|Castro, jewelry designer, creator of dreams|
He scored points simply for being at my favorite restaurant, 2 years ago. Once I struck up conversation, I noticed the bear claw around his neck; he told me about his jewelry, I told him about my "dirty" writing, we discussed race. Since then there were run-ins in SoHo and the LES when he wasn't in Europe or Asia racking up buyers or in Paris (le sigh) for Fashion Week. A few blocks away from the Art For Change Gallery, we met at his studio for this interview.
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My name is Castro, like Fidel Castro, like Cuba. I’m a creator, a creator of dreams. At this point in my dreams I’m creating jewelry, leather accessories—whatever comes to my mind. Before that, I did clothing, women’s clothing.
How long have you been doing the jewelry creation?
It started when I came here to New York in 2006. I was working for somebody on the street to make money to do the clothing and stuff and it didn’t go so well. A friend of mine said, “Why don’t you try doing your own collection?” I said, “Aight fuck it, I’mma do it” and that’s what I did. Some people thought I was crazy ‘cause I was putting diamonds in brass and they were like, “You’re not gonna make it”… fuck you, I’ll do what I wanna do. I’ve always been doing what I wanna but getting in trouble for it so I figure I’d do something that’s good and do what I wanna do.
|Photo courtesy of Castro NYC on Tumblr|
How would you categorize your jewelry?
Good question. I’mma answer that question point blank—Gotharelic.
Yeah. Gotharelic is like a swag. It embodies goth, punk and rock. So either you can rock one, two or all three. It’s a lifestyle; how you carry yourself and also it’s not in the normal sense of what people call goth and punk, more like the original goth, original punk, you know, punk in the 60’s, not the new shit.
Not the neo punk.
No, no, that stuff’s bootleg.
What’s your company name?
Castro. And there's Castro NYC—that’s the big one. And then you got a couple other companies under that. We got a new bridge line, that one’s called… Castro’s Black. You like that, don’t you? [laughs] Castro’s Black. What does that mean? Is he racist? Is that like BET? I’m gonna leave it open…
Do you wanna stay within your niche or any desire to go mainstream?
I don’t care about mainstream. We don’t care about mainstream. If mainstream comes to us and they like us and they want us and then they buy it, then that’s fine. But let’s say someone that’s really mainstream and commercial wanna borrow something, I usually say no, ‘cause if I don’t think you hot then I don’t care. For me, working with somebody like Björk, that’s like dream come true or you know, even Lenny [Kravitz], you know, they cool but there’s some other people, I ain’t gonna say they names, they kinda wack.
Wack to work with…
Nah, you know having the whole image. You guilty by association. If you walking with a lame, you gonna be considered a lame. You hang with clowns and everyone’s like, “Look, Mom, it’s a clown.” So our whole schtick is making sure everything we do is as unique as possible and then after that it’s how we can make it so the group that we’re trying to reach out to will buy it. From that point on, if other people choose to buy it, that’s great.
So it’s not a goal to be mainstream…
No, no… but like I said we’re trying to build bridges… Trying to stay as unique as possible. At one point, I’d say a couple of seasons ago, [I] tried to do something, I guess you’d call it commercial, it wasn’t received well and my heart wasn’t it in. That's the thing, my heart wasn’t in it and when I let it go it didn’t feel like my baby, you know? And I have to live with that. Every time I look on the internet and see it I’m like, “oh man, damn”, I’m hiding my face, folks asking, “Is that you?” There’s nothing I can do about it now; it’s a learning experience and it won’t happen again.
What’s a typical day like for you?
I wake up, I sit there, I try to figure out if I’m dreaming still or am I awake; I’m going through an Inception experience, always. Eat oatmeal, use the bathroom…
A typical work day…
That is part of my work day ‘cause once the oatmeal says “release!”, I’m out the gate. When our collaborators come in—we have a good team of girls—we go through the first meeting of the day which is we get the thoughts together of what we wanna accomplish. I try to surround myself with people who are better than me, always, ‘cause I feel if I’m not good at paperwork, why am I doing paperwork? My thing is more creating than designing so once we have the meeting we get to see what angles we have to come at today, this week, who’s doing what and then that frees my mind so I’m not sitting there thinking, “Oh God, I forgot about that” “Did I do that?” I go through that a lot; I’m kinda absentminded, I think it’s the age, Alzheimer’s or something—it’s either that or Amsterdam has caught up with me finally.
I say that designing or creating is really between 10 to maybe 30 percent maximum of the day for me. The rest of the day we’re thinking about what are we gonna do for New York, how are we gonna do Fashion Week, can we find a showroom, what’s up with Twitter, what’s up with Facebook, who’s doing this, am I doing this, call the tax guy—so it’s more business than designing, the more the company gets bigger. Before we just designed and when it was time to do something, nothing could get done ‘cause we just designed.
Oh ok, so you had to bring in people to handle the logistics?
I don’t have to do anything, it’s a choice, to free my mind. But also I wanna bring people in to teach them because I have something to offer. I believe if you have something to offer, offer it. Throughout this business, there’s always been someone helping me, always someone to say, “You know what? Dude around the corner can hook you up with this.” “This person can hook you up with this”. The doors are closed for Black folks in the jewelry business; in the diamond district, there’s one damn Black jewelry store, Ozuro Fine Jewelry on 5th and 47th, so go see him. Anyway, there’s not a lot of information sharing, everybody’s hiding everything. It’s just senseless. You’re being greedy and there’s no need to be greedy, feed the needy.
How do you maintain a balance between your personal and client work?
Well the personal stuff is kinda new. Before we only cared about wholesale ‘cause that’s all we knew at the time. We’re more concerned with the retail customer now.We’re doing our best to focus on the retail customer ‘cause that’s what’s popping.
