stylistically. If you check out the items on my website (www.room101silver.com), I’d say that 95% of my customers don’t order straight from the site. They seem to use it as a visual beginning point. Most everyone orders some sort of customized variant of one of my production items. A person that owns Room 101 pieces believes that they are an investment and is someone that doesn’t want to walk around with something that everyone else has. They want something that is made specifically for them. I don’t keep a huge stock or have a warehouse filled with rings and other pieces. If someone comes to me and orders something, I make it by hand and create it specifically for them. With that process, if they want to add something as simple as a monogram, we will do anything they want.

CP – These are one-of-a-kind hand-made pieces of art. I imagine that a lot of the pieces that you put out will be passed down from generation to generation.

MB – Absolutely. A lot of my customers say up front that they’ll be passing it on when the time comes. I’ll tell them it’ll last longer than you, and it just shouldn’t be taken to the grave. Although I’m sure people will, just like that one dude who was buried in a Cadillac.

CP – Well if you gotta ride into heaven or hell it might as well be in a Cadillac. Can you tell me what the conspiracy is with Room 101?

MB – See that’s just it, it’s a conspiracy. Room 101 is a crazy thing. We call it a conspiracy just because I don’t really think there are words to describe it. But the conspiracy really is our way. Love it or hate it, take it or leave it. I also think that mentality is shared by this new generation of cigar culturalists and manufacturers. Every time someone makes a comment on how drawn they are to the brand, they are individuals and something inside of them connects with the aesthetics, the imagery, the product, and basically the whole vibe. They get into the product, come out to events, they basically get bit by the bug. The same way that I got bit by the cigar bug, and have put my energy into cigar accessories that are done any way we want.

CP – I guess instinctually for some of us, that drum has always beaten at our own pace. There is no doubt that your vibe and products represent that, especially in the cigar industry.

MB – My impression is that 20 years ago in the 80s, certain name brands were booming and a new age was dawning for the industry that I am now a part of. This year is actually the tenth anniversary of the death of an originator in the field. When he died all of these other splinter factions broke off and started their own brands, which they would have never done if he were still alive. They were very loyal and that would have been a great insult. The same deal when a tattoo artist has an apprentice, and instead of working for the teacher, the apprentice goes out and starts their own thing. Out of the individuals who are doing this at my level (which you can count on one hand), I’m the youngest and the newest. It’s a different deal. Kind of like the panama hats and guayabera shirts that are played out. A lot of people are just sick of them and want something fresh.

CP – The media has had a lot to do with the portrayal of cigar smokers. Luxury isn’t necessarily wealth. You don’t have to be rich to enjoy a great cigar.

MB – Cigars are definitely a luxury, man. But you don’t have to be in the top percent of wealth in this country to enjoy them. Cigars are my meditation, my personal luxury. You can take a minute for yourself to collect your thoughts. I feel like I have a capitalist migraine every day of my life, the hustle never stops and if I don’t continue to put one foot in front of the other somebody else’s footsteps will get in front of mine. My cigar is my moment of the day, my time to relax. I can meet good friends at the Vcut shop here in West Hollywood and just chill. Honestly that is something that I had problems with, I couldn’t just chill out. I never stopped. I couldn’t even write music anymore because my brain was spinning with so much shit to do. I could never stop myself and cigars helped me find that personal peace of mind. I love smoking cigars.

CP – There is a certain tranquility that can come along with a great cigar experience. You can’t force it, but a great cigar can be any cigar that makes you sit back and relax. It’s not only about the physical effect of smoking a cigar, but it can be a great relaxation tool for the mind.

MB – Off a strong cigar I’ll cop a buzz, I’m not ashamed to say it. I’m a relatively new smoker and I like that part of it too.

CP – What made you start a smoking accessory line?

Matt Booth – It was because of my personal admiration for cigars and as my appreciation for the cigar culture continues to grow, I was inspired to start a smoking accessories collection.

CP – How do you decide what you’re going to make?

