T Lo Interviews Stella Barbarella
The day after her aufing aired, Stella dropped us a line and told us she wanted to send a little message of thanks to our readers for being so supportive of her. We opted to call her and let her say whatever she wanted, but when we did, she informed us that her father had passed away suddenly the day before. What started out as a planned one or two-line “thank you” message turned into a full-blown (and completely off the cuff) interview with her as she got a little introspective about life and career.
We were so sorry to hear about your father. When did you find out about it?
I found out Wednesday at about 4 p.m.
That kind of put things in perspective, doesn’t it?
Pretty much, pretty much. My dad was a special person. My parents weren’t together. We came to America in 1975 and in 1977 they broke up. My mother supported us, worked really hard and started her own business being a fur finisher. She gave us a really good childhood, sent us to Greece every summer for two months. We had after-school Greek lessons or ballet or hockey. Whatever we wanted we had. We had a very solid upbringing from my mother and she reinforced education tremendously. My dad was more of a friend to us. He was a very talented machinist in the fur industry, one of the best, I heard.
My brother put himself through college working as a machinist in the fur industry and I did too for a short while. My dad decided to go to Greece and stay there a few years back in the mountains of Greece where we’re from, it’s called Kastoria, it’s up northern Greece and that’s where the fur traders and the fur manufacturers and the whole fur trade is. It was very big back in the 70s and in the 80s and all that. I didn’t get to see him that often but we were good friends, we spoke all the time.
I miss him; I didn’t get to see him for four years because that was the last time he was here and I had my business and I really couldn’t afford to be going to Greece and just hanging around there. It’s pretty upsetting because I was trying to get a hold of him for weeks and then I get this call from my uncle that he’s not around anymore.
And you still had go do the Watch What Happens – After the Sew online show hosted by Andy Cohen after finding out about your father.
It was almost a blessing, because it just took me out of my head space, being on the phone with people in Greece, with my sister and brother. You know, mourning is really for the people who are left behind. I never lost a parent before. It just blew me away. My father cried when I told him I was going to be on Project Runway. He didn’t even know what it was. When I explained the importance of it, what I could win, all the exposure, he started to cry. He always wanted the best for us.
And you didn’t mention anything on the show.
I told Andy privately and the reason I didn’t talk about it on air it’s because there was almost no room for it. I just said to myself ‘Do I need to dampen anybody’s spirit here and create a pity party for myself?’ No, right now it’s about the show, it’s about me as a contestant; give the audience what they want. And that’s what I did.
By the way, we loved the hair and makeup, is that a new haircut?
It’s not a haircut. I just flat-ironed it and put it up.
You looked great.
Thank you. You know, on the show, I couldn’t keep myself together. I wasn’t feeling well to begin with, I had a respiratory infection; I didn’t take antibiotics; I was doing holistic with it and it went away when I went on the show but my energy was so low on the show for a really long time and the fact that we only slept for three to four hours, I couldn’t even get straight with myself. I was very disoriented for the first challenge especially. I didn’t feel well, I felt like I couldn’t do it, oh well…and this is why the show is very funny to me right now because when I went on the show I lost someone else in the family and that blew me away too, so I didn’t even think to pack enough clothes for myself and whatever it is that I needed. I’m stuck with my striped pants and they don’t even fit that well, with all the clothes that I make and that I have, I had two pants and that’s all. I didn’t bring enough lipstick with me. I was like, I’m going to wear red lipstick on the Andy Cohen show. I’m going to look vibrant.
We love the dress with the detachable sleeve.
I made that. I’m interested in making a dress collection now, which I’m doing and it’s going to be in leather and that’s one of the dresses. That’s a very simple one, that’s my, almost my everyday type of dress. It’s a new dress, so I’m wearing to feel it out, see how the zipper stands and all that. Leather is a very different type of fabric, it stretches out and I need to see how it sustains.
We were very touched by your little interaction with Heidi when you said you had learned and grown. Did you really enjoy the experience?
I really enjoyed it because it helped push me. I was a person very comfortable where I was, and you need to keep growing as a person and as a designer, everything you can be. This show pushed me forward, and what it did for me was it taught me how to edit it, just by the judges’ critique. Unlike Keith, I never felt like they were insulting me, I did feel that sometimes was a little obnoxious because it is a reality TV show, but in my head and I always said to myself ‘you know, if you take your clothes to buyers they will say very obnoxious things to you.’
