Terry Castro, a proud underdog in the jewelry world, dies at 50

Terry Castro, a New York-based jewelry designer whose knack for mixing fantasy with elegance propelled him from selling New York sidewalks to decorating celebrities like Rihanna and Steven Tyler, died on 18 July at his home in Istanbul. He was 50 years old.

The cause was a heart attack, said his son, Sir King Castro.

Mr. Castro, who worked under the single name Castro, considered himself a “creator of dreams”. He scoured antique shops and thrift stores for inspiration for his cheeky yet lavish pieces, which blended animal and human forms and invoked African influences with medieval and galactic imagery. He only produced about 35 pieces a year, by hand, but he saw his work featured on the covers of Vogue Latin America, Forbes, and Hamptons magazines, and in the 2013 feature film “Out of the Furnace.”

For Mr. Castro, jewelry was not just a fashion accessory. “More than a freelance designer, he lived and operated like an artist,” said Brooklyn-based jewelry designer and close friend Nghi Nguyen. “Her work could be categorized as high quality jewelry. It is a museum quality wearable sculpture.

There were sometimes prices to match. An antique bisque doll necklace – part of her iconic Dollies series, made from tiny porcelain dolls – which features vibrating wings and a removable mask, as well as diamonds and other gems, recently sold for over $100,000, said Sir King Castro in an interview.

Friends said that as a largely self-taught black designer, Mr. Castro was proud to be an outsider in the world of fine jewelry. “The jewelry industry prides itself on generational wealth and access to materials and resources,” said Jules Kim, a friend and fellow jeweler. “People who weren’t born into it have to rely on whatever agency they have. Castro lived by creating his own traditions.

Passionate and sometimes confrontational, Mr. Castro considered himself a rebel within the industry.

“I do what I want; you don’t like it, don’t buy ithe said in a 2012 interview with The Black Nouveau, a style blog. Recounting his scattered efforts to “go commercial”, he concluded that the income was not worth the creative price paid.

“My real accounts turned against me,” he said. “I was called a traitor, and now I’m back to the dark side. If you don’t have the strength, stay away from me.

But this uncompromising attitude seemed to attract people instead.

In 2020, De Beers, one of the world’s largest diamond producers, teamed up with Hollywood activist group Red Carpet Advocacy to feature Mr. Castro and five other black designers in a campaign titled #BlackisBrilliant. The campaign has equipped celebrities with jewelry with ethically sourced diamonds from Botswana to wear to galas and award ceremonies.

“We approached Castro to participate because, just by looking at some of his locks and doll pieces, we knew he had a singular talent,” wrote Sally Morrison, De Beers Group PR Director for Diamonds. natural, in an e-mail.

Last September, Sotheby’s presented the work of Mr. Castro in an exhibition entitled “Brilliant & black: a renaissance in jewelryfeaturing 21 black designers. When it opened in New York, “people literally danced through the exhibit and cried,” said Melanie Grant, a prominent jewelry writer who curated the exhibit. And Mr. Castro, with his gregarious nature and charismatic presence, was a natural star of the show.

“It’s still difficult for black designers to get access to high profile collectors,” Ms. Grant said. “But I like to think we made a difference, and Castro was a big part of that.”

Terry Clifford Castro was born in Toledo, Ohio, on January 26, 1972, to Mary Castro, who sold antiques and collectibles, and a father he never knew. In 1989, her mother married Paul Geller, a lawyer.

As a young man, Mr Castro fell on the streets and had brief spells in prison, Sir King Castro said. In 1999 he married Belinda Castro (her surname, coincidentally, was the same as his). That same year, the couple had a son, whom they granted the resounding name of Sir King Raymundo Castro.

Mr Castro became interested in jewelry repair after taking a weekend course, his ex-wife, now Belinda Strode, said in an interview. Eventually, he and his wife opened a small jewelry store called C & C Jewelers in Toledo, where he made repairs and sold the work of other designers. Within a few years, he began designing his own jewelry, using scrap metal from a junkyard, his ex-wife said.

The marriage and the boutique turned out to be short-lived. In the early 2000s, Mr. Castro moved to Chicago, where he decided to turn his lifelong interest in fashion into a career, his half-brother, Aaron Geller, said in an interview.

He briefly ran his own clothing line in his adopted hometown, where he made an impressive figure in techno clubs and fashion boutiques. “He used to wear these spurs on the back of his boots,” recalls Ayana Haaruun, a close friend from those years. “He thought he was so fly. We called him Lenny Kravitz.

In 2005, Mr. Castro moved to New York, where he launched his own jewelry line, Castro NYC, which he sold on the sidewalks of SoHo. His work caught the attention of fashion designers and editors passing through the neighborhood, and before long he had expanded the business and was flying to fashion weeks in Europe and Japan to show his work. .

As Mr. Castro progressed through the industry, he continued to challenge assumptions about race. “I personally don’t think you can be black, African, and your work doesn’t reflect any part of Africa or Africanism, because we live in this world where we have to think about so many other things that others don’t think about. have to think about it in a day,” he said. in an interview last year with fashion site Magnus Oculus.

He also continued to challenge himself, following his insatiable curiosity and traveling nature to settle in Istanbul in 2016.

Besides his son and half-brother, Mr. Castro is survived by his mother and stepfather.

Although his work celebrates life in all its color and complexity, death has always been a subject of fascination for Mr. Castro; skulls, both animal and human, were a common motif.

But his interest in the subject was not morbid. “With the skull itself, it’s in you, it’s part of you, it’s part of life, but also part of death,” he said in the Magnus Oculus interview. “With some black people, they’ll see a skull and they’ll be like, ‘Oh my God, that’s voodoo and evil,’ and I’ll be like, ‘Well, that means you’re also evil, because you have a skull. inside your head you walk around with this thing.

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