What’s up everyone, my name is Oscar Castillo. I was born and raised in Chicago and I am the founder of Modern Notoriety.
How was life growing up?
Life growing up for me had its ups and downs. I lost my dad when I was 8 months old, so my Mom raised my brother and me alone. Growing up without a Dad starts to hit you as you get older and start looking back, but shoutouts to my mom for doing a great job of raising us.
When did you get into sneaker culture?
For a lot of kids who grew up in the 90’s, sneaker culture was introduced to them through Jordans. In the mid 2000’s is when I really started to get heavy into the culture. When I was going to Oakton Community College I remember seeing this girl wearing the Jordan 20’s and noticed everyone else around me wear them. That moment relinked me with moments as a child growing up and having Olive 9’s in 94 and Varsity Red / Black 12’s in 97. Also, this was the same time the retro era started to come in heavy, around 2005-2006. Also around this time, reselling was becoming a big thing and I would buy two pairs, one to wear, and the other to sell to get the next drop.
How did you get into Photography?
Growing up my mom bought me a Samsung Olympus camera and I remember always having it with me and taking photos of random things. Over time I started seeing a lot of my photos were sneaker oriented. This was during the Niketalk era. Whenever I would get my pickups, I would get my camera and start taking photos of my pickups. I would buy three pairs of Fire Red 3’s, a Jordan Jersey, and a Jordan shirt and post that on the forums. Now-a-days, sneaker shots are the thing, but back in the day, it was all about the pickup shots and who bought the dopest gear.
Photography started to pick up for me when I got my first job at a sneaker store here in Chicago. The store was called Self Conscious and I was taking photos of our products and posting it to our Myspace page. The first dunk exchange came here in 2007. I helped set it up and took photos of the event and the table displays. I sent those photos to sneaker blogs and they would repost the photos. That’s when I realized I really enjoyed doing this and that there was something to it. In a way, it was a journalistic approach to sneakers.
You started blogging very early, I saw sometime around 2004. How did you first start getting involved with blogging?
I wanted to put Chicago on man. At the time there were no articles of Chicago stores. We had a lot of stores that shaped Chicago sneaker culture, but sneaker culture was still on the come up during this time, which meant not many publications were talking about it. I had a camera, I wanted to shoot and do interviews with these stores/brands and post them on my website. I was actually writing for a big site at the time called Sneakerfiles. I started going around all of Chicago and doing interviews with stores like Leaders, FLY, Soulmates, Self Conscious, Encore, and St. Alfred when it first opened up in 2005.
Over the years, people have come to know you from running the brand Modern Notoriety. Talk to us how that came about
At the time I was blogging with Sneakerfiles and eventually went to Nicekicks. During this time I was working at Self Conscious. When Self Conscious closed, I start working at Akin, which one of my friends opened and I worked for him. Akin was a big spot man in UIC Village. I started approaching Nicekicks with certain angles, but they ended up not wanting to do it. I decided to stop writing for other publications and start my own company and that’s how Modern Notoriety came about. Notoriety means to be known and I felt like you can apply that to everything, to be known for whatever, in modern times. Sneakers were my foundation and I was able to bring a sneaker approach to Modern Notoriety. I had a bit of an issue at the beginning because there was no correlation between Modern Notoriety and sneakers. The title had nothing to do with sneakers. But, I decided to use the name Modern Notoriety to my advantage and not pigeon hole myself to just being a sneaker website. I had the foresight and was able to start posting about Supreme, Palace, and the whole culture that comes with streetwear, making it more than just a sneaker platform.
People would consider Modern Notoriety one of the biggest publications out. Take it back a bit, when does MN start to pick up speed?
