Fashion Revolution Creative Director Orsola De Castro Takes Tamsin Blanchard Through Her Wardrobe
Orsola de Castro, 53, is the creative director of Fashion Revolution, the campaign she co-founded with Carry Somers after the Rana Plaza factory disaster in 2013, in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. She describes herself as a “recovering fashion designer.”
TB: How many wardrobes do you have?
ODC: “Two. And a floordrobe and chairdrobes. I’m really messy when it comes to clothes keeping. The one featured here is not my main wardrobe, it’s where I rotate summer and winter. Half is summer and half winter. I rotate them so there are some I know I will want to wear that year and others I know I won’t. I often hide them, so I put them away in beautiful luggage and hide them from myself for five years, so when I find them again they will look brand new. This is a game I’ve been playing a long time. I’ve got a lot of evening wear because I’ve also inherited from my mother, my aunt, my grandmother, and my first mother-in-law and my first mother-in-law’s sisters. Mostly evening wear.”
TB: How far back do they go?
ODC: “My eveningwear goes back to the 1920s. From my grandmother. I only have one piece from my great-grandmother, which is a corset, which I wear very seldom because it’s falling apart, and I have three nighties that could go back to before the 1920s. I’m reluctant to wear them because they are silk and hand laced, so they are a piece of art for me. My grandmother was from a massive Venetian family. She was one of six children, so when you look at the children, welcome in all shapes and sizes. One of the pieces of clothing, I inherited from my grandmother’s brother’s wife. In my family what is extraordinary is that we are all at it. All clothes keepers, clothes sharers with each other. If I get a shirt from my cousin it’s OK if I give it back in 10 years. I have a massive amount of clothes that come from family, cousins.”
TB: And your daughters and son? Is there onward movement of your clothes to the future generations?
ODC: “I’m very stingy. I do pass them on. I shed to my daughters at Christmas. I give things that are mine. We’ve been shedding for years. My mum sheds to me, my aunt sheds. They are the best Christmas presents. We all pretty much know what will fit and who will fit what. One of my cousins in particular, Aurora, she gives me clothes completely regularly and onwards and backwards, shoes, clothes.”
vintage dress, trousers by FROM SOMEWHERE, dentist clogs from a chemist’s in Slovenia
TB: You are very inclusive in your approach to clothes. You do really appreciate quality, though.
ODC: “I 100% appreciate quality and I try to look for quality in the clothes that I own. But we haven’t had quality for such a long time, neither in terms of high street nor in terms of design, that I’ve had to become accustomed to clothes of lesser quality. Fundamentally, I love clothes. I can talk about clothes for days. With my cousin we used to spend literally days analysing everybody’s wardrobe. We loved it when our parents had parties, when my mum and her mum and sisters had parties together, we could spend the next day just analysing what everyone was wearing. I have a photographic memory of what people wear. But when was the last time you saw a skirt that was properly lined? I mean, 20 years ago? We need to look at the clothing we’ve got to find that quality, that love within them, and improve them.”
ODC: “Bethany [Williams] is somebody I am very, very proud of. It’s not a strict mentorship relationship because she genuinely doesn’t need it. With Bethany it’s always been a question of be- ing at the end of the line when she needed some support.”
TB: You started your now defunct label in 1997 working with textile mill waste, and then launched the ethical fashion showcase Estethica at London Fashion Week in 2008.
ODC: “I think what happened at the time was a result of a late 90s move towards vintage. When I first exhibited at LFW my peers where Russell Sage and Christa Davies and Jessica Ogden. We played with vintage, old table cloths, dilapidated linen so it was a design focus – and some of us had the understanding that it was a design solution as well as a design focus.
vintage dress inherited from Orsola’s mother by HERMÈS
TB: Are you surprised we are where we are now in 2020?
ODC: I’m surprised it took so long, yeah! But I’m not surprised we are where we are now. I’ve identified the generation in which everything changed and it’s only two years ago.
TB: Let’s work through your outfits… Angus Tsui.
ODC: “He is my one of my very earliest mentees and I met him when I did the very first upcycling workshop in Hong Kong with the HK Design Institute in 2011, in preparation for the first edition of the Redress Design Award – at the time it was called the EcoChic Design Award. Angus is very successful now, he’s debuting at LFW this February – I’m so proud. He is really somebody I admire hugely. He’s not 100% sustainable on everything, but always tries his best.”
