Designer Merlin Castell – Brought Up By His Bootstraps to His Inevitable Success

Merlin Castell On Set

Merlin Castell On Set

Fashion designer Merlin Castell was fascinated by exquisite clothing at an extraordinarily young age. As a little boy, he dreamed of creating flawless masterpieces that could be worn by beautiful people. Today, Merlin is dressing Hollywood’s stars in his unique designs, but his rise to the top was no walk in the park.

Born in Honduras and living and working at a banana field, Merlin was the youngest of seven brothers. Shoes were a luxury for the Castell children; they only received one new pair each Christmas. When Merlin was seven, he severely injured his toe playing soccer. This injury grew into an infection and his mother eventually took him to U.S. missionaries to get a vaccine.

To calm Merlin down, the nurse told him that if he was a good boy and didn’t cry, he could pick out a book. He was silent for the treatment and to this day cherishes his very first Vogue Magazine, which he picked out from the pile of books. As he flipped through the pages, he was enthralled by the vibrant colors and materials that were so eloquently draped over the models in the magazine. Even though he couldn’t understand a word of the English text, he memorized every picture and sketched each design.

At age eight, Merlin earned himself the name “Jumper Kid” when he started designing his own jumpsuits with big enough pockets to stash the fruit he picked while working out in the fields. As he grew up, his family had no spare allowance for shopping, so Merlin resorted to sketching his own designs for the local seamstress to create. At age nine, his mother was told she had cancer, forcing his family to move to the city for her treatment. Her cancer was benign and improved. She made the decision to stay in the city for Merlin’s benefit. She believed her youngest son had prodigy-like talent that would be wasted if they moved back to the countryside in Honduras.

Merlin Castell

Merlin Castell

At age 10, Merlin began attending a public school and was instantly more advanced than his peers. He found class to be boring and sat in class, often sketching drawings of his beautiful, well dressed teacher. When his principal discovered his sketches, he called Merlin’s mother into his office, and both were nervous of his “perverted” behavior. There wasn’t, however, any truth to his mother’s accusations, and instead Merlin marveled at the way clothes hugged his teacher’s modelesque frame. Thus she became his very first muse.  This was the beginning of an intense, yet complicated journey to realize his dream to become a designer.  From a series of events, Merlin purchased a sewing machine, was the the top of his class in school, graduated from a college in Honduras with a Patterns and Sewing Degree. However, the three-month wasn’t enough to challenge him. After eight months of tirelessly searching for a scholarship that would allow him to attend London’s American Career College, Merlin was denied. At age eighteen, he enrolled at a university in Honduras to study architecture struggled with the math intense program.

During this time he also began working for an interior decorator, which gave him an opportunity to let his imagination run wild. The job included an assignment to design a home for an extremely wealthy woman. She fell in love with Merlin’s designs and hired Merlin to design an extravagant five-story mansion over the next four years. This woman became his fairy godmother, and after four years of mentoring, she sent him to a prestigious fashion university in Milan and financed his education.

In Milan, Merlin attended the Instituo Marangoni, where he specialized in leather. When he finished school, he decided to move to Los Angeles with less than $300 in his pocket and nothing but the clothes on his back because (the airline lost his luggage). A kindhearted taxi driver let him sleep on his couch. For some time after, Merlin then stayed with the taxi driver’s brother.  Thankful for the kindness, Merlin repaid his  and was debt by designing a wedding dress for his roommate’s wife to be.



Finally settled in Los Angeles, Merlin went to work at Cosmo’s, where he sketched for the store’s seamstress, and eventually moved into the studio. Jealous of Merlin’s work, the seamstress took advantage of his illegal immigrant status, and threatened to contact the authorities if he did not do as she said. She alarmed the building so he couldn’t leave, which kept him constantly working. He would sell some of his samples to Playmates and be forced to give his check to the seamstress. She would then only pay him a fraction of what he earned. This was his motivated him to quit.  He moved to downtown Los Angeles and put his dreams on hold while he struggled to get by. He worked in a restaurant as a dishwasher and server. One day a customer asked him where he bought his pants. He explained that he had made them. Impressed, the customer got him an interview with designer Amy Bond. He landed the job and began working as her assistant. After just two years, he saw the studio grow from one to twenty-two sewing machines. In an attempt to further his career, Merlin went to work as the head designer at Red Ball, but a disagreement with the new owner resulted in his going back to work with Amy Bond.

One day, Merlin attended a White Party in Santa Barbara, wearing his own creation made from pocket linings since he couldn’t afford cloth. The shirt was such a hit he ended up selling twelve of them on the spot for $350 each. After receiving such a great reaction, he started making them in different colors and even tie-dyed them himself.

Today, the Los Angeles based haute couturier designer is best known for his tailored clothing. The Merlin Castell line has become one of the most talked about collections and has been featured in national and regional press. Merlin was voted “One of the Top Designers to Watch Out For” and he recently appeared on The Janice Dickinson Modeling Agency on Oxygen. To date, his fabulous clothing has been worn by celebrities Paris Hilton, Priscilla Presley, and Paula Abdul, among others.

See the Merlin Castell fashion editorial photographed by Jeff Linett for The Statement.

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