Cecilio Castrillo

The Artisan of Celebrities' Fetish Masks

09/20/2019 · By Rocío Navarro
Cecilio Castrillo
Cecilio Castrillo posa con una de sus impactantes creaciones. © Mario G Sánchez

Madonna, Lady Gaga and Marilyn Manson usually wear Cecilio Castrillo's hand-modelled leather pieces. The artist and designer is currently showing his famous masks along with other creations in Wearable Art, his first solo exhibition running until December 31 at Naves del Matadero (Madrid). A show of unconventional leather craftsmanship.

In 2005, Cecilio Castrillo (Burgos, 1979) created Leather Design, a brand of handmade products (masks, corsets, and accessories) with a dark and powerful concept rooted in counterculture, horror movies and science fiction. “Tim Burton's work is very inspiring to me, I feel very identified with him. Punk and gothic aesthetics are also big influences, but my greatest inspiration has always been Marilyn Manson.” Cecilio decided to leave his hometown to live in cities such as London, Barcelona, and Ibiza. However, now that he is in his forties he feels comfortable anywhere. “Over the years I’ve realized that I don't need to be in a big city to find inspiration. That comes from within and it’s with me wherever I go, whether it's an isolated mountain village or Berlin.”

When Madonna is your most loyal customer

Madonna commissioned him to create masks on four occasions. The first one was seven years ago for her Super Bowl performance. One of her main dancers wore a golden helmet with antlers, which he had handmade in his studio in Burgos. Shortly after that, she directed a short film with photographer Steven Klein (Secret Project Revolution, 2013) in which Castrillo’s horns appear again, this time around with a darker, Mephistophelian twist, made with black leather.

There were more collaborations with the Queen of Pop in a time when her imaginary matched his gothic and fantasy narratives, for example for the 2015 Grammy Awards. “I had to travel to the US on a very short notice to carry two pieces Madonna needed for her performance,” Castrillo says. It was a bullfighting-inspired show in which Madonna played the role of a matador, accompanied by a group of dancers wearing leather-lined antlers. She did the same a year later at the Brit Awards, where one of her minotaurs accidentally stepped on her cape, causing her to spectacularly fall on her back.

The Blonde Ambition is not the only one to feel attracted to this master of leather. Lady Gaga, a former superlative fashion icon, has also turned to Castrillo to dress both for the red carpet and for the stage. “Collaborating with Lady Gaga was a big thing. I had to make a lot of pieces for her and her team for one of her tours. It was very intense,” he recalls about the Born this Way Ball tour.

Castrillo’s work goes beyond pop music. Nicki Minaj, Brooke Candy, Kylie Jenner and Marilyn Manson have also donned his creations. But Cecilio never intended to become the favourite artisan of celebrities. “It all happened suddenly, in the middle of my career, when social media wasn’t so pervasive. Madonna's team contacted me because they had seen my work in a photo shoot and they were delighted. From that moment on, many celebrities took an interest in me,” he says, while acknowledging he feels great satisfaction when seeing his pieces in this kind of events.

From the Paris National Opera to the Brooklyn Museum of Art

It wasn’t in Cecilio’s plans to see his masks (which can take between five days to a month’s work) on the stage of the Paris National Opera and the Zurich Opera House. Even less so to show them at the Brooklyn Museum of Art and in a solo exhibit, Wearable Art, an installation inside a caravan at Naves del Matadero in Madrid running until December 31st. “In my opinion, a work of art is something unique that admits no replica, and some of these pieces are very sophisticated and distinctive, given their complex crafting process. They are handmade from beginning to end so no two designs are equal.” He conceptualizes his creations in his workshop in Burgos— which he intends to move shortly—or wherever he is, usually in Spain. “For the time being I want to have my workshop in Spain. I feel comfortable living here and I adapt easily to all places,” he clarifies.

Castrillo has had a life-long relationship with leather, which explains his expertise at modelling it. “I’ve made leather objects since childhood. My mother made leather gloves, so I’ve always been surrounded by this material. When I was 10 I made my first ornamental leather mask. My mother was my teacher,” he says. But it wasn’t until he was a teenager that he discovered the style that made him feel most comfortable. However, young Cecilio’s personality clashed with Burgos’ tastes, so he decided to move somewhere else. “At the beginning it was hard to find my place. What I did was too flashy and almost everyone said the same thing: “Who would wear that?”

Although he considers himself too shy to wear his own designs, he says he enjoys seeing other people wear them. "I want them to feel the character they identify with, I want them to enjoy wearing the mask, to have fun and to look good." His favourite is a suit-armour covering the body from head to toe on show at Centro Internacional de Artes Vivas in Naves del Matadero.