The very last show I saw during New York Fashion Week, on the very last day, was from Stella Zotis. A well-known Project Runway alum, Stella is someone I have been lucky to call a friend for the past year, and for multiple reasons, a designer I am inspired by every time I see her work. Her latest show, presented at the BoConcept store, was a rousing success, heralding in the latest leather trend that has been cropping up in every glossy magazine but that Stella has been creating for years. Showing alongside three other designers, Stella easily stole the show (those other designers are lucky we all had to stick around to see Stella's collection come down the runway last!), and I have to give credit as well to the production's incredible make-up artist, Nathan Johnson - if only I could create eyes like that...sigh...
Stella came out of Project Runway known for her use of leather and her expertise in grommeting, destroying, and hammering metal embellishments. But she is so much more than that as a designer.
After a lengthy career that included stints as a sought-after make-up artist, Stella knows who she is as a woman and as a fashion artist. I had the pleasure of spending over two hours at her Manhattan live/work space just this morning (her giant Rottweiler and tiny black cat joined us as well), and this little Tribeca glam-girl walked out rocking an amazing white leather studded vest (another one, with the red, white & blue of our flag, was stuffed in my big purse to be worn as soon as humanly possible!). Six people commented on it on my way home. Today, Stella has made me into a rock star. And with her Americana rock couture sensibility, the pieces she creates need to be on red carpets, in Bergdorf Goodman, in editorials of high-fashion publications, and on everyone from L.A. musicians to socialites on Manhattan's Upper East Side.
While you could easily go full-out rocker with grommeted, laced-up-the-side leather pants paired with a coordinating leather bra-top and vest, you can also take just that vest and incorporate it into
the most fashion-forward wardrobe out there...all it needs is a white silk tank top, the latest denim, and the highest, sexiest stilettos. Going through her archives (which included the runway looks from this recent show as well as pieces that have yet to be seen by the public...), Stella explained her old-school, no-factory-involved process that is, to be honest...leather couture. Every garment is made for its owner...fit and structure are impeccable, the tailoring and details are things that need to be seen in person to be properly appreciated, and the custom finishes on each piece are like Stella's babies. Beyond the expected leather pants and corsets, Stella gives us mermaid dresses in painted denim with leather trim, leather and canvas pencil skirts that could find their way into a boardroom or the latest underground club, and men's pieces that satisfy every guy's inner dream to be David Bowie for a day.
I tried on jacket after gorgeous jacket...white leather with fringe,
black leather with tonal whipstiching, hand-drawn and sewn appliques on weathered vests. And unexpected, super-feminine shapes and details popped up here and there...a tiny puffed shoulder, a nipped-in waist with a full peplum, a dramatic opera collar above a portrait neckline. Stella herself looks like rock royalty, with her all-leather ensemble at ten in the morning, her long black hair and her giant eyes rimmed in serious make-up...but this is also a woman who can articulate the immense work that goes into each piece she produces. When a customer comes to her for a one-of-a-kind garment, there are hours of fittings, designing, and sewing heavy, difficult materials that goes into each one.
Lots and lots of designers come out of Project Runway. Very few have as well-defined an aesthetic and point-of-view as Stella Zotis. And that is what, right now, we need in fashion. Already planning her next show for Fall/Winter '10, Stella is that designer who will continue to push the envelope...in the most beautiful, runway-to-real-life way. So keep an eye out for so much more from her...