O.C.’s Own: Behind the Seams

“Project Runway” star Coral Castillo studied fashion design in Orange County.
Photograph by Irvin Rivera

You might remember her as the runner-up on the latest season of “Project Runway.” Or maybe you saw her dresses showcased in the January 2022 issue of Vogue. Growing up in Tijuana, Mexico, Castillo thought her dream of becoming a fashion designer was out of reach. She didn’t want to work in a factory; she wanted to make her own pieces by hand. Her fantasy became a reality after she moved to Orange County to study fashion design at the Art Institute of California.


What was your first exposure to fashion design?

My mom was a dressmaker. She raised us with the pay from her dresses. I remember waking up and going to sleep with the sound of the sewing machine. When I was 6 years old, my mom taught me how to hand stitch. I made myself a top when I was in middle school, and since then I have just loved creating. 

What brought you to O.C.?

I got my bachelor’s degree studying fashion design at the Art Institute of California–Orange County in 2012. During that time, I did OC Fashion Week several times. Thanks to (that), I was able to do a 2018 show in Greece at the Athens Xclusive Designers Week. To this day, that event was where I’ve been able to show the most pieces—about 33.

What are some materials you have been working with recently?

Most of my pieces in my Genesis collection, from “Project Runway,” were made of macramé. For that, I used cords made out of recycled polyester. It’s very important to be aware of the environment and try to use materials that don’t pollute more, but instead help use what already exists. I also used a new textile that was created in Mexico, made from a cactus called nopal, for the texture of leather. 

Who are your biggest inspirations?

In 2019, I went back to Mexico for the first time in a while. All the Indigenous people were making embroideries in the streets, and everything was so beautiful and full of color. The art was so rich that I fell back in love with my home. Then, with “Project Runway,” (it was) a great opportunity to show a collection inspired by how beautiful my culture is. So in my last collection, I actually added embroideries handmade by Indigenous people. Most of them live in poverty, so with every embroidery that I used on “Project Runway,” I made sure to go back and pay the person who made the embroidery directly. The show gave me $10,000 for materials, and every single dollar spent on the embroideries made it back to the Indigenous artists.

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