By Paula Rath
Advertiser Staff Writer
When Season 7 of "Project Runway" begins on Thursday, Hawai'i will celebrate its first contestant, Jay Nicolas Sario, 31, a graduate of Mililani High School who developed his design skills at Honolulu Community College.
Although Philippines is listed as Sario's home base, he moved to Hawai'i at age 16.
We first spotted Sario at HCC and identified him as "one to watch." In 2004, he created a collection for the school fashion show called "Boyet," his family nickname. It was recognized for its chic sophistication and element of surprise, showing obvious talent and promise.
Sario now lives in San Francisco, where he works in visual merchandising for the corporate offices of Gap. He persevered through three applications with Gap in Honolulu before he was hired. Once in, he progressed rapidly.
"Perseverance" is a word that comes up often when people talk about Sario.
Sario was told he was chosen for Season 7 of "Project Runway" in June, on his birthday. He happened to be in Hawai'i when he got the call.
"I heard myself scream," he said. "The casting director was laughing, then I was told as soon as I enjoyed the moment that from that point on, they owned me. I had to ask permission for every word that came out of my mouth."
His mother, Arceli Sario of Mililani, said, "It was torture not to be able to tell anyone. We had to all keep our mouths shut."
Here in Honolulu, around 30 of Sario's family and friends will gather in his Auntie Naty's home in Mililani to watch the show and cheer on their hometown contestant.
Doing more with less has always been a necessity for Sario. He had a full scholarship to Otis College of Art & Design in Los Angeles, but it was a challenge for him to manage rent, food and commuting costs in the expensive city.
He sometimes raided classroom wastebaskets for art supplies — little stubs of charcoal and graphite, wadded-up paper, whatever he could find to create his projects.
His mother remembers a time when he needed paper for a sketching project. He couldn't afford art paper, so he tore up an old rice bag and did his sketch on it.
"He got an A+," she said with obvious pride.
Sario has known since he was 11 that he wanted to make fashion his life's work.
Years ago, during Sario's childhood, his mother recalls, one of his grandmother's skirts disappeared from her closet. They found Sario in his room, cutting and sewing Barbie-doll gowns from the fabric of the cut-up skirt.
By age 14, he was sketching and designing prom dresses for the girls in his high school.
At HCC, he was a stand-out, from sketching to designing and sewing.
HCC teacher Lillian Zane remembers that Sario wanted to join her entry-level sewing class, but the class was already full, and there were no more sewing machines available. "So he brought his grandmother's machine to school with him every day," she said, laughing.
"We admired the way he worked. He was one of a kind." Zane said. "He was so focused on his work — beading or draping, or whatever it was. He has the passion, and he's very artistic.
"Who knows what he's gonna do next? This guy is amazing."
Joy Nagaue, head of the Fashion Technology Department at HCC, was thrilled to hear Sario was on "Project Runway."
His talent, she said, shone in everything he did. "The things he did were so creative. It was just a different level," she said.
"He was ahead of his time, but he didn't have money. For one project, he couldn't afford fabric, but he was offered 10 gross of buttons for next to nothing, so he made a vest entirely out of buttons, and it was fabulous.
"Everything he did was fabulous," Nagaue said. "He was very unusual in his designing. He always had an element of surprise."
While at HCC, Sario worked at Sensually Yours, where he got to know Tammy Takaoka, who still works there. When she learned that he had been selected for "Project Runway," her reaction was "Oh, of course. That's perfect for him. He's meant to sew. It's his God-given skill."
Takaoka said she knows some of the people who work behind the scenes and in casting for the show.
"They tend to choose people for the drama, 'cause drama sells, but he's relaxed and chill and a really nice guy. I'm glad he got on for his skill," she said.
'NO ONE KNOWS'
So: Will Sario be the quirky uber-talent of the "Project Runway" seventh season (a la Christian), the guy everyone loves to hate (a la Valentino) or the snarky cutthroat competitor (a la Irina)?
A lot of the personality development takes place in the show's editing room, so he is feeling somewhat nervous about how he will be presented.
"I think, being the true Gemini, maybe I'll be the guy who flips a lot and changes personality. Could go from the good to the extreme," he said.
The results are kept secret, but Sario says viewers can show support by making positive comments online. He was advised by show host Tim Gunn to avoid reading the blogs, because they can get nasty.
"No one knows what we went through. It's painful most of the time. We hardly slept," he noted. "There's no source of inspiration. ... It's a lot of energy to go through the show, and the last thing we need is negative comments over the Internet."
In the end, Sario said he hopes to make Hawai'i proud.
"I was true to myself, and that's all that matters to me. They asked questions and I answered them truthfully and from the bottom of my heart," he said. "What you see is what you get with me."
THE SHOW'S OVER
Asked what he had learned from appearing on "Project Runway," Sario said, "Taste was always something I questioned. I've always had it, but I second-guessed and doubted myself. The judges commended me on my taste level and level of sophistication. To hear that from people at that level was just astounding."
Sario's goal is to one day have his own label. "What's the point of doing this otherwise?" he asked.
He doesn't want to design for a huge corporation or the mass market. Rather, he would like to create an exclusive line to be sold in select stores such as Barneys New York.
"My clothes, well, not a lot of people can pull it off," he said. "It's not the Gap or Banana Republic."
The celebrity Sario would most like to dress is Angelina Jolie. "I made this baby-doll black evening dress, and I pictured Angelina Jolie in it. I want to dress her. Yeah! And Carrie Underwood. She has a similar story like me, from rags to riches. I love her. Now she's so popular and she's still the same humble girl from Oklahoma. The only thing that changes is her bank account."