DESIGNER SPOTLIGHT: INTERVIEW WITH GENE PAOLO CASTRO, DESIGNER OF OROCÉO CASTRO
Orocéo Castro garments fit perfectly. When I say perfectly, I don't mean simply the size, but the shape, the cut and the body-sculpt too. The Gitara Dress in particular, is a personal favourite of mine for many reasons; it's not 'in-your-face' sexy, instead it is subtle, classic, strong and tasteful. The Gitara Dress is a true representation of the designer's overall aesthetic too, and I love that it can be dressed up and down so easily.
After falling in love with the Gitara Dress, I interviewed Paolo, the designer behind the Australian brand Orocéo Castro, and his story is just as inspiring as my dress is perfect. Drawing inspiration from his global travels and heritage, Paolo is committed to creating beautiful and empowering fashion for the modern woman, transitioning from day to night at any occasion.
What sparked your interest in fashion growing up?
I have always had very strong ideas when it comes to dressing, even from a very young age. I can’t count the number of times I had the urge to snatch my sister’s Barbie dolls from her so that I could re-dress each and every one of them. I used to tag along with my mum and sister when they went shopping, and I remember seeing pure elation in their faces every time they found a garment they really wanted, and leaving every store with shopping bags adorning their (and my) arms. That really started my interest in fashion and from then on, I dreamt of the day I’d be able to somehow immerse myself in it.
When did you decide to pursue a career in fashion?
I am actually a qualified and practicing physiotherapist and have been for several years. My parents urged me to pursue something that they perceived as financially stable, and I hadn’t told anyone about my desire to get into fashion until a few years ago. Then I thought, I’m getting old, and as the cliché goes, you only live once! So that’s when I really felt the urgent need to do something I truly enjoyed, and that was fashion design. I had a particular conversation with my sister one day where she told me, ‘Just do what you love.’ It’s so simple, but that was the start of my journey into this career.
Are you self-taught or did you study fashion?
I studied fashion design at Melbourne Fashion Institute.
What defining moments in your life have shaped your design aesthetic?
My design aesthetic is very much based on how my mum and my sister dress. Colour wise, it can’t be denied that I love black and white as well as a lot of neutrals. I don’t know exactly why, but if I were to guess, I would say that it’s because I am naturally a shy person and subconsciously less inclined to draw attention to myself. I do, however, like exploring different silhouettes. This is mostly due to a trip to Barcelona and Munich a few years ago; the work of Gaudi just blew my mind away. I was also influenced by how fearless the women of Munich are when it comes to dressing.
What struggles did you face launching your own label?
The business side of things is always a challenge to me because I am definitely more inclined to reach for the sketchpad than the balance book. As much as I want to come up with fifty looks in the one collection, I always have to hold back because as a very new label (four months old) there is a ton of things that require spending on and I am pretty much bootstrapping the business. I also used to do all the designing, patternmaking and sewing on top of my day job. Physiotherapist by day, designer by night and weekends! I lost count of the number of times I woke up in the morning at the sewing table, only to realize it’s time to put my physio-hat back on again. I’m so glad I’ve got some help from someone now – Rima, who’s fantastic at patternmaking and sewing, and keeping me sane!
Who or what is your greatest inspiration?
I’ve got so many sources of inspiration, it’s quite difficult to narrow it down to just the one. My dad is a great inspiration in terms of being a businessman. Design-wise, I really admire Haider Ackermann. We have completely different aesthetics but the way he manipulates fabric is nothing short of extraordinary.
What do you think your niche is as a designer?
I design for the woman who has a ladylike, modern-preppy, uptown and polished sense of style. I love designing separates so our customers can mix and match different pieces whilst maintaining a look that is still ‘put together’.
If your designs could speak, what would they say?
I think they’d say, ‘Sexy does not always mean showing more skin, lady!’
What has been your biggest achievement?
Being invited to be represented by a fashion agency overseas, as well as being invited to dress an Australian celebrity.
What do you plan to achieve in the near future?
I’m planning to stock at a few more physical stores in Australia as well as stocking in L.A., which is already in the works.
Is there anything you would have done differently?
I would have solidified my business plan first before starting the business. I started the business thinking it’s just going to be a matter of making something and selling it, but things happened and I began to realize it’s going to be bigger than what I expected.
What advice would you give to emerging designers?
I’ve got so much to learn myself, so I feel like I’m not in the position to give advice! But from what I’ve learned so far, I’d say always have a contingency plan for everything. Also, never abandon your aesthetic despite what anyone says, and listen to your customers but at the same time, put your unique signature to each and every piece you make.
What motto do you live by?
'Insist on yourself. Never imitate.' - Ralph Waldo Emerson.
When you’re not running your label, what do you enjoy doing?
I love singing, swimming, travelling and hanging out with my fiancé Tim and puppy Uji.
Jasmine Janabi x