As far as conversational icebreakers go, we bet that Argentine menswear designer Lucio Castro can hold his own anywhere. The son of a brilliant scientist and a Telenovela actress from Buenos Aires, Castro studied medicine and film before enrolling at Parsons School of Design to study fashion in 1999. There, Castro produced a thesis collection that earned him a nomination for Designer of the Year; he then went on to work for Marc Jacobs, DKNY Jeans and Armani Exchange, where he remained the director of menswear for six years. In 2011 Castro launched his eponymous label of menswear with a view to creating a more ethical-minded discipline. Where the line is cut and sewn in socially responsible factories in Argentina, Sri Lanka and Peru, trims are sourced from fair trade organizations in India, Nepal and Ecuador. Spend some actual time with the designer and you’ll too realize that what makes him one of the most-wanted designers is precisely his understated authenticity and effortless style. Here is what we learned about Castro from our recent exchange.
You’re what some people might call a free spirit and a multi-hyphenate, but what’s the first adjective that comes to mind when people ask you to describe yourself, and why?
I think that the first thing that comes to mind is that I’m an adventure seeker, not only in the Indiana Jones way, though there’s definitely some of that, but mainly in the way I usually seek to experience life in a way that seems to bypass the succession of everyday events. I think that this explains my constant curiosity, which of course exacerbates the multi-hyphenated spirit you were talking about. There’s also a suspension from reality that happens in any adventure, and I’m into that as well.
What was it like growing up in Buenos Aires and how did it shape who you are today?
It was great. I was raised in the heart of Buenos Aires, which is a big city, high up in an apartment building, so I was always surrounded by the city’s cultural life. My mom was a Telenovela actress obsessed with Hitchcock and my father is a nuclear physicist into Eastern philosophy—he’s the biggest reader I have ever met. I don’t have any memories of my father not holding a book in his hands, not even at the dinner table. And they communicated by playing chess all day long—chess was their middle ground. So I guess I’m the result of that. I’m an only child, so it always felt like three friends. We would go to see movies every Friday and Sunday nights. We would also travel together, etc. My friends were also very [influential] and they were all connected to the arts in one way or another.
So after stints with medicine and film, you’re now taking an environmentally friendly approach to American sportswear. Tell us more about that, where the inspiration came from, what have been some of the challenges, and what you hope to achieve.
I had been working in the fashion industry in New York for 12 years and I wanted to find my voice. Then I saw that there was a gap in the industry for ethical fashion companies that did not have an organic look, so I focused on the production process of making clothes and I researched a way to make them as clean and transparent as possible. As you know it’s an industry that involves so many people, from cotton fertilizers to truck drivers, and I was interested in creating a company that had the most control as possible of all these steps. I’m also interested in going way beyond the 100% organic cotton shirt; I’m interested in the process and the people involved. I really want to grow my company so that it allows me to have even more control over its process. I also really enjoy design challenges, really using design to question the way we experience life. I like this wholesome approach to design.
And for those of us who aren’t familiar with your line, what are some of your signature pieces and details?
Definitely fabric and color. I think that those are the two standouts of my collections. I usually pick fabrics that are not the obvious choice for a specific silhouette. And I love color, playing with color, eliminating color, making color look strange or beautiful. My leather pieces and my sweaters (knitwear) are also my key items. And I do well with my woven shirts, again I think because of the use of unexpected fabrics.
You’ve just joined the CFDA Incubator after accomplishing so much on your own and at your previous companies. Can you explain then why you felt it was important for you to do it?
I really like the sense of community that the CFDA Incubator offers. I love that I’m with someone that just graduated from school last year and another person that lived in India for three years working with local artisans. I already think that being in a studio so close to other thinking designers will only make each other’s work better. I’m a firm believer that many ideas floating around are better than one. And also, of course, I’m excited to be around the great resource and purpose that the CFDA represents.
So what are some of the things you’ve learned there about running your own label?
So many already. We have been working with mentors and MBA students, so definitely I got great help in business management, approach to cost and pricing, etc. I’m moving into the studio next week, so I’m excited to start working next to the other designers.
What other projects are preoccupying your head these days? What’s really inspiring you?
I want to shoot a 16mm short film involving my line in the fall and also a collaboration on a shoe line. And about inspiration, that happens daily—from a great essay on “The Adventure” by Georg Simmel I read last night (that influenced my answer to your first question) to the videos of the artist Feiko Beckers I’ve been watching all week, to someone’s picture on Instagram.
You’ve mentioned before wanting to design upholstery as well as uniforms for airlines. What inspired that and what would that look like under your direction?
Yes! Not only upholstery and uniforms! I want to art direct the whole airline and really think about what it means to air travel today and really address that experience. I think that airlines are one way or another still stuck in the “Pan Am” aesthetic. I want to move that forward.
Speaking of traveling, you just got back from Asia. Did you have a favorite destination? Why was it your favorite and what travel tips do you have for traveling?
I love Shanghai. It has such amazing contrasts of old and new, East and West. It’s also a very experiential city. It’s not a picture perfect city like Kyoto. You have to experience Shanghai to really know what it is about. And about traveling, I love planes. I love being unreachable and devote that time to catching up on reading and movies.
And because you’re a film buff, what was the last film you really loved?
I really liked “Eastern Boys,” “The King of Escape,” “Ilo Ilo.” And Nicolas Cage is amazing again, after Herzog’s “Bad Lieutenant,” in “Joe.”
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