Ask designer Chloe Dao what her fashion vice is and laughter will ensue. "I'm so cheap," the 34-year-old Project Runway winner says. "I feel like I can make it all myself!"
For anyone else this task might seem daunting, but for Dao it's just another challenge. As one of the three finalists during season two of the reality-design series, "Project Runway," Dao's ultra-feminine dresses, billowy tops and precision tailoring took her to the top. After showing a stellar collection during her runway turn at Bryant Park, the judges voted her the winner.
For her win, Dao was awarded $100,000 to start her own fashion line, a 12-month contract with Designers Management Agency (DMA), a Saturn Sky Roadster and her work was featured in ELLE magazine. But winning on the popular series wasn't all wine and roses for the designer. "The worst part about winning is that people expect you to become this amazing accomplished designer right away. Everyone has really high expectations, but they forget we [Project Runway contestants] are all young and small designers.
If it sounds like Dao is bitter, she is anything but. "The best thing about winning has been the opportunities that have come my way," she notes. "The DMA connects you with giant corporations that I wouldn't have been able to do on my own, much less have the guts to do myself."
One of the giant corporate connections to come Chloe's way has been her recent partnership with QVC. The "Simply Chloe Dao" line will debut on May 10 and the collection, which includes an interpretation of the silk tank dress from the reality show's final challenge, will feature modern silhouettes at reasonable price points. The prices range from $75, for the silk dress, to $30 for a stretch ribbed tank.
"My favorite piece is the matte jersey dress with lace inset," Dao says. "I love that it has a vintage feel but the style is classic and modern enough to still wear today." Other pieces include a basic black stretch twill blazer, a silk chiffon kimono top, and stretch leggings, which is one of Dao's favorite things to wear.
"I designed this collection based on clothes I normally go for in my store," says Dao, who owns Houston, TX-based boutique Lot 8, named after her and her seven sisters. "It's geared towards anyone age 15 to 50 and I chose pieces that either my mom or I could wear - the items could be dressed up or dressed down. But I stuck close to my aesthetic to offer young and contemporary designs to the QVC customer."
Season two viewers know the diminutive Dao doesn't bow to pressure. On the show, her laid-back attitude helped her win many friends and fans, but fellow contestant Santino Rice criticized that she was "only a patternmaker," which she still talks about today. "I know what Santino said, but being on the show made me realize I really am a designer," she says proudly. "I'm a lot better under pressure than I thought!"
Among her show friends are Nick Verreos, Daniel Vosovic and Diana Eng, who Dao affectionately refers to as "Miss Diana." Menswear designer Emmet McCarthy is not only in Dao's Rolodex of Project Runway friends, but is a business liaison as well. McCarthy's EMC2 boutique in New York's Nolita neighborhood carries dresses from Chloe Dao, Nick Verreos and fellow season two contestant Kara Janx.
With Dao already selling in a New York boutique, does she have plans to expand her Lot 8 boutique to NYC? "You know, there are so many goals and plans...maybe if I do so well on QVC, they can finance my store," she jokes. Taking a serious tone, Dao admits one of her goals for next year is to go into the wholesale business and focus on opening up a showroom in Dallas.
All of her success and accolades have not gone to the designer's head. Born in Pakse, Laos, Dao immigrated to Houston in 1979 with her seven sisters and worked her way through the Fashion Institute of Technology, and jobs with Finity sportswear, Melinda Eng and Gregory Parkinson. While some reality show winners splurge on cars, jewelry and homes, the affable Dao giggles when asked about her biggest fashion splurge. "My wardrobe sucks! The biggest splurge I made from my winning money are J-Brand skinny jeans...but seriously, they were $158 jeans!"
"It's really weird. I've been named America's next great designer, and I think it's ridiculous," the designer muses. "I just want people to think of Chloe Dao and think 'I like her clothes...and I like her!'" she says.