I quit working at Akin in 2011 to pursue Modern Notoriety. The last day I was working at Akin, I was working a release in Lincoln Park. I was so hyped I got three pairs of black cement 3’s. Prior to 2011, Black Cement 3’s hadn’t been released since 2001. On my way home I got into a bad car accident. After the accident, my adrenaline was at an all-time high, so I didn’t really feel any pain.Two days later, I started to feel a slight pinch in my back. Turns out that I had a herniated disc and wouldn’t be able to work. At the time, I had already quit Akin to pursue Modern Notoriety in the first place, but now being home all the time gave me an even bigger reason to put my all into MN. Every single day I stayed home and put everything I could into posting new content. I had to be on my game. In 2010 I had to solely rely on organic traffic. Instagram and Facebook weren’t around like that at the time. Facebook pages started to come up in 2011, but it was still fairly new. Twitter, you had to build a following from scratch and not many people were on it like that. I sustained the server and myself by flipping shoes. I had a friend of mine who got Jordan samples. I was able to take photos of these samples my buddy got and post them on my site. These were Jordans that nobody has ever seen before. I would post the link in Niketalk forum and I remember getting like 10-20,000 views on one post.
There are a few other people on board now. How did you meet with Vince Sirico and Rene Marban?
I had an office space in Noble Square. Vince went to school at Robert Morris and one of his school assignments was to interview someone in the industry he was looking to get involved with. At the time I was looking for people to add onto the team. He came over to interview me and was so excited. After the interview, I asked if he wanted a job. He first started blogging, but then got a Nikon for Christmas and would shoot the samples I had laying around the office. Vince has stuck around since.
A friend of mine named Rob introduced me to Rene and we ended up meeting at a coffee shop. At the time he was looking for Royal ones and I was able to help him out. It’s funny, a lot of my friendships all started with the love for sneakers. Rene came on board at Modern Notoriety on the design and merchandise side.
If anyone follows Modern Notoriety, they see your guys connection with Adidas. How did that come into play?
We started doing a lot of projects with Finish Line. I had a friend of mine, named Brandon Edler, who used to work at Complex and I helped him get a pair of Banned 1’s. Brandon was pretty much the beginning brains for Complex sneakers. When I started Modern Notoriety, Brandon started to become familiar with it and we grew in the culture together. Brandon became the digital lead at Finish Line and reached out to Vince and me to help with Finish Line projects because he knew we liked to take photos of sneakers. I had another friend named Brandon who worked at Finish line as well, but he ended up switching over to Adidas to work. Brandon saw what we did with Finish Line and asked if we could help with Adidas. It was so surreal in a way because we were being asked to work with the hottest brand at the time. It’s now been a year since we’ve started working with Adidas and it has been amazing.
Recently, you guys have been into the merch game pretty heavy.
This goes back to when I was trying to debate on what Modern Notoriety was going to be and what name it was going to have. I feel like Modern Notoriety alone has such a global meaning to it that we’re to put our name on the merch and it will sell. The first drop we did in November 2015 we were very nervous, but it did so well. Since we’ve done a lot more releases. I never thought I would get into the realm of clothing, but people love it and that’s something we are going to continue growing.
Talk about the importance of branding. Content or marketing more important?
I think branding should be one of your first priorities because you want people to attach all of your successes to that one thing. Anything you put your name on, you want people affiliated with it. Whether it’s a brand or an agency. You want to make sure that it represents all things successful. Branding is super important. Really thought out branding, thought out execution, the formula, the blueprint, that’s so important.
I think it’s the content. I think creating is very important these days. Creating without planning is important. Just fucking do it. That’s the authentic side of content as opposed to something that’s been staged.
Modern Notoriety has become one of the bigger publications, but what do you see in the future for Modern Notoriety?
I think Modern’s future could turn into probably one of the biggest agencies in the entire world. Simply because we are deeply rooted in this industry.
Let’s get back to sneakers for a sec, what are your top 5 favorite shoes of all time?
The Air Jordan 1. I love Jordan 1’s. I’ve had a lot of sneakers in my life, but if it’s a few that I can recall that are the most important to me, it would be the Air Jordan 9 Olive’s, Jordan 1 Banned, Jordan 1 Black Toe, Grape Fives, and the Adidas Ultra Boosts.
When it’s all said and done how would you like to be remembered?
I just want to be remembered as someone who didn’t give a fuck about the norm. I zigged while everyone else zagged. Stop watching Lost, put down the fucking Netflix, and just go for it. I’m only able to play this life one time. If I take the L, I take the L, but at least I tried
Written By: Nico Rud