I Turned My Match-Hoarding Habit Into a Technicolor Instagram Page

The photogenic side of phillumeny.

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It started in 1986, when Nadia Tisone Cavallo had just moved to New York City for college. “At the time, everyone in the city was smoking, and restaurants and clubs used matches to promote their businesses,” she recalls. “I started picking up a few to use them, and then ended up collecting them to remember the places I’d gone to with friends.” Fast-forward to 2017, when she was back in Switzerland and her daughter, Alice, had flown home for Christmas. “I had started collecting matches a few years earlier—a hoarder trait that also defined my teenage years when I was accumulating pins, stickers, and patches for no other reason beside them being beautiful objects,” says Alice. The pair emptied out their respective acquisitions onto the floor, sharing the stories behind their favorite boxes with each other. Then, in true 2010s fashion, they decided to make an Instagram page dedicated to their findings. 

Oh, What a Match! is the result of decades of accumulating, laid out in an aesthetically pleasing grid. Each little square features a unique background, made up of fabric sourced from both Nadia’s and Alice’s closets and specially chosen to complement the starring matchbox. “I always joke that thank goodness I’m not a minimalist!” says Alice. “I’m a sucker for eclectic color combinations.” There’s also a thoughtful caption for every one: The carton with a martini on the front comes with a recipe for Alice’s go-to “quarantini”; the orange Chateau Marmont packet includes an ode to the iconic Los Angeles hotel. Together, they have amassed more than 750 matchboxes.

Alice and nadia cavallo
Courtesy of Oh, What a Match!

“The real appeal of phillumeny [matchbook collecting] for both my mother and me is the emotional value that matches hold,” explains Alice. “Matches tell a story, bring people together, and amuse through their shapes and colors. They’re small designs yet big carriers of memories.” Their Instagram account continues to grow, creating a community for people who want to share their own stories: a packet from a now-closed restaurant, a box from a honeymoon spent in Barcelona, a matchbook saved from a wedding. It makes the case for holding onto souvenirs, no matter how tiny. “Plus they look great in elegant bowls next to candles and coffee-table books as home decor,” she adds. 

coffee table with books and matches
Courtesy of Oh, What a Match!

colorful matchboxes laid out on a gold frame
Courtesy of Oh, What a Match!

We chatted with the duo about some of their favorite phillumenist treasures. 

The Nightlife Memento

I’m a big dancer, and the Jane Hotel reminds me of some of the best nights out with friends. I love their tunes and how you could go from dancing to the beat of “Crazy in Love” to “Don’t Stop Me Now” in a matter of seconds. —Alice

The New Weekend Tradition

On May 24, 1986, after the initial culture shock from landing in New York City, I had my first brunch ever at Cafe Orlin. I had orange juice and eggs Benedict, an unusual combination I had never had before. —Nadia

The Celebrity Endorsement 

Sarah Jessica Parker in the flesh thanked us when we posted her SJP Collection matchbox on our page. I almost had a heart attack…Sex and the City is my religion! —Alice

The Honeymoon Keepsake

How could I forget my honeymoon in Aspen? We went to Mezzaluna and came back with its matches and a small ashtray to remember our trip. —Nadia

The Mother-Daughter Favorite

Indochine is our favorite restaurant—we both love the jungle-inspired decor and French-Vietnamese food. My mom used to dine there in the ’80s and it’s a must-go place every time she comes to visit. She still knows the phone number by heart. —Alice

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Elly Leavitt

Writer and Editor

Elly enjoys covering anything from travel to funky design (tubular furniture, anyone?) to the latest cultural trend. Her dream apartment would exist on the Upper West Side and include a plethora of mismatched antique chairs, ceramic vessels, and floor-to-ceiling bookcases—essential to her goal of becoming a poor man’s Nora Ephron. You can probably find her in line at Trader Joe’s. You will never find her at SoulCycle.