Astoria native competing on ‘Project Runway’

Astoria native Stella Zotis is showing off her skills as one of the current contestants on Bravo TV’s “Project Runway,” a competition for fashion designers.
After living in Woodhaven, Zotis moved to Astoria when she was a teenager. Although she now lives in Manhattan, her mother still lives in Astoria and she said that is where they spend their holidays.
Being a fashion designer was not Zotis’ first career. She went to school for business and was working on Wall Street, although she was not happy there. She eventually began doing work as a make-up artist for celebrities. Even so, fashion was always a part of her life, as she sewed items on her own. And, her family is no stranger to the industry.
“My family has been in fashion for a few generations,” said Zotis, whose parents both worked in fur manufacturing and whose mother made clothes for Zotis as a child.
In 2003, Zotis was commissioned to create an outfit for singer Debbie Harry to wear to the Grammys that year. Zotis said she was looking for something that was tough and feminine.
“She wanted me to make her something. She didn’t want to look like everybody else,” Zotis said. “I made her something and it started taking off.”
Before “Project Runway,” Zotis had closed a store she had and was working out of her apartment. A friend told her about the auditions for the show, so she decided to go, hoping she would be able to get some exposure.
Zotis said that she makes all of her garments herself and that they are all hand-crafted. She is self-taught and does a great deal with leather.
“It was a real shock to me in the sense I saw so many people on line,” Zotis said of being selected as one of the 16 participants. “When he [show mentor Tim Gunn] said ‘welcome to the show’ I was a little blown away, not because my work didn’t command that but because it was such an amazing feeling to be selected.”
During each episode of the show, which premiered the current season on July 16, the designers are given a challenge, a time frame to complete it in and a budget for how much they can spend on materials. Along with the design challenges, Zotis said she faced day-to-day challenges, such as not having the proper leather-making machines, lack of sleep and feeling run down. However, she said the designing itself was never a problem.
Zotis said that she was very different from many of her fellow contestants and that she “loved a lot of the other designers.” She said that they inspired her to use more than just leather, and that she also inspired them.
“I thought that they brought their own thing to the table,” Zotis said. “They were great people.”
In a recent episode of “Project Runway” that aired on Wednesday, August 13, six designers were selected by actress Brooke Shields to create a look for her to wear on her show “Lipstick Jungle.” Zotis was paired with selected designer Jerell Scott.
“I really loved working with Jerell,” she said. “Working with Jerell on a team challenge was really great because I was there to help him execute his vision and I was happy to do that.”
Zotis said that every challenge turned out to be a highlight. She also enjoyed the challenge where designers had to create a look that showed their vision of what the United States Olympians could wear during an opening ceremony.
As a Greek herself and citing that the Olympics originated in Greece, Zotis said it was an honor for her to accept such a challenge and that she felt good about the outfit she created.
Zotis said that growing up in Queens definitely has had an influence over her work. It introduced her to different styles and cultures.
“Queens is an amazing neighborhood to grow up in because it is a melting pot,” Zotis said. “Queens had its own cultural evolvement in fashion and music together.”
As Zotis walks on the streets in Manhattan, she said that many people recognize her and are supportive of her. She is now designing her own collection and has many goals, including possibly opening another store, creating furniture and designing high-end jewelry.
“Project Runway” airs Wednesdays at Bravo at 9 p.m. For more information, visit www.bravotv.com.