TB: The red and gold dress.
ODC: “It’s really seriously stupendous – that is a silk-jersey dress that belonged to my mother. It’s completely bodycon but because it’s silk jersey it’s a gentle bodycon. It doesn’t squeeze, it accompanies, and I have no other words to describe it but it’s my best friend. Some of these things my mother will only give to me when she realises they look better on me than they do on her, but my mum looked amazing. She’s 83 and still could potentially wear it, but I must have been in my twenties when I inherited it. My daughters have worn it and I am really not ready to let go of it yet.”
coat by PHOEBE ENGLISH, trousers by FROM SOMEWHERE
TB: The dress and coat by Christopher Raeburn.
ODC: “Both pieces are really spectacularly rare. I have a knack for ordering the things he is never going to produce and he still makes them. The coat is my favourite winter coat. When I saw it was damaged last year I was completely gutted. It has a few moth-holes but it’s non-repairable by crochet so I would have to sew on it. So I’ve thought long and hard, but I’ve not yet met a patch that is a patch for that coat. It’s not going to get drastically unwell but it’s not sick enough to be hospitalised yet.”
TB: The lacy black dress.
ODC: “That is actually a genuine vintage and the trousers were made with From Somewhere. The pattern was tweaked from a pair of trousers that had gone through all my cousins. We are all different shapes and sizes, so when one pair of trousers fits five women, and five women love that shape of trousers, you know you are onto a very good pair of trousers. The dress is genuinely vintage… Or was it one of my mother’s? I think I bought it from Cenci [the vintage store at the end of de Castro’s road]. It’s a 1940s tea dress. I’ve been wearing dresses over trousers since I was about 13. People took the piss out of me mercilessly at school.”
vintage top and trousers by FROM SOMEWHERE, dress (on hanger) by MAISON FALIAKOS
TB: The jacket with badges.
ODC: “That’s definitely my mother’s. It could have been my grand- mother’s before, but I’m not so sure. She gave it to me quite recently, so my mother wore this for a good 40 years. And the reason it’s so covered with badges – and that might have to happen eventually to the Christopher Raeburn coat – is that when there are little moth-holes on the lapels, I just cover them with badges. I have hundreds of those badges – they are a remedy to all problems. I always carry a couple in my handbags. I don’t like safety pins so much, but you can alter a piece of clothing in about a minute – dum, dum, skirt changed, badge here.Or jumper, cropped and brooch here, changed. [The Swiss designer] Kevin Germanier gave me the pink one on the right because he had a whole bunch of them he was customising, and the C I am really in love with was one of the most expensive I bought – it was €5 from a market stall in Mallorca.”
TB: The Phoebe English coat
ODC: “I bought it last year from one of her sample sales. And it’s comforting, it’s like a tent but not in a bad way. You feel completely covered and protected, and I’m very keen on blue.”
pool-table-fabric dress by CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN, top by FROM SOMEWHERE; coat (on hanger) by CHRISTOPHER RAEBURN, vintage 1990s dress from VENT
TB: The Maison Faliakos dress
ODC: “I bought it for an event last year, proper couture – again the perks of the job, big discount, beautiful silk, amazing cut. It’s a very ancient maison in Athens. I was going to wear it at the Fashion Awards, but it was really cold so I ended up wearing my Biba jacket, which for some reason didn’t make the edit.”
TB: The clogs
ODC: “I find them so flattering but they are a pair of dentists’ clogs I bought in Slovenia and the majority of the time, I get fed up with the comments when I wear them. It looks like I’m trying to be a little odd, and I’m really not I’m just in love with these shoes.”
Top image: dress by ANGUS TSUI (a mentee from the Redress Design Award), tights by WOLFORD.
Photographs by Anna Stockland, Orsola de Castro’s first book ‘Loved Clothes Last’ will be published in 2020 by Penguin Life. Taken from Issue 64 – BEST, FOOT, FORWARD – which is on newsstands now.
blazer inherited from Orsola’s mother, vintage dress, necklace inherited from Orsola’s great-grandmother
Tamsin Blanchard Urges You To Do The Right Thing – It’s The Future of Sustainable Fashion As Seen In Issue 62
Welcome To Tomorrowland – A Place Where Emerging Designers Are Changing The World