Grammy red carpet and performance dresses for singer Mary Lambert, both designed by Helen Castillo

Grammy red carpet and performance dresses for singer Mary Lambert, both designed by Helen Castillo

Every award season has a few stand-out dresses that are on everyone’s lips the morning after (or 2 mins later, on social media).  This year, a clear fan favorite was singer Mary Lambert’s gorgeous sparkly red gown, worn for her historic performance of “Same Love” where 33 couples were married onstage.  When I found out the designer behind this beauty was Helen Castillo, of Project Runway fame, I set out to interview her about the process and her career.  

How has life been since Project Runway?

Nonstop, hectic, and exciting. Between the Grammys and just recently having shown alongside Michael Costello at El Paseo Fashion Week it seems I never have a day off anymore. Which is awesome.

Has the experience affected you or your work in any noticeable ways?

Honestly after having been on the show it made me realize my sewing potential and capability to work with any body type, shape, and size. It was a learning experience and I’ve developed a lot of confidence since then.

The “real women” challenge on Project Runway is always interesting, as the contestants’ reactions to designing for a woman larger than sample size are quite telling. Some groan like they have been told to walk the Brooklyn Bridge for a cheesecake; some act like it is beneath them; and some genuinely seem excited. I happily remember you being a part of the latter group. What do you think accounts for the difference in attitude?

Honestly I think that on the show a lot of people are accustomed to sample size because that’s how we are taught in college when you focus on womenswear. It’s a stigma in the industry for sure. But to top it off there is a very strict time limit when making the garments and that’s a scary thing. No less you are cut off from the world when you’re on this reality show, so to finally interact with a REAL person seems like a surreal gift from the producers. I think a lot of the contestants just are not accustomed to working with different body types and that scares them more than the pressure of time restraints already does.

When did you first design for a curvy or plus size client?

Mary Lambert! Ironically, her performance and red carpet gowns for the 54th annual Grammy awards were my first time ever making a missy garment. Pardon my ego, but I think I nailed it! [Editor’s note: I have to agree!]

How did you come to design for Mary Lambert?

We actually met at a GLAAD event in October 2013 where she performed at a very intimate event that the local cast of season 12 was invited to in NYC.

What was the design process like for the Grammy dresses? What were your creative inspirations? Any requests or direction from Mary (or her team)?

I worked directly with Mary and we have been really great friends since we met. She recognized me from the show and admired my work so we just clicked instantly! She gave me direction with her concepts for performance and red carpet and I gave my design input for what I thought would be most flattering and loved the looks I created.

What are your long term goals? Any upcoming collections? Have you considered doing a plus size line?

I’ve never considered doing a plus size line, I am sticking to strictly custom for the time being because it is just so much work,
pressure, and finance that goes into developing a line to begin with. As I mentioned earlier I just recently showed in El Paseo Fashion Week and it was a total life changing experience. I got so much incredibly encouraging feedback and Michael has really taken me under his wing. He has a lot of faith in me and my work. I can’t say too much but hopefully this summer I have a huge opportunity I’m in the works with right now. Otherwise my newest work and past with Project Runway are up on my new website

Since the Grammys, Castillo has worked with Mary Lambert again, making another stunning red carpet look for this week’s ASCAP awards:

Mary Lambert's ASCAP Awards red carpet dress, designed by Helen Castillo

Mary Lambert’s ASCAP Awards red carpet dress, designed by Helen Castillo

I love that Castillo’s dresses are celebratory of Lambert’s body, not made to cover up or hide her curves – an aesthetic that is very much in line with Lambert’s promotion of “Body Love.”  I cannot wait to see more from both women in the future!