New York-based fashion designer Christian Cota’s collections are works of art—sometimes literally. This fast-rising star has parlayed his skills as a painter into a signature style that utilizes hand-painted motifs, digital prints, and sculptural silhouettes. (He’s been known to pull all-nighters before his presentations, hand-dyeing clothes in a bathtub.) The results have caught the attention of some of the fashion world’s most important tastemakers, including the Fashion Group International, which bestowed its Rising Star Award on the designer in 2009 for his women’s ready-to-wear collection, and the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), which inducted Cota into its ranks last year. Not to mention celebrities such as Blake Lively, Emma Stone, Eva Mendes, Jennifer Lopez, Lady Gaga, and Rose Byrne, who have all donned Cota’s designs.

Cota’s multicultural background continues to inform his work, from his meticulous tailoring, honed during a study stint in Paris, to collections inspired by the colors and textures of his native Mexico. “I’ve utilized my Mexican heritage, whose arts and crafts are filled with vibrant color, patterns, and indigenous prints, and transposed them on modern-day silhouettes,” says Cota.

Even in his first collection, which debuted in spring 2008, a focus on clean lines and organic forms was already apparent. His latest, for Fall 2012, featured gorgeous native patterns and embroidery created by a women’s collective in Mexico that are right on trend with fashion’s print moment while remaining distinctly individual. “In my earlier work, I was really focused on keeping my designs based around fluidity, draping, volume, and texture,” he says. “As I got further into the collections, I began to incorporate digital prints and technical elements in my fabrics and embroideries. I guess it’s nature meeting with technology. The result I hope for is something beautiful and fast moving.”

Cota’s latest coup: being selected for the CFDA’s highly coveted Fashion Incubator program, which he is participating in from 2012 through 2014, along with other rising fashion stars like Timo Weiland and Project Runway alum Daniel Vosovic. “The program is great,” he says. “We have weekly lectures and sit-down meetings with consultants and experts in the fashion business. There was a media training seminar where we were given the opportunity to role-play how we deal with media encounters and the best methods to handle interviews. It was fun because all the designers had different approaches to giving on-camera interviews, and everyone was laughing and joking even though it was kind of nerve-racking."

Not every designer gets so much celebrity love so early in his career, and Cota is thrilled at the appreciation from his small collective of boldfaced admirers, each of whom he adores for her risk-taking style. “The ideal woman for my brand has a clear sense of who she is,” he states. “She loves to take a relaxed yet luxurious stance with her fashion, and does so in her own way without losing who she is. The best moments when my designs have been worn by a celebrity express, to me, a girl who is not afraid of fashion and who stands on her own.”

While he’s relishing the spotlight, Cota is wary of becoming a flash in the pan. “I think it’s great that young designers are becoming successful more quickly and more often,” he reflects, “as long as they have a good direction and foundation.” He admires contemporaries such as Bibhu Mohapatra, Cushnie et Ochs, and Rodarte, whose trajectories he considers “really motivating success stories that make me want to continue.”

Cota seems to be following in the footsteps of those young stars of the New York fashion world, with career highlights already amassing under his very svelte belt. “Graduating from Parsons, creating my first collection in Spring 2008, having Anna Wintour show up at my Fall 2010 show unexpectedly, winning FGI’s rising star award, and of course being chosen to be in the CFDA Incubator program—there have been so many great moments so far,” he enthuses.

Asked what keeps him inspired each day, he nominates his home base of New York as a constant source of ideas. “The diversity of the people here— the city is a hodgepodge of cultures and people from so many backgrounds different than your own,” Cota says. “I have so many different groups of friends, and their stories, their individual energies all push me to be more original and to live for the moment.”

As for his fashion motto, it perfectly captures the free-spirited yet thoughtful approach that makes his designs so memorable: “You should never get lost in fashion,” he advises. “You should always try to find a way to shine as an individual.” Saks Fifth Avenue, 611 Fifth Ave., 212-753-4000; Bloomingdale’s, 1000 Third Ave., 212-705-2000

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