They have been spotted around town and they are quite striking: scarves brightly saturated in color with a vivid print of evil eyes by a brand that is growing in popularity both locally and internationally.
Their silk is rich and heavy, a thick blend of silk chiffon.
Otrera is the brand, and Elle Sakellis – a Greek born and bred in New York City with a strong emotional and physical connection to her motherland – is the woman behind them.
Sakellis was inspired by her grandmother’s childhood stories of a powerful Greek warrior goddess known for her beauty and strength named Otrera – the brand’s namesake.
The brand was initially started as a private label, custom-making jewelry for stylists and the likes of Victoria’s Secret. Sakellis has since expanded the line to include a variety of scarves – all of which feature prints of talismans.
After working in finance for 10 years and experiencing the events of 9/11 firsthand from her office at the World Financial Center (right across from the World Trade Center), Sakellis began reconsidering her life choices.
"It was close enough, Sakellis said of that day, "It was that day that made me see that I can’t spend the rest of my life doing something that doesn’t make me happy.
She moved to London and then to Mykonos for a while where she started Otrera, and the brand quickly evolved to include the signature scarves.
One day while walking with her grandmother around Mykonos, the family’s perennial vacation spot, Sakellis spotted an arrangement of evil eyes in various sizes in a shop window. "I noticed they were all hanging together and thought they would look great on a print, she said.
She made her way back to New York and started searching for a graphic artist to translate her vision into something tangible. "It was almost too easy, if that’s how it’s supposed to be it feels so right and so cool, Sakellis says about her entry into scarf design.
"I had to go and touch silks and silk blends, and a designer friend from LA who had studied fabrics and was in tune with it helped me select silks strong enough to resist running if pulled on a ring, explained Sakellis.
"You never really expect anything this crazy to happen when you come up with a cute little concept; I never thought the scarves would be so eye-catching – it happened so quickly. [Famed New York stores] Intermix and Barneys picked them up, and Barneys put it in their window display – almost a dream-like experience, Sakellis recalled.
"There’s also an educational aspect going on which is great. Girls from Kansas shopping in New York will see me at a trunk show and ask me about the evil eye and I educate them about its [talisman] effects.
"All these different good luck amulets, particularly the evil eye: it’s used as a general source of power for people, to muster the power they need for their everyday lives.yet no matter how many cultures claim it to be theirs, the most important thing is that all cultures use their positive abilities to stay on a positive path, Sakellis said.
Otrera’s now infamous evil eye scarves come in a variety of colors, and summer collections will include brighter hues of coral, yellow and turquoise. Online boutique Net-a-Porter has even asked for exclusive designs – a testament to their appeal and originality.
There’s certainly something appealing about turning them into the next coveted collector’s item, ¬like the Hermès scarves.
"I think that I’m not a fashionable person. I’m a denim girl.and I have a problem with prints, I wear a lot of solid black. The only way I could every spruce up an outfit is with a colorful printed scarf.
"It’s the ultimate outfit booster whether it’s with a pair of jeans and a blazer around the neck all the way to your basic black dress which you can wear it over. It’s a uniform accessory that can work with many different outfits.
Scarves now included the famed hand of Fatima or Hamsa scarf which Sakellis has also incorporated into a cool design and translated onto silk.
Otrera scarves devotees have included Paris Hilton and Rachael Ray, and Sakellis says: "It’s amazing having them wear it, Paris Hilton and Rachel Ray are completely different scopes of people and Robin Thicke wore it on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival – I had to thank him for opening up an entirely new market for me. But he is a risk taker and very fashion forward so it suits him although I had my doubts when I first saw it.
Sakellis is developing a new charm for print which she chose to keep secret. "I will tell you that its roots come from Egypt, she teased. Set to be launched in Spring 2011, many – myself included – will be eagerly keeping an eye out for it.