Joe Castaldo

StyleCouncil, a textile design and service studio located in New York’s Garment District, has offered the fashion apparel market seasonal — and original — prints and collections for over three decades. Founder and president Joe Castaldo said the work is trend-driven, and is constantly changing and evolving.

The company is also considered a pioneer in digital fabric printing, but it’s the studio’s hand-painted originals for fashion and home goods that has garnered the most attention recently. And in many ways, it is the company’s deep industry roots that also help differentiate it from global competitors in the market.

“The print world is complicated, but that’s where we went when the studio was started,” Castaldo told WWD.

Castaldo founded the studio after stints at Pierre Cardin, Yves Saint Laurent, Versace and other houses and brands in Europe as well as the U.S. Offering original prints coupled with an intimate knowledge of fashion apparel was the simple recipe that triggered exponential growth in the early years of the studio.

Inside the StyleCouncil studio.  Courtesy image.

“We kept adding artist after artist into our staff,” he explained. “And then we realized that there was a market for just going in and creating work, not doing the whole program, but going in, even to a designer, and saying, ‘We could create the things for you.’ So, our art department grew. At the peak, we had 50 artists in the studio. And we then started to design our own collections.”

In the Eighties, the trade craft experienced a shift. Computer technology changed how designs were made. And some of the artists at StyleCouncil were replaced by digital counterparts. But Castaldo’s trained eye and his fashion sensibilities have prevailed over time. And while the studio does not employ 50 artists, handmade originals are a critical part of his business.

“Computer technology started changing everything fast. Fast and furious,” Castaldo said. “We were on that bandwagon, and we were one of the studios to stay in it, wrap our heads around it and we were really rocking and rolling with it. But the original print business remained important. It allowed us to do something totally different.”

“Everybody’s wondering why nothing looks good, why nothing looks new,” he explained. “It’s because it is all the same. The market is full of rehashed [designs] that are used over and over again. I’m not saying that hand-painting is the answer, but there is really a creative process that I think you need to hang onto to get to something really great.”

Castaldo said there are strong cravings in the market for authentic and original designs. And there’s a middle ground where an artist in his studio creates an original design, which is then digitized, altered and manipulated. “And it still remains a creative process,” he added.

But the process also includes market analysis. The company said its “global network of experienced original print designers have an impeccable eye for trend and color. With a practiced combination of seasonal runway analysis, market research and trend forecasting we are constantly searching for the next big thing to keep you inspired.”

For his part, Castaldo said sourcing talent involves looking for people with strong art backgrounds, and “people with portfolios that really stand out.” Knowledge of how garments are constructed and hang is also key. Understanding color is also critical. “Color is everything,” he said. “On a professional level, that’s still where it’s at, color. You need to match color exactly, and if you can’t then it’s a whole different game.”

At the studio, fabric collections fill an entire showroom. Inside the design area, artists are busy at computer workstations and drafting tables. Desks are cluttered with watercolor brushes and paint as well as drawings and clippings for inspiration. Blank wall space is rare as most is covered up with drawings, prints and fabric samples.

Castaldo describes the culture as creative and flexible. “It’s just been a blessing for me to be around all this creativity for this many years,” he added.

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