For two years, Siriano has been collaborating with Danielle Nachmani, who work has included campaigns for Van Cleef & Arpels, Old Navy, Intermix and Theory. The working relationship is beneficial, but it can be challenging at times, he said.

"I love Danielle," he said. "She'll really listen to me. But she's tough on me. There can be so much tension. She might pass over my favorite dress. My job is to convince her that it is such a great piece."

The decision was a smart one — especially when it comes to Fashion Week, which began Wednesday and, Cruz said, can make or break a designer.

"Fashion Week is where the trendsetters are," Cruz said. "It's very important. Your life is on the line essentially. If your line is not well received or not mentioned, it can break you. You'll be replaced."

But on this busy, unglamorous day, Siriano didn't appear to be worried about his coming show. He believes in maintaining a stress-free, confident demeanor that he hopes carries over to his employees. He says it is important to set a positive tone for his team.

"I try to keep as calm as possible," he said, adding that he winds down on the weekends, which allows him to start the week off in a relaxed manner. "If I'm stressed, then they are stressed. I don't like that."

The approach shows a lot of maturity and growth for the "Project Runway" alum, whose intense gushing on the show over guest judge and style maven Sarah Jessica Parker now makes him cringe.

"That was embarrassing," he said. (Even though Siriano didn't win the challenge the actress judged, the two have worked together since the show.)

Now when Siriano deals with celebrities, he plays it cool.

"I'm a little different now," he said. "I try to be a little more professional. I was overly intense [back then].) Actresses and musicians are already so nervous. It is better to be real and like a friend."

Siriano says the key to avoiding stress is being organized. He started preparing for his spring collection early in the year, which allowed him to have a launch of his boutique so close to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week.

Stephen Kent is not surprised by the success of his former student. The head of the visual arts department at the Baltimore School for the Arts knew Siriano would be special more than a decade ago, when he first spotted the then-13-year-old, who was interviewing for a spot in the school.

"We've auditioned hundreds of children over the year, but I remember him clearly," Kent said. "He arrived in a very tailored black suit — appropriately accessorized, of course. And a matching portfolio. He looked very professional. And he was tiny! I was fascinated and sat in on the interview. He was very methodical about the way he presented his work."

Siriano's fashion sketches blew away all of the instructors — including Kent. He summoned Siriano's mother. "I told her that he had so much talent, and he needed to come here," he said.

The school remains an important part of Siriano's life.

When Siriano makes it back home -— he estimates about two to three times a year — he makes time to visit the school.

It was at the BSA that Siriano produced his first fashion show, which was a part of his senior project, Kent recalled. "He made all the arrangements — the clothes, models, hair, makeup"

Kent said Siriano customized a fashion design curriculum for himself, even though the school did not offer such a thing.

"He figured out how to get fashion into every class he took," Kent said. "He was very adept and persuasive and reasonable. He knew how to negotiate with adults. He kind of tailored our programs to his needs."

Kent and the other staff members at the BSA monitored Siriano's advancements after he graduated and went on to study under design legends such as Vivienne Westwood and Alexander McQueen. So it was to no one's surprise that Siriano made it to "Project Runway."