MB – Obviously the no brainer pieces were the lighters. I started off with housings, basically sheathes, if you will, to embellish Zippos and Bics, and then humidors came next. I also have the collaborative fumador that I worked on with Camacho that has a $30,000 price tag. Obviously this is the tip of the spear. It’s the “ooh and ah” generator.

CP – Are there any limits as to what you can or can’t do?

MB – There are no limits. I tell my customers that the only limits are their imaginations and their budgets. We run out of budget long before we run out of imagination. It’s sort of like the old saying that you can never be overdressed, only underdressed. Certain projects carry a certain price tag. But with everything that I create I always keep in mind creating that entry level variant, if it’s possible.

CP – It’s a fine craft, and definitely something that people who appreciate a great cigar can understand. Having something that is more or less an heirloom piece is a common thing with cigar smokers, whether it be a humidor, lighter, etc. Passing something on from generation to generation is part of the cigar lifestyle and is a beautiful thing. It comes in many forms from knowledge in the factories to cigar shop humidors, to accessories and even the cigars themselves.

MB – I have a client with whom there is a certain level of connectivity with what I am doing and the client’s taste, which draws us together. One of my clients recently confided in me that he tattooed Room 101 on his chest. And he’s had it there for some time, but he was a little shy to tell to me. He couldn’t really describe the feeling, but it’s something that he felt he was looking for and was happy to just be a part of the family, which is what we call it, the Room 101 family. I honestly feel very similarly towards the cigar community. I’m somewhat of a newcomer here, but I’m really digging my feet in and always learning, tasting, sampling. Every time I smoke it’s another meditation, good conversation, and something that I’m really happy to have found for my own mental well being. I’m just glad to be part of it.

CP – You have a few different characters and a vibe that comes with your work. How did you come up with that?

MB – A lot of my characters are deities from Japanese Buddhism. A lot of inspiration comes from old Japanese theatre masks and things like that. My first experience with that was in Okinawa, when I was in the Marine Corps. When most of the there guys were drunk out of their mind at the barracks (not to say I didn’t do my fair share of drinking), I would go check out the island. I would go see temples and monuments. The character that had the biggest impression on me was the Okinawa shissa dog. One of my main characters is the FU, which is my version of an Okinawa shissa dog. Take Buddha for example; in different countries like Thailand, their Buddha is a more slender figure, seated with a very pointed hat. In Japan their Buddha is very jolly and overweight with the money bag slung over his shoulder. Most of the characters I use have in some form or another a protective function, ones that thwart evil. They are evil fighters, or are there specifically to ward off evil from sacred places of people’s lives. Protection has always been a big part of my life. The first tattoo I got had everything to do with protection and the people I care about. Even the Marine corps, which is technically protecting the country.

CP – You also have a lot of interesting tattoos.

MB – I follow the Irizumi Japanese body-suit style of tattoos. The artwork for the characters is either depicting my variation on that character or is very traditional in style. But they carry the same message.

CP – What sort of people usually come to you for pieces of jewelry or cigar accessories?

MB – Being In Hollywood I deal a lot with rock-stars, and actors of course. But it’s mostly the average working dude or lady. Everything I make I make the way that I would do it for myself, but the TLC always goes into the working man’s piece. I used to work for a living myself so I know what it’s like. I still do, but that’s like a joke I have with myself. They always get the extra love from me. One of my favorite things to do is to give gifts to people who work with me and help me out, my friends, etc. I know that Hollywood culture, especially with certain known people expect everything for free. Those are the cats that don’t get shit from me. The cat that will get a gift from me is somebody that I work with, someone that has done me a solid and I want to return the favor, or for a friend that I want to do something nice for. That to me is one of the biggest pleasures that I find in my business. I like to treat people who are close to me, and it’s one of the biggest joys. Now I find myself gifting a lot of cigars too, I just want to share what I like. I’m like a kid in a candy store. I’m excited to meet more people in the industry and smoke a lot more cigars.



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