Edmundo Castillo is a world class shoe designer. After ten years working with Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren, he launched his eponymous shoe collection in 1999, won the CFDA Perry Ellis Award for Accessories in 2001, and had tremendous success until he shuttered his line in 2004 to take over as Creative Director at Sergio Rossi. After Europe, he returned to re-launch his line in 2011, while also consulting for brands and collaborating on runway collections with Vera Wang, Oscar de la Renta, Narciso Rodriguez, and Tommy Hilfiger. He has taken it upon himself to impose limits on his creativity and set his own rules while still creating the most innovative and beautiful shoes currently in the market.
How did your childhood and growing up in Puerto Rico influence your decision to become a fashion designer?
My decision to become a shoe designer was based more on having been influenced by having so much creativity around me when I was growing up. There was a lot of creativity on both sides of the family and a great appreciation for the arts.
In what ways is this influence displayed in your current design life?
I grew up surrounded by women that loved shoes. My mother, 7 aunts, lots of female cousins and three sisters older talked a lot about shoes during family reunions. It was background conversation while I played with cousins and it stayed with me. A lot of the fights between my sisters were about clothes and shoes. One telling another “You are not getting in my car wearing those shoes!” was one that I will never forget. I also discovered a love for sneakers and shoes at a very early age and understood the emotion that happens when finding or wearing the perfect one.
You’ve had a very accomplished career having started out with Donna Karan for 10 years and then with Ralph Lauren – what did your experience at these houses teach you about running a business?
With Donna Karan, I learned about creating and turning that creation into something wearable. With Ralph Lauren, I learned about merchandising. I was very fortunate to spend the first 10 years of my career with two designers that I loved, wanted to work for, and learn from.
What was the market like when you launched your eponymous shoe collection? Are any of your contemporaries still standing?
In 1999 the market was very different than it is now. Not every fashion brand had a shoe collection like it is today and there weren’t many up-and-coming shoe designers. The economy wasn’t as complex either. It just felt very different. It still was challenging, but the challenges to be faced weren’t as many as there are today. At the time there was Bruno Frisoni who is doing great at Roger Vivier; and Brian Atwood started around the same time that I did. I have great admiration for both.
You won the Perry Ellis Award for Accessories in 2001, what was it like being recognized at this time?
Receiving the CFDA award two years after having launched my line was amazing. I wasn’t expecting it or looking for a nomination, and it felt like it just happened out of the blue. Everything changed after that. Being recognized by the CFDA is a great honor and after winning I felt I had been catapulted into another level. It was all so fast.
What made you close your line in 2004?
In 2004, I was offered the position of Creative Director at Sergio Rossi, which is owned by the Gucci Group. At the time I was running my business practically on my own and this was a great opportunity to create for a brand that was already positioned globally. A great opportunity to learn more about the shoe business with considerable financial support.
How did you spend the years in between closing and re-launching?
I spent almost 5 years at Sergio Rossi and after leaving the brand I began to prepare my relaunch while consulting for Castañer Santoni and Via Spiga. I also collaborated with Narciso Rodriguez, Behnaz Sarafpour, Vera Wang, Tommy Hilfiger and Oscar de la Renta for their runway presentations.
Since re-launching your label in 2011, what are you doing differently than before?
Business is so much different than before. Very complex. As a result I am not precipitating myself and I am taking it very slow.
How do you feel about the current expectations for designers?
Everyone is a designer these days and the expectations are based on a lot more than just talent.
You’ve been creating architectural and modern shoes for women long before the Nicholas Kirkwoods came onto the scene – who are the great, innovative up and comer shoe designers in your mind?
Gianvito Rossi is one of my favorites right now.
What do you wish you knew when you launched in 1999?
There is a lot that I would have loved to know when I started. Of course! But at the same time, this is about evolving and one can never stop learning. On the other hand, what I know now, all of it be not be as useful as we may think that it will be 15 years from now. Knowing too much can stop you from taking risks. And if I knew then what I know now I would have never started my business.