We had the privilege of starting off the new year with a visit with stylist, author and mother of three, Gisela Castillo, who invited us into her boudoir to share her unique journey from the world of finance to styling, marriage and motherhood, all the while learning how to nurture and celebrate her creative streak.
A mother of three born, raised and now residing in the Washington Heights neighborhood of Manhattan, Castillo recently published Moms Just Wanna Have Fun, a whimsical book illustrated by Jane Wright. Just like Castillo’s style, the book is a playful attempt to enjoy the simple attainable pleasures in everyday life as a reminder that the freedom of fun and glamour is always within our reach.
Read our exchange below, along with images of Castillo’s adorable home.
Snobette: Where did you affinity for fashion come from ?
Castillo: “I used to live on 108th Street in Manhattan and my mom used to come and party in [Washington] Heights because there were lots of clubs. She had the vision of the neighborhood changing so after a few years she moved me and my brother there. My style influences really come from her. She came from the Dominican Republic and became a fit model for Ralph Lauren, hung out at Studio 54, wore fringe and sequins and always had fashion magazines in the house like Vanidades, Cosmopolitan, Vogue, Vanity Fair. To me fashion was always this beautiful frivolous thing that I loved, but I never thought I could make a career of it.
“My older brother also was super stylish. He went out, listened to hip hop and as much as I could tell, he was cool. Honestly, I did not grow up as a stylish kid, teenager and wasn’t even stylish in college. Now as a mom of three in her 40s, I feel like my style is evolving to be more interesting.”
Snobette: How did your career as a stylist start?
Castillo: “I was working in finance as a project manager for BNP [Paribas] and then Bear Stearns after graduating from [SUNY] Oswego with a bachelor of arts degree. I come from a family of six kids and being one the eldest, I had to go to work right after I graduated and didn’t give much thought to what I really wanted to do. Finance was lucrative, but it was for sure not my love. I used to get written up for breaking dress code all the time. One of my last write ups was for just wearing my hair naturally in big loose curls and not a tight ponytail.
“Around 9/11, I quit and went to lead project management for a video game company. I was supervising a team and that’s where I met my husband. I was his boss at the time! In my pursuit of working in a more creative career, I also started getting styling gigs on Craigslist doing test shots with [School of Visual Arts] photographers. I had no experience, therefore no showroom contacts so I bought clothes from Century 21, Daffy’s and Loehman’s.
“I really believe I affected the Century 21 return policy with all my style job purchases and returns. At one point, they caught on and I had to keep all the designer pieces I bought.
“Around 2003, I started working with Vivre and saw that as an opportunity to really grow in my career. At the same time, my husband was relocated to Toronto six months into our marriage. I contemplated staying in New York to do more work in fashion and having a long distance relationship, but I explored styling agencies in Canada and actually got work.
“I ended up moving to Canada and worked with an agency called Plutino Group doing editorials and campaigns. Four years later I got pregnant and I felt like I wanted my kid to grow up in the States closer to my family. By some crazy series of events, my husband’s job relocated him back to New York and we ended up moving to Washington Heights where my eldest son was born.
“Two years later I gave birth to twins and as a way of staying in fashion, I started a blog with a friend called Heights of Fashion with Maurenice Bisono. As our lives got busier we stopped posting and I went on to create looks on Instagram.”
Snobette: What do your kids think of your style?
Castillo: I get to witness them developing into their own style, and their friends think I’m cool which is fun to think about. I’ve never seen myself as being cool, I live a really quiet and simple life. All I do is simply wear what I love. But I do understand that fashion touches people. I’ve had other parents approach me to say that my style inspires them. I don’t go on crazy shopping sprees, I thrift a lot, and for the high-end pieces, I learned that if you wait until the trend fades, you can score amazing things on Ebay, Depop and other resale sites.”
Snobette: How did the book come about?
Castillo: “The reality of motherhood is that it’s not always fun. When my son was two-years old, I gave birth to twins. This idea that being a mom is like being a saint is so off. There’s nothing cute about changing diapers and a slab of poop landing on you face.
“The book came to me in a dream; I’ve always wanted to create a book that speaks to my love of children’s books, something fun with beautiful images. In children’s books the stories are straight to the point and while I love to read, I love having the option of something fun and effortless.
“In a nutshell, the idea was how can I make a picture book for moms? I started thinking of giving advice and then I thought, there’s already so much advice out there. I don’t want to bore people. And it might not work for everyone. I then decided to keep it simple by listing things I actually do that add some fun in my life.
“The artist Jane Wright lives up here in Washington Heights. I saw her work exhibited in a coffee shops and that was it. I commissioned the art, and I published it myself with some help from my husband on the graphic side.
“I’m a stay at home mom aka a ‘WaHi Mom’ (Washington Heights Mom), but I want to show my kids that raising them and not going to a physical job doesn’t stop your creativity and your hustle. In the end this book is not just for moms, it’s for anyone who wants a little inspiration.”
Castillo’s Moms Just Wanna Have Fun illustrated book is available at barnesandnoble.com and Amazon