Photographer John C Liau
You’re chosen to compete on Project Runway, a fashion reality-TV show, against bitchy, backstabbing divas who declare they’ve won from the start. How do you compete?
If you’re Chloe Dao, you counter with no-nonsense straight talk and produce stunning clothes that do the bitch slapping on the runway. Dao won the competition and, among other prizes, a Saturn convertible and $100,000. But she’s not resting on her laurels. Dao is developing her clothing line, Houston-based Lot 8, and her new national public image.
Dao’s come a long way from the refugee camp in Laos where she and her seven sisters sold candy to survive. Hyphen caught up with Dao to find out what life is like after winning a reality-TV show.
How has your life changed since you’ve won?
CHLOE DAO: Well, I do bigger things; I just do more important things. You know, meetings with DMA, which is one of my contract prizes, (representation by) DMA designer management agency. They rep like Stella McCartney, Alexander McQueen, and so it’s just that amazing opportunity to work with someone that big. I get a brand new car. I’m going to look cooler driving around! That’s nice. I get some money to do my line and do it right. Fans. I have publicity. I have a name—when I say ‘Chloe Dao’ now people actually know who I am.
What’s your advice for someone like me who’s on a budget and can’t spend big bucks on clothes?
I’m on a budget! I think I look pretty good! I think you don’t have to spend thousands of dollars. I mean, I’m wearing H&M, my store and Zara, which is all really reasonable stuff but I think I look like a million bucks right now. It’s not about money, it really isn’t. It’s about knowing what your style is and what looks good on you. And honestly, the best thing about fashion is, really, it boils down to confidence. You can wear a clown outfit but if you’re confident in it, you’re going to look good in it.
A lot of fashion seems to be for tall, thin people. Do you have to be tall and skinny to look good in it?
I don’t think that’s true, honestly, I don’t. On the runway, of course it’s on tall skinny models because they are the best representation of clothing, you know, they’re built to show off clothes. But I’m barely five feet tall and I think I look pretty good. Really, again, it boils down to finding the garments that work for your body the best. I mean, you can be a size 24 and still look amazing. If you’re size 24, show off your cleavage. Bottom line, cleavage is good for any size. Enhance what really is your best asset and always hide the rest. That really is my philosophy.
You were in a refugee camp in Laos, and now you’ve become this nationally known figure, so is it the American dream come true for you?
I do feel like it is the American dream that came true for me. But I don’t take it for granted because it was the American dream that I worked, like, 15 years to achieve. It wasn’t an overnight success, and I’m still working, I work 17, 16 hours a day still.
And when you say you’re working are you doing appearances? Are you designing? Are you doing stuff for Bravo?
Everything you just listed. I’m serious. I’m still cutting, I’m still my cutter, I’m still partly my sewer, I’m still the buyer, I’m still going to L.A., I’m still the designer, I’m still the production person, I still help do my marketing. I’m involved in every way. I still sweep my store. I still vacuum. I still do everything.
Do you have to be more conscious of your own image now?
I diet now. I’m just kidding! I do sit-ups! No, I—honestly ... I brush my hair when I go out. Usually I don’t, and now I do feel like I have to brush my hair and put some make up on. I do because when people see me I don’t want them to think ‘Oh, lord, she looks like a mess!’ You know, I am a little bit more self-conscious, but believe me, I’m still eating everything I want to eat. I think if I work hard, I deserve to eat whatever I want. I do care, I just brush my hair more, bottom line. I do. Cuz I usually don’t brush my hair ... And I’m proud of it, because it looks good without brushing!
Jennifer Huang is currently working on a documentary about African American soldiers during World War I. Her Project Runway addiction serves solely as an escape from the interminable wait for 2008.