Stella Zotis had a rocky start on Project Runway 5, and that, combined with her rocker aesthetic and leather love, seemed to telegraph early on that she might not have far to go in the competition. She didn’t always have the look the judges loved – and appeared to struggle sometimes when working with something other than the leather and heavy denim she was more familiar with – but despite that, she did still have a few chances in the competition to demonstrate her talent in working that rocker look.
She was auf’d on this week’s episode, so here’s a closer look at the designer we just said goodbye to.
The 42-year-old designer is a native of Astoria, Queens, and as you might have guessed from her last name, she’s Greek. Her heritage actually plays into her current career as a designer. As she told BuddyTV in her post-show interview, “I just come from a family who sews. I mean, my family, my parents, my grandparents … they worked for a manufacturers that work for a part of Greece called Kastoria and that’s where there’s fur traders and manufacturers and that was our family trade.”
She didn’t take a direct route to fashion as a career, though. She first pursued a degree in international marketing, worked as a promoter for clubs like Danceteria and Club USA, and became a make-up artist, working for rock-n-roll photographer Mick Rock.
However, that latent fashion bug started itching because she found herself bored with being a makeup artist, and feeling like sewing clothes was what she really wanted to be doing. She had been making her own clothes, and Debbie Harry from Blondie noticed and asked her to make her an outfit for the Grammy awards.
After that, she began to build a client list that includes Sebastian Bach and Joan Jett. Her business has mainly grown through her reputation for her handcrafted leather, bringing upwards of $1500 for a pair of leather pants. She also briefly had a boutique on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, but had to close due to the building’s lack of heat.
On the recommendation of a friend, she auditioned for Project Runway 5 without having seen very many of the shows. Tim Gunn was very supportive of what Stella could bring to the show, and she made it on. She hoped the show would help increase her exposure and possibly help her land an investor for her line.
What she didn’t anticipate was how her focus on specific materials would create some unique challenges for her in the workroom. She told Entertainment Weekly, “I’m used to working with really heavy-duty machines — those were lightweight machines. I’m not used to shopping in a fabric store like Mood. I go to a leather house. I was at a disadvantage.”
She’s indicated in interviews that she didn’t think it was her time to go yet, but she seems to be taking the positives from her time on the show. She’s won praise from many of her Project Runway competitors in their post-show interviews, in which they comment on her generosity of spirit. She’s also been sighted out and about in New York with several fellow contestants.
She’s also taken an expanding view of fashion from her time on the show. She told People, “I am not a designer who went to school and studied how to make dresses….my whole philosophy on sewing wasn’t to make a pretty, pretty dress. I’m a lifestyle designer. I liked leather and I like fur, because that’s the background I came from … and that’s what I know. The show has made me expand my ideas on what I want to make. And I do want to make dresses now. I have only grown. My aesthetic was what it was but now it’s even more. It builds. I’m building.”
Her plans include selling her clothes from her sister’s art gallery, and she also has plans to collaborate with her boyfriend Ratbones on their new line, saying, “together we want to collaborate and do Zotis and Bones. It’s not going to be as high-end as what I want to do, but it’s going to be an accessible line for kids who want to buy T-shirts, handmade vests, pants, and bags, and stuff like that. I cost a lot of money because I’m custom. He wants to bring it down to the point where punk rock kids can afford it. Punk rock is not about fashion and money — you don’t have money when you’re punk rock.”
She’s said the show helped her see how to edit her vision for mass production, and this skill will help her with her future plans. Ultimately, she says, “My vision is to become the next Chrome Hearts…I’m the queen of rock fashion – my clothing comes from the essence of punk rock. Sharon and Ozzy Osbourne – that’s who I want to work with.”
With the exposure and experience of her time on Project Runway, Stella seems well-positioned to start the next phase of her rock-n-fashion career.
– Leslie Seaton, BuddyTV Staff Columnist
Sources: Blogging Project Runway, Newsday.com, QueensTribune.com, NYPost.com, People.com, EW.com, BravoTv.com
(Images courtesy of BravoTV.com, www.shopit.com/zotis)