NEW YORK — Chloe Dao is $100,000 richer, but now comes the hard part.

The winner of the second season of Bravo’s “Project Runway” had a major leg up on her competitors because she already has her own collection and store in Houston, which she opened five years ago after working as a designer and buyer in New York. She plans to use the prize money to create more upscale looks for her store and then may set up her own factory and wholesale the line.

Of course, if the winner of the first season is any indication, things might not be easy. Jay McCarroll turned down the prize money in order to pursue licensing agreements, and if the one-hour special show Bravo aired on him recently is any sign, he’s struggled to find his way in the business.

Dao said she is aware of the pitfalls of the fashion industry and knows that $100,000 won’t get her too far. “After taxes, it’s not a lot of money,” she noted. Dao said she has no plans to move back here and instead wants to build her business in Houston. She is expanding her store there — a project that was in the works before she took the top prize — and said she doesn’t expect to become a big name overnight.

“I have