Absolutely, they’re actually worse.
Yes, and the judges are individuals with their own opinions and that’s what you’re getting. It taught me to edit it, it taught me to clean up the heavy, rock, punk vibe and that’s what that dress I wore on the Andy Cohen show was about. It also taught me how to step up my game a little bit. I design leather, you do flat pattern making, it’s a sharp tailor that I go for, I need a little more. Now I’m interested in teaching myself how to do more draping, adding a little bit more softness, bring fashion to the rock. So Project Runway made me grow and think about how I want to design my new collection, maybe use other fabrics too. It also taught me that people do critique your stuff. I know I said ‘if you don’t like it, keep walking.’ and it’s true but if you want to make money you have to branch out your vision, your aesthetic.
A lot of our readers are commenting about how Tim Gunn perhaps was a little harsh on you and some even think he didn’t like you at all.
I didn’t get that from him on the show at all. He was very polite to me, we had a couple of nice conversations, we live in the same neighborhood, I don’t know, I didn’t get that at all. At the end I said I was exhausted, that that was a great experience, that I felt like I won regardless and that’s when he said that he was happy to send me home, so it looked like he was a little snippety with me.
Tim picked me [during auditions] because I was different and I also think that he wanted me to bring some of what he saw in my collection during the audition, but I couldn’t do that because I didn’t have the resources or the machinery. You can’t do what I do on those types of machines. I have a serious walking foot, heavy-duty machine that uses twenty needles and those machines will break down with heavy denim.
Tim could not believe how well made my collection was and he asked where I had that manufactured and I said ‘Who’s going to manufacture this without charging me more than I could sell it for?’ He was amazed with my skills and my craftsmanship on what I showed him at the audition and that’s how I design every piece, each and everyone, with a lot of care, with a lot of work into it.
Now how did you meet Ratbones?
I know Ratbones from a while back. He used to date this woman who was a makeup agent, and I kind of knew him through there, and then when I opened up my shop on the lower East side next to New York Hardcore tattoo shop owned by Jimmy G, lead singer of Murphy’s Law, who gave me the name Barbarella and that was back in the early 90s because of the way I dressed so he said ‘You’re Stella Barbarella.’ Ratbones was at the store one day and then he came to my store, we started talking and the next thing we know we started to date.
You guys need your own show.
We hope we get one. How do you think that’s looking for us?
Speaking of Barbarella and your fabulous body, how do you keep in shape? You looked amazing making that coffee.
I don’t know. I don’t work out, which is terrible, because I’m not in that great shape. I’m going to start doing yoga again, I’m not disciplined enough. I go once every two weeks. I walk my dog and I eat really well. I don’t eat processed food, we cook a lot at home, we eat a lot of vegetables; it’s genetic, I guess.
Getting back to the collection you’re working on, where are you going to be selling it?
First, I want to show it, contact buyers, and so on. For right now, I’ll be selling my dresses at my sister’s art gallery at 170 East 2nd Street, between A and B. I’m going to have my sewing machine there, bring a rack of clothes and people can see my clothes and see me sewing until I get situated. I would like to get into a showroom, more importantly.
That’s what I had on Stanton Street. I had everything right there in front. I sewed right there, people would come in, try clothes on, I’d be sewing, they’d be looking at me sewing. It was really cute, I liked it like that. I miss it. I really hate working from my apartment, it’s always a mess in here, with all my patterns and my fabrics and you try to live in it too.
That is basically why I did this show, because I’m isolated where I’m at, and those who know know, but most don’t know. Now they have a chance to see me, follow what I’m doing. This was really a win for me any which way it went. I’m glad I wasn’t eliminated after that first challenge because that would have been a lost time for me.
But I’ve lasted this long, I don’t know why and how or what was the reasoning, but I’m really glad and it is what it is and I’m going to try to do the best I can with it. I can’t change my personality and my aesthetic. I simply can’t and I think people appreciate that. People go to a certain designer for their art and for their signature so people will come to me for what I have to offer, for my art.
[Photos: Katrina del Mar/Stella Zotis' MySpace Page - Screencap: Projectrungay.blogspot.com]