We caught up with Camila Castillo, a FashioNXT UpNXT Emerging Designer- Here we capture her backstage before her collection hits the runway and chatted with her for an in-depth look at her journey from New York, to Venezuela, to Oregon. Every piece she creates is a work of art, meticulously done by hand. Read on to hear what drives her and how her parents influence helped her define her brand today.
Camila, tell us about your upbringing and how this influences your work:
My upbringing with my creative parents was such an influence in all my interest for the arts. Everything I learned I would do so by sitting around when my parents and their artist guests where having conversations. I would absorb everything like a sponge! I learned about many art techniques and artists and as I grew I became more curious about it and then started investigating on my own. When you see from such a young age how art is about questioning and provoking and creating a reaction in the public, fashion was for me quite an obvious choice because I could show my artistic abilities but also provoke and create reactions to all the female empowerment issues my mother had instilled in me since for as long as I can remember!
How did you learn design?
I never really had any formal education in fashion design. I did however get a very rigorous training when I studied graphic design. I learned about the bauhaus techniques and a way of approaching design in which they believed there are no wrong or right materials, only badly used materials. Whichever material they give you , you must let the material speak to you and you must work with that. Later my father told me, if you want to create two dimensional designs, sketch, but if you want to create on a three dimensional body, then you should drape on a three- dimensional mannequin. He gave me my size 6 dress form as a gift which I use to this day and even has her own name: Wolfi! My technique then developed quite organically, and now I feel I am nothing if I don’t have a piece of fabric in my hand! This allows me to explore the materials possibilities and I play with it till a pattern or shapes emerge and I go with that. Its very intuitive and also impossible for the final design to look like what you imagined in your mind. There’s always error, so you go with the error, you follow it to see where it takes you and what comes out is usually something as cool or cooler than you’re original idea was.
Tell us about your Lost Generation Collection:
As I started working on this specific collection, the weaving and folding and stark black and white leather and use of acrylic all gave the garments a very tribal feeling to them, which also maintained the urban modernist feeling my work is known for.
Model: Valeria Isidoro. Makeup: Jesus Palencia, Photographer: Rafael Franceschi
Now having created a very urban tribe feeling, these pieces became my trademark. They have a very strong feminine sensuality to them, and with the tribal theme I think they convey a strong woman who is confident in her beliefs and her sexuality. Unfortunately, upon doing research about urban tribes of this era, I came upon a specific tribe name in South Africa which is known as “THE LOST GENERATION”, referring to the latest generation of South African youth, who are at disadvantage with their international peers educationally. It is an extremely dysfunctional educational system. This reminded me, having also strong Latina roots, how unfortunate it is that some youth have an advantage over others because of opportunities based on their upbringing, geographical or gender origin as well as some females having more of an advantage than others. We must all fight to overcome adversities and to shine in life and become whatever it is we want- so I gave this collection it’s name.
Coming from a long period of living abroad in places where there were not many materials to choose from, I have learned to see what is available and work with that, give it value through the workmanship I use.
"My father always said: limitations are the basis of design, and he was right because the more limited you find yourself, the more you use your creativity to create something unique."
Model: Andrea Vásquez, Styling: Abner Gil, Photographer: Anibal Mestre
You learn to work with what is at hand and the material sparks to you, there are things you can or cannot do with specific materials so you learn to get the most out of every material you encounter and make something extraordinary out if something that could before seemingly look like a something ordinary.
How did you end up in Portland?
I came to Portland with my child trying to find a better place for my son to grow up in as Los Angeles was quite dangerous and I liked the feeling of living in a safer friendlier place. I am surprised at how nice people are here- I mean I was born in New York and you just automatically create this tough “city “ persona. You become street smart but I have been able to let my guard down a bit! I started designing 6 years ago , showed a collection at Los Angeles Concept Fashion Week and have not stopped since. What has changed though is how I was located in Latin America most of the year and then some months ago I came to the US. Creating a business in the chaos of a country that is also in political unrest is impossible and am very excited about the new possibilities now,, being located here where it is more plausible to run a small business!
Tell us about your Brand:
Even though it is very very time consuming and you must believe in your vision no matter what when you are starting out. After coming here it is like a new beginning, but of course you produce, sell, work on your internet exposure. Everything is done by me and has of course, my signature. Even the photographs I post of myself wearing a certain piece, have an intent and are not an accident. I am my brand and everything about how I behave, what I produce, how I feel women should react or not to specific situations, all are what I am trying to convey.
What are you trying to achieve through your designs?
It is not that fashion is a piece of fabric sewn in a specific way, no, my brand and fashion in general reflects a lifestyle, a specific stance of the creator on how he or she wants the people that wear his or her work to be perceived.
