Catching up with Jay Nicolas Sario

April 29th, 2010
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Nadine Kam photo
Jay Nicolas Sario reunited with his Honolulu Community College instructor Joy Nagaue April 24 during the presentation of the school’s annual fashion show, “Flight.”

Poor is the pupil who does not surpass his master, the saying goes, and Jay Nicolas Sario showed just how far he’d come when his former instructors at Honolulu Community College, Joy Nagaue and Lillian Zane, cornered him during a post-fashion show party April 25 with a request to teach them how he did the pant draping that won him so many accolades from the “Project Runway” judges during the recently completed Season Seven.

He had invented his own methods, and in return, wanted them to show him the textbook version, which he’d forgotten since he attended the school six years ago. He was a standout even then, because I interviewed him as a junior, a rare occurence. Usually I only talk to the seniors, given it is their year to shine and assuming the juniors will have their time in the spotlight during their senior year. Not in his case, though. He felt he had achieved his goals in the one year he was enrolled in the two-year program and was ready to move on.

Star-Bulletin file photo
Sario in his student days at HCC, in 2004, fitting Pua Perallon.

It turns out he’s still learning and was doing so while progressing through the show. He said he started the design process by creating his usual traditional paper pattern, which was time consuming. But, looking around the room, he said he saw the other designers taping up their manikins in lieu of formal pattern-making.

I was like, “They always do that. Didn’t you watch the show before you entered?” And he said, “I did, but I didn’t know what they were doing.” Finally figuring out it was a shortcut, he started employing the same technique.

The Sunday reception and thank-you party for the designer, HCC students and all who had made the 90th anniversary fashion show a success, was part of a whirlwind weekend for Sario, who still had to be up early Monday morning for another round of TV interviews before he headed back home to San Francisco Tuesday. In spite of all the activity surrounding him, he looked much more relaxed than he appeared while involved in the TV competition.


Photo courtesy 2Couture
Sario was the guest of honor at a dinner April 23, where he posed for photographs with fellow designers Eric Chandler and Takeo.

And although he had been anxious to head out into the world to prove himself while he was a student, the warmth of his homecoming left him wistful. “I actually thought about what it would be like to stay here,” he said, before the intrusion of reality that gave him pause. “Then I thought, what would I do here?”

Right. To me, the problem with Hawaii, for a designer of his stature, is there’s a luxury market and budget market, but a very slim middle. By middle I’m talking about clothes priced in roughly the $250 to $500 range that would allow a young designer to be self-sustaining.

I don’t know what Jay’s price points would be. He’s just starting work on his Spring 2011 collection, but this would seem to put him just under more established contemporary designers like Phillip Lim, Alexander Wang and Diane Von Furstenberg.

There was a middle about two years ago, but the economy sputtered and reduced the numbers of people willing to pay those prices when knock-off specialists can offer serviceable garments for much less than $100. Never mind the creatives whose aesthetic and vision move fashion forward. Ask any teacher, education is a tough job.


Sario showed this jacket April 24 following student presentations at HCC.

We talked briefly about the possibility of launching a true Hawaii Fashion Week, which a handful have tried at odd times, and he feels strongly that a HFW should adhere to the global calendar of shows in spring and fall. It makes sense to have a show here in January, before other shows start up in February (it would be timed so I could still cover the New York shows occasionally), when it’s so cold we might be able to convince fashion writers to take a sunny Hawaii detour before going back to work. It would give HVCB something to promote to other snowbirds shut out of major shows and looking for a unique form of entertainment. Just an idea.

Anyway, during the fashion show that took place Saturday night on the HCC campus, Sario showed three of the audition garments that helped him win his spot on “Project Runway” show. If you’re a fan of the show, you already know what happened. If not, catch up here.

The video shows flapper-inspired garments created by students in honor of HCC’s 90th anniversary that opened the show, and ends with three pieces by Sario.

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