Success Still in the Making
Flashback five years ago to Bravo’s hit television series Project Runway. It was in its second season and judges Heidi Klum, designer Michael Kors and Elle magazine fashion editor Nina Garcia were deliberating over three finalists. After 10 weeks of watching mannequin mayhem, chaotic challenges and fashion faux pas from a string of other designer hopefuls, viewers reached the season finale where the top three designers featured their fall collections on the runway at Bryant Park in New York. Guided under the watchful eye of the always entertaining and impeccably dressed Tim Gunn, the designers marched their models down the runway, revealing their personalities through each garment they created.
Chloe Dao chose to showcase evening wear only and stole the show. America got to see her immense talent for design, creativity and appreciation for a woman’s body — where the curves are and where seams should be placed — that would accent those features and hide the flaws. As her models turned at runway end, we witnessed an element of surprise as angular and artfully placed strips of fabric became the structured backs of silk charmeuse gowns. It was geometric perfection. Beautiful clean lines and flawless seams made her a hit on the runway and are still her signature style. Dao’s signature wrap halter tops, as well as her halter deep v-plunge evening gowns are still present in her collections today. Again, it’s those clean, simple lines used in fresh and surprising ways that make the dress.What looks beautiful coming also looks sensational going. No need to travel to New York or Los Angeles for fashion week. It’s right here in Houston every day.
Dao has come a long way since her humble beginnings. Graduating from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, she continued to hone her talents, leaving the city with years of experience under her belt. Still armed with a passion for fashion and newfound business savvy, Dao headed for Houston, opening her own boutique in 2000 to feature her collections. Located in Rice Village, LOT 8 — named after the eight Dao sisters — is her dream come true.
In 2007 Dao was invited by the Smithsonian to participate in the Exit Saigon, Enter Little Saigon exhibit. Dao confided, “It was one of my proudest moments.” Dao and her family emigrated from Laos in 1979, so the honor had personal meaning for her. “I don’t think what I do or who I am is that special,” Dao said. “It’s nice to be validated,” she admitted.
That same year, Dao launched a line exclusive to QVC labeled Simply Chloe Dao. Her 13-piece collection sold out within one hour as phone lines were flooded with calls. Dao said her goal with the collection is to “truly reach the masses,” keeping in mind what will look good on women from age 20 to age 60 or 70. “It’s for people who love fashion and value a great deal,” she said, referring to the appealing price tag.
Dreamy white bridal gowns are now in her boutique and part of Dao’s collection. She said matter-of-factly, “It’s something I’ve always done but not announced,” and explained there was really no difference designing bridal wear as opposed to evening gowns. “It was the perfect transition,” she said, “converting them into white fabric. I’ll bring a different take to what’s already out there with clean lines.” Custom fittings and alterations are available and done on the premises by Dao herself.
What inspires Dao to create and design? Her answer is simple: “Things I want to enhance about the female body and things I want to hide.” Every month she thinks about what part of the body she wants to feature, particularly considering what body issues she’s having and what she would like to conceal. “I always base my designs on three things: what I like, what I hate and what I want to emphasize out of those two. I always think about where I will place the lines and seams. The seams have to be impeccable,” she says with a passion. Dao was noted for her flawless seams by the judges during Project Runway 2.
Tim Gunn of Project Runway tried to give her some invaluable takeaway advice. “I never did anything Tim told me to do,” she said quite bluntly. “But he did give me one of the best compliments I’ve received. He tells others he’s happy that I stayed in Texas.” Dao explained that Gunn was shocked she was not going to move to New York after winning Project Runway 2. “I said, ‘Tim, why do I have to move to New York to be a successful designer?’ And now I’ve heard he tells other designers ‘You can succeed anywhere. If Chloe can do it, you can do it.’”
Her creations do not stop at wearable garments. Dao designed the Dao Chloe Dao by Nuo Collection for Nuo Tech, a mobile tech and travel luggage maker. For those who seek a more colorful alternative to basic black, Dao’s modern abstract flower, pinstripe and herringbone patterns offer stylish ways to protect laptops and transport personal gear.
Dao’s wholesale label, DAO Chloe DAO was launched in 2008 in Las Vegas and Dallas. This past year, she has focused her attention on those efforts, marketing her collections to different boutiques in Austin and other cities across the state. Her goal for the future is to open stores in New York and Los Angeles, but for now, this 4-foot, 11.5-inch design dynamo has her petite hands full. She spends her days designing, sewing, marketing, blogging, and just plain taking care of business. “I’m a merchandiser, marketer and businesswoman,” she confidently stated.
Dao carries a few other labels in her boutique but spotlights local flair. “I want other local designers to know I will be looking at other lines to carry in my store, so have your designs ready!” She knows how hard it is as a fledgling designer and confesses, “I’m still working really hard to attain what I consider to be successful.” Her parents taught her “If you truly work hard at something you will be successful.” But she adds, “You have to realize that you have the talent for it. If you don’t, ask for help. It’s good to know when to ask for help.”
People might think a designer’s job is all glory, fashion, fame and fun, but Dao speaks from the heart when she says, “This business is a hard job and I’m not perfect. I’m still questioning ‘Am I making the right choices about designing?’” Dao wants people to know that behind every successful person is a complex story. “Everything that is successful is not a one man, one woman job. It takes a team. I wouldn’t be where I am today without the help of my family and friends. I’ve been lucky enough to follow my dream, and my dream is my job.”
by Melissa Gautier