Television was only the beginning for our favorite ‘Project Runway’ champ.
Interview and photo by David Goldberg
Chloe Dao is a busy woman. Not one to rest on her laurels, the divine design diva who captured the cash on the finale of Project Runway‘s second season has woven her winnings, talent, and celebrity status to bring her business to the next level and beyond.
Since her catwalk victory in March of 2006, she has upgraded her Village boutique, Lot 8; opened a salon by the same name; created electronic accessories lines for Office Max and Circuit City; appeared on numerous talk shows and at local events; showcased clothing in the Smithsonian museum; and designed sold-out lines for QVC.
In the midst of enhancing the Chloe Dao empire, she is involved with scores of charitable organizations.
“I think it’s a great thing that I can help out people and that just my appearance or using my name will help people do better,” she says.
Causes ranging from AIDS Foundation Houston’s programs to Dress For Success to LiveAid have relied on Dao to bring weight and support. Her latest project is a custom-made pink scarf to be handed out to breast cancer survivors at a THINK-PINK! luncheon. “It’s soft and sweet but sophisticated,” she says.
THINK-PINK! is sponsored by the Houston chapter of Zeta Tau Alpha and contributes to cancer treatment and survivor support. The luncheon takes place October 8 at the River Oaks Country Club.
“It’s just a great cause,” says Dao.
Dao’s local efforts have also reached Houston Community College, where she was the keynote speaker at the graduation exercises for the Class of 2006.
“That was freaky-deaky!” she says. “I thought it was only for the class of fashion designers, I’m like . . . it’s at the Reliant Stadium?”
But as anyone who has seen the designer conquer one of PR judge Heidi Klum’s challenges would know, she dominated. “It was definitely something; I was shocked I did so well. It was nerve-wracking,” Dao recalls.
Nerve-wracking is perhaps the best way to describe Dao’s season of Project Runway. It was a year of walk-offs, breakdowns, alliances, betrayals, and some of the strangest and gayest challenges and personalities reality TV had ever seen. She says she loved her season and still keeps in touch with many of the gay designers not heard from lately.
“I love it! I’m the biggest faghag you can find,” she says, laughing. “It’s just really great because I relate to it. It’s my world.
“I’m still close to Nick Varreos, to Emmett [McCarthy], to Andre [Gonzalo], Raymundo [Baltaza], and to John Wade. They’re just like my real friends, because all my male friends are gay.
“Seriously, at my 27th birthday party there were 27 people—25 gay guys!”
It appears that Dao is not the only designer from the season-two cast to find success beyond the show. Nick writes snippy fashion commentary for MSNBC.com, along with appearing at red-carpet gigs galore. Andre teaches at the Fashion Institute of Design and Marketing in California and also head designs for major names. Raymundo is designing at Ed Hardy. And John Wade is head of sales at Marc Jacobs.
Post-Runway success did not come on swift wings for the designers, though. “People expect us to be in the best position ever [and] to be instantly rich, but you have to have talent to go afterwards and to succeed,” Dao says. “That show will expose you to other people in the field, but at the end of the day, you have to go out there and work. For me, it took another year before I got my lines with QVC. All that stuff takes time to negotiate. It’s not instant. It takes time to grow from it and to build from it.”
Dao celebrates her one-year anniversary show of her highly popular line on QVC next May. “I think I’ve done 12 shows already, and each show is a different line,” she says. “My line is so popular [that] every time I go on the air, it’s sold out. It’s just a roller coaster.”
Dao’s work ethic is even more inspiring than any of her radiant gowns.
“I work well under pressure. You know, I make clothes, so it’s not life or death,” she says, self-effacingly. “But sometimes it feels like ‘Grrr! I’m over!’ But you just have to do it: like in my sleep, when I’m laying down, [when I’m] with my assistant.
“My style has gone down the drain a little—I’ll be honest, because I’m so busy,” she laments. “I just develop the other lines.”
Being so busy would not stop Dao from judging on a future season of Project Runway, if she were invited.
“I don’t ever get called to do judging; I don’t know why!” she says. “I would love to do it. I think, honestly, if you’re in New York or L.A., it’s easier for them to tap you because they don’t have to fly you out there.”
Project Runway ‘s current season, its fifth, doesn’t quite compare to the glory days for Dao.
“I really don’t think they’re as talented as [designers from] other seasons. I hate to say that, because I think that’s so wrong,” she says, “but I think a lot of them are not commercial designers.”
Nonetheless, Dao admits that she loved PR‘s recent challenge that charged the competing designers with designing a dress for a drag queen, with RuPaul as the guest judge.
“I love RuPaul, but he looks horrible,” she says in true designer fashion. “I don’t know what the heck happened. Like seriously, he’s queen bee. He needs to look like queen bee. That wig was wacky.” [Editor’s note: see RuPaul on “Man Oh Manouse.”]
David Goldberg is a freelance writer for OutSmart. A PFLAG/HATCH Youth Scholarship Foundation Award recipient, he recently graduated Emery High School and is now participating on a Year Program in Israel.