It is to be respected, to feel empowered, to feel worthy and strong and beautiful and capable , that’s what I want to convey.
And yes it is very very challenging being and independent designer, especially to make ends meet financially at first and to keep your vision clean and be loyal to your beliefs. It may take you a bit longer to achieve financial success and you truly need to understand that.
Designer Thierry Mugler used to say , you are giving woman a service: they believe in your work because they want to look the way you have envisioned the women in your brand look and how they are seen and thought of.
Going for financial success can get in the way of that vision when you need to pay the bills. It’s a fine line- remaining true to yourself and the woman you want to be your clients but also being able to create something that will allow you to function in this fiscal society we live in.
What Inspires you?
Whenever I get asked that question; what my inspiration was for a determined collection, I find it very hard to be specific. I always have the idea in my mind of dressing women to feel the most powerful and capable and sensual they can, while also making pieces that have an incredible amount of elaborate workmanship behind them (my art background is always there, art is always there) but the spirit of the collection may vary depending on what I am doing routinely most of the time during the creation of a specific collection.
Model: Valeria Isidoro. Makeup: Jesus Palencia, Photographer: Rafael Francesch
For example , in my first collection , which I called "Alien". I was living in Latin America in a very unequal relationship, to describe it in some way, and was almost as if I couldn't have my own voice. I felt not unlike a robot controlled by someone else, an alien in a world of other women I perceived as in control of their lives, so that made an impression. Or the last collection this past March , also at Vanfashionweek.
In these 2 collections I was actually breaking free as was the country I was living in so it was not unlike the chaos that surround child birth ... and all that was reflected on the collection. On one hand you have the noise and the rhythm and pace of the whole situation I was in and then you have the looks and the actual pieces which were much more free and colorful than my previous work. I was finally freeing myself from oppression, so to speak. Then I come here and I start watching a lot of American internet and tv and see for example the series ”Euphoria“ where you see all this struggle that youth have here with their self worth. That is something you don’t even think of back in Venezuela because everyone is so busy just trying to freaking survive these problems that affect you. American people and youth just felt very new to me. So I just started having this fascination with an innocence I had not felt before, and fabrics that were very feminine and girly. Looking back, I feel that the zone I am strongest in is the women empowered, the sexually free women, and I feel those are still my strongest looks this time. The more feminine almost girly shapes do not come naturally to me, so I feel I still am exploring and trying to find my footing and my voice now that I am safe and in this country. I am still finding myself.
Tell us about your involvement with FashioNXT's UpNXT competition:
The people at UpNxt had nothing but the best intentions and really wanted to help us learn the business side of the design process and the sustainability. This is, by the way, something very close to my heart because the rain forests in Venezuela are being torn apart for monetary profit. I really feel this is terrible issue, but I also think that one of the most obvious solutions that come to mind is to simple STOP the frenetic pace the fashion industry and social media want us to live in, which is NOT NATURAL! We don’t need 10 collections a year by any means. There is too much stuff already out there and it also is very taxing on us as creators. We have to live for our work, that is why so many designers leave the game so fast because it is almost unbearable.
Camila backstage at FashioNXT
At FashioNXT, they really went out of there way to help us sort out how we could help solve these issues. It was a very taxing experience time wise but I would do it again because I learned so much and learning, like growing , always implies some pain in it. A huge effort , but it was worth it, even if I feel I made mistakes or I didn’t feel comfortable because I feel I have yet to find my voice in this new situation life has put me in. Who I am now, to be able to know what I want to portray, but that is a totally personal experience that has only to do with me and my surroundings and my journey- no one else's.
Photo by Tom Lupton at FashioNXT
What advice would you give new designers?
I would tell new designers to always always be true to their vision, if they feel they do not have one. If they do not have anything specific they want to say or convey, then maybe fashion or art are not a good fit for them. But if you want to do it, work hard, be true to what you do and this is very very important:
Never let anyones opinion of your work get to you!
They are not you! They have not been through your journey so what they may think can be completely something they are seeing out of context, you are the best judge of your own capabilities and you can see for yourself what you could or could not have done better and be humble enough to learn when you make a mistakes. It is ok to fail, we all have. Most successful stories are many failures and the resilience to keep on despite or because of them. What is not acceptable is to not learn from your mistakes and also to just relax, learn you can say no and it’s ok. Don’t let the industry bully you. Grow at your own pace and try to remember to stop and smell the flowers! You worked hard! You deserve it!
Model: Marceline Sanguine, Styling : Marshall Heritage, Photographer: Yvette Tang
Success or failures , doesn’t matter , you deserve to feel good after you worked so hard!
LETS ALL BE THE BEST WE CAN BE! Camila Castillo
Camila, Thank you for sharing your journey, your insights and advice! IFD wishes you the best of luck for the future- keep working hard and following your vision!