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'Project Runway' exit Q&A: Stella Zotis

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The first of Project Runway‘s trifecta of over-the-top personalities — Blayne, Suede, and Stella — went home last night. ”Leatha”-maker Stella Zotis bit the dust after designing a vest and a pair of pants that were too baggy in a rather unfortunate area. Plus, according to the judges, her construction was sloppy (if only she had been working with leather!). But before she signs off, the very charismatic contestant called up EW.com to chat about her time on Runway. Stella dishes about her inherent disadvantage on the show, why Joe should have gotten the heave-ho, and her plans with enigmatic boyfriend Ratbones.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You and Diane von Furstenberg are kind of polar opposites, but the challenge last night was centered on her designs. Plus, she was a judge. Do you think that hurt you with the challenge?

STELLA ZOTIS: Listen, we’re not that polar opposite. When I looked through her book, she had pants, and she had a vest. I felt like she wanted to branch out into that more structured kind of urban look, instead of making soft dresses with soft curves. But her pants to me were very baggy, which I don’t know why a woman would want to wear pants that baggy. You know? So I decided to go with a pant with a wide leg but more fitted, you know, around the hip area, which I happen to like. And I gave her a vest that was more ’40s-inspired. It was very sexy with an open back, and it had that collar in the front, and it laced up. So it was a feminine, soft, ’40s-inspired vest. The one vest in her look book was repeated about four times, so I gave her another one. Then I went with a cape. I agree, the shape should have been different, but with only nine hours and three pieces, you’re stuck with so much stress in your mind with only three hours sleep and being rundown from the challenges. I thought that the cape needed to be tailored some more. It was even longer at one point! But I didn’t continue to tighten up the shape past that, and I thought I should have. So everything I was critiqued on was stuff I thought about but didn’t go there because of the time constraints. She is different. She makes a dress, but she wants to venture out with pants and a vest because I saw that.

Diane did like the idea you originally had.

Very much.

What do you think happened with the execution then? Was it the crotch? The judges didn’t like how baggy it was.

The way the model was standing — the angle that she was — didn’t show it right. There was a baggy kind of an area there because I made it formfitting around the waist and the hip area, and then it became a straight-leg. My model, she was a very good model, but she…I don’t know. She’s new. It didn’t occur to her that you have to stand straight in a pair of pants like that. You don’t stand with your leg out like that. I felt there were no crotch problems — it was a lower crotch, it was a looser crotch, okay? I mean, compared to what Diane had in her look book with the crotches coming down to the knee, and the pant being so baggy, I didn’t think that would be so bad. Terri made a pair of pants and the crotch was so snug you could see the whole outline of the crotch area. Why wasn’t that commented on? I always feel there’s a formula on this show.

Okay, so what’s the formula then?

The formula is just, like, you know, they don’t know who to pick sometimes so they just take the designer who, on that challenge, does, like, the most mistakes, maybe. I don’t know. I don’t even feel I made that many mistakes. Being a leather crafter and a designer and working with flat patterns, your fit has to be on target, like 100 percent. There’s no reason for mistakes with leather because it’s hard to repair. Now, being that that’s my philosophy anyway, I was standing next to a person — and God bless him for passing, and I hope he goes far — but Joe’s construction and outfit and concept were really far worse.

NEXT PAGE: ”You get exhausted, and you forget to do things, and you let it go. And all of a sudden, you’re setting yourself up for a downfall”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: So you think he should have gone home last night?

STELLA ZOTIS: You know, I’m happy that he didn’t because he’s a sweet guy. But, yeah, when it comes down to business, how can you pick me over him? When does Diane make a mini secretary-skirt like that for a ’40s look with a shirt with an open back like that? I’m sure that’s the only thing he could think of after he saw that dress of Diane’s with the open back and neck. If you see it walking down the runway, the whole center front of his shirt shifts to one side. That was obvious. Then that non-matching headdress — whatever that was — that’s sportswear! It has nothing to do with Shanghai, and it has nothing to do with that skirt. To me, that was an entirely disconnected look. I might have had construction problems, but Joe had an entirely disconnected look, and he also had more construction problems than I had. But, you know, whatever. There is a formula. Why would I be picked to go over him?

So, if you had to go back, you’d change the cape? Anything else?

I would change the shape of the cape because I agree with the judges. Absolutely. You know, my boyfriend made a point to me. Ratbones goes, ”Stella, why didn’t you make it shorter at least if you’re going to make it so swingy looking? If you raised it up above the elbow, it would have just been very charming and cute.” And I said to him, ”You know, I thought of doing that also.” You get exhausted, and you forget to do things, and you let it go. And all of a sudden, you’re setting yourself up for a downfall.

Most of the challenges didn’t allow you to work with leather — and you almost exclusively use the stuff. Do you think that put you at a disadvantage?

I was at a total disadvantage each and every challenge because I am used to working with one thing: leather. Okay? Or heavy denim. Or both of them combined, which makes it even heavier. 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. It’s like, you’re a writer or a journalist, and then you gotta go be, uh, I don’t know, something else in that field….

Public relations…

Exactly! I was not in an area where I could show off my specialty. I was at a disadvantage, but I fought through it.

You had to know that going in a little bit, right?

You know, I didn’t think about it before I applied for the show at all. I just thought, Okay, these people have never seen anything like me. When I told my boyfriend I was accepted, he was like, ”Oh, my God, they’ve never seen anyone like you on that show! No one’s ever brought the stuff you can bring in fashion.” But it’s just different. You can’t do what I do there. I wasn’t supplied with the resources or the machinery.

Well, those are the constraints of the show. So, to change the subject, some people thought you might have been kept around for entertainment value. Do you think that was the case?

Listen, people loved me! You know? They loved me because if I wanna say, ”F— it,” I’ll say, ”F— it.” If I wanna say, ”I don’t like this,” I’ll say, ”I don’t like this.” Like, I’m not messing around here. I’m me 100 percent. I’m not an actor. I’m not told how to behave. I’m not told how to do my hair. I came as I came, and the show saw the gold in that.

Our time is running out, but I wanted to ask about your boyfriend, Ratbones. He’s intriguing. What’s up with him?

He is a very intriguing person. He is what a true punk rock person is. He’s not fashion. He’s not the statement. He is the attitude and the lifestyle. He is a designer. He has a collection of art that he has produced and skulls that he has done for over 20 years. He put them on his own T-shirts. But 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.

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