What is your favorite word, in any language, and why?
‘Cause it’s cool, I’m cool… I’m the shit.
Ah, so that’s why it’s your favorite word.
Damn right. But it’s more than that, ‘cause Castro is tradition, quality, it’s coolness, it’s goth, it’s punk, it’s rock – it’s all wrapped up in one word. Like even though we have gotharelic, above gotharelic is Castro. But I like gotharelic too, though. Gotharelic is hot. Castro is cool but that’s a name… I’m gonna have to go with gotharelic.
So that’s your favorite word…
Damn right, ‘cause we made it. We invented that shit. We coined it.
What is sexy about jewelry and adornment to you? Does the person make the jewelry sexy or does the jewelry make the person sexy?
The person makes the jewelry sexy. I mean you put some stuff on some people and it looks like junk. It’s like when you’re on 5th Avenue where it’s dripping money and you got Black Cosby folks walking around with dogs, you see people up there and the old lady jumps outta the taxi with the fur coat on and shit, you just assume that what they have on is real because of the air about them—it’s amazing what she got on—but it could be costume, it could be fake but because of who she is and how she carries herself you assume that that’s what it is and you put that label on it. But it’s the person. It’s always the person. I can have some of my jewelry on the table, people look at it but then some of it’s on my neck and they go, “Wow, what’s that piece you got?” and it’s the same piece, but on me. So yeah, I guess jewelry can be sexy, per se, you know the lines and so forth but still it's the person.
What part of the body speaks to you - head, shoulders, knees or toes?
Head. I’d be more attracted to the head than the shoulders or the knees, personally. Everybody judges by first impressions. People say beauty is inside—that’s some bullshit. That takes time. Sometimes you aint got time for that shit. Sometimes it’s up to that first evaluation -- yea or nay? So I think with the jewelry, with the clothing, first impression is everything. A person looks at it and immediately makes their mind up.
Is there anything that you’ve tried as an artist and failed?
I’ve failed at nothing as an artist. Maybe not gotten exactly the results I wanted but there was always some success and maybe not the success I wanted or the success I tried to get. I don’t believe in mistakes, I believe there’s only learning lessons.
What’s your artist’s vice?
This computer [laughs]. I get lost on the computer. It’s that or sometimes I get feelings of melancholy, a lot. I go in the zone and I kinda float off in a haze and then I feel bad that I didn’t do anything and then I sink into another one ‘cause now I’m like it’s too late to work. I procrastinate a lot.
How do you handle burnout?
I go into more depression [chuckles].
To handle burnout?
Yeah, I just go into a funk. I had a burnout recently, and I didn’t do anything. I just moped around. But they say if you get into these funks to go to a museum or something like that to get another inspiration, a new spark, so I went to a museum around the corner, El Barrio, I was inspired by some things ... and the New York Museum. So yeah, a new spark… you just have to keep sparking yourself.
You said “new spark”, where do you get your inspiration from generally?
Dreams, number one. Museums. This season it’s Black metal, music, iconic images, a lot of tribal piercings and body modification… mainly a lot of sources like that and the church, the church is always there cause I was traumatized when I was younger... had to go to Catholic school… yeah the memories are in my brain, always.
What stereotype do you fit?
I can’t answer that question ‘cause that’s from someone else’s perception. Another person has to see it in you, you don’t see it yourself. If you do then you’re a snob, you’re egotistic. How can a person say ‘I’m proud of myself’? You can’t be proud of yourself.
Yeah, you can…
No. It’s impossible. You don’t know your feats and how great they are until someone points them out to you. Like when your parents say, “You did great today”, or your parents say, “Look in the mirror, wow you’re beautiful”. You don’t know you’re beautiful or you’re ugly until someone pointed it out to you like “damn you a ugly motherfucker” and then you go look in the mirror and then those stereotypes start to fit into your head. It comes from an outside source. It’s foreign; it’s not a natural thing. People keep saying because you’re wearing this, because you’re doing this, because you’re doing that and that’s when, maybe for some people, it sticks and they start to embody it or live it.
Do you have any other creative outlets? Any secret talents?
Many. God’s always showed me that I have a new one. Every time I think it’s over with He gives me something else ‘cause I did clothing and then He gave me the jewelry. And before that He gave me something else. I used to speed skate… I was good…
Oh! You were a speed skater?
Yeah… I was one of the best in the country at one time. But still, He keeps giving me new attributes and new skills. Every time I have a situation I have to get in [to] something, I call Him and I call my Mom—I call those two people. ‘Cause I know he’s gonna speak through my Mom; I’m not trying to listen to his full answer, so He gives it to my Mom.
What are your pet peeves in working with clients?
Late. If they’re late. If we agreed on a price and they try to flip, try to come back on the price, you know, give you some story after I’ve worked on it… That’s why I get 50 percent down, that way I don’t worry about it… yeah, those things… I’m always late I don’t need another person to be late [laughs].
Complete this statement: If my muse were an animal, it would be…
It’d a bird.
Birds are most distinctive; they have the most distinctive skull of all animals, even humans. And the birds are keen, they can find the water source anywhere in the world. And it’s weird, it’s like they know exactly how to fuck with you. You know when you’ve been up too late all you hear is chirp chirp chirp chirp and you’re like “motherfucker!” Reality sets in ‘cause you try to fool yourself the whole night and the bird chirps, “wake your ass up.” Knowing you had to go to work in 3 hours. That and besides them shitting on everything, which is kinda cool if you could just shit when you wanted to shit and never think about it—I mean, I would. Plus they can fly. I mean, come on, who doesn’t wanna fly? If you could just fly—I’m going to Florida, fuck it, I’m gone. You’d be tired as hell, but you’d be there. That’d be pretty cool; everybody wants to fly, that’s for sure.
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