Jay Nicolas Sario on Touchy-Feely Strangers, Project Runway + Discarded to Divine


Over coffee at Four Barrel just hours before the Project Runway season finale, we found San Francisco’s Jay Nicolas Sario to be both exceedingly down-to-earth as he talked about his time in the reality television spotlight and genuinely upbeat, despite being the last designer cut from the show before the selection of the final trio. These days, the NoPa resident tells us he’s continuing his nine-year run in visual merchandising for Gap while working on his spring 2011 collection, which he hopes to show in the Bay Area next fall, and lending his time to charitable causes such as tomorrow night’s Discarded to Divine fashion event and auction highlighting recycled fashions in support of the St. Vincent de Paul Society of San Francisco’s many social services programs.

Read on for Sario’s thoughts on pursuing fashion in San Francisco, Mila (yes, we had to ask) and what not to do if you spot this local celebrity strolling the city streets.

What are you working on these days?

I’m putting together my spring collection for 2011. Right now, it’s still in the concept process, nothing has been sewn yet, there’s a few sketches. I’m going to keep sketching until I’m satisfied. It’s probably going to be 10 to 12 looks, like what I did for New York Fashion Week as a decoy for Project Runway. My goal is to have it produced and have boutiques here in San Francisco carry my pieces.

What’s keeping you here? Why haven’t you defected to New York or L.A.?

What’s keeping me here is the job security. I think that’s the number one reason why I’m here, the Gap. But I want to move on with my career as a fashion designer…As I’ve figured out what I want to do long term, I’ve said to myself, I am going to be a big fish in a small pond and that’s definitely a main reason why I want to stay here, because I don’t see any point in moving to New York knowing that I am still trying to establish my label.

Will your spring collection have an aesthetic similar to that of what you showed on Project Runway?

I definitely have a distinct point of view, and I want to be able to carry that through no matter what the project is. For spring, I am going to continue that structured-slash-soft feel to the collection. So it’s going to be a lot of pieces that are structured, very architectural and dimensional and textured, and it’s going to be a much lighter color palette, that’s the only difference.

Knowing what you know now, would you go back and do Project Runway over again?

No. I mean, that was a year of my life, to be honest with you. I started in April of last year and that’s when I tried out for the show. I got a call back in June. We started filming June 15. That was five weeks. Then I had four months to work on my collection. And then I went back for Fashion Week and tonight is basically the night when I’m going to flip the page or move on to the next chapter, because tonight is the last episode of the season…The experience was amazing, I learned a lot, but it took a lot of my time and energy.

How are you going to flip the page exactly? Are you going to have a farewell to Project Runway celebration or make an evening of it?

Tonight, I am flipping the page by myself. I’m going to watch it. I love two of the guys that are up there right now, Emilio and Seth Aaron. I’ve learned a lot from them. Even Mila, I know we were nemeses, but…

Did you really think of each other as nemeses while the show was filming?

We did. There was this tension that was, like, unspoken tension. We didn’t have to say anything to each other or do anything to each other to have tension. Our vibes just didn’t merge very well.

You’ve been pretty open in the press about your feelings toward Mila.

I have. It’s weird because she’s probably not reading all these comments that I’m saying that are being written all over blogs and the Internet. And I’m doing the same thing, too. I’m not looking for what Mila is saying about me…I know I’ve moved on, but when I’m asked the question, I just answer it the way I really felt. It’s probably easier for her because she beat me. Right?

Have you stayed in touch with any of the other designers on the show?

I talk to Anthony a lot. Seth Aaron, I was just texting with him last night. And that’s pretty much it. It’s surprising, Ping and I, we talk sometimes. I think we connected because both of us are from different countries, and we’re both Asian and English is our second language. A lot of people really misunderstood her because of the language barrier, and I do relate to what she’s going through with that, and I think that’s why we sort of bonded. I’m not surprised that I’m still talking to her at this point because we had some similarities.

[At this point, a coffee shop patron recognizes Sario and tells him he’s his favorite designer from Project Runway.]

Do you get recognized often?

I do.

Has it ever happened in a really unusual or bizarre place?

No, never any bizarre places. It’s all been very normal. I think what’s scary is when they start to touch you. I get scared.

So people automatically go for the grab?

Yeah. That to me is a little sketchy. Especially when you’re at a bar. Because you never know, like, what their state of mind is.

So hands-off Jay if you see him? We’ll try to broadcast that for you and get the word out.

Say it in a nice way, please.

So beyond work and more work, what would we find you doing on an average Saturday night?

Saturday night, I don’t like to go out, to be honest with you. It’s a little bridge-and-tunnel. I try to avoid that. I like to go out Friday nights. I go to the Castro, but now that my neighborhood is becoming really commercialized…I try to support the businesses there. My favorite bar at this point in my neighborhood is the Mini Bar. Saturday night, it gets too crazy, I’d rather be at home watching a movie with my boyfriend or having dinner with friends.

Describe your style for us.

It’s very eclectic. I do vintage. I mix it with something new and modern. There’s definitely a mix of really, really high-end and really, really cheap stuff in my closet. A good vintage find would be a Christian Dior vest that’s like $8 that I find at a thrift store. Just by wearing that, it’s old, it’s Dior, it’s cheap. It makes me feel good.

You’ll be at Discarded to Divine to present the two looks you created, one of which was made using bottles donated from sponsor Fiji Water. We’d love to hear more about your designs for the event.

I created a cocktail dress using the Fiji Water bottle…it’s beautiful. It moves, it makes a crunchy, crispy noise. And then the other one is a two-piece outfit actually. It’s a vest and a skirt. The vest was a long coat, all the way down to the ground, and I just made it really sexy and fitted with a cute little feminine ruffle detail. The skirt, it’s hard to explain…it was a jacket, and I flipped the collar up and wrapped the collar around the waist.

Did Fiji send you empty bottles or ones actually filled with water?

I got like two cases every two weeks. I’m like, I have to drink all these waters.

So did you?

I did. What am I going to do, like throw it away? It’s been crazy.

Meet an extremely well-hydrated Jay Nicolas Sario in person tomorrow night during Discarded to Divine, taking place at The Hall at St. Mary’s Cathedral, 1111 Gough St., SF. VIP Party starts at 5 p.m., live auction and show at 8 p.m. To inquire about remaining tickets ($75 and up), call 415-977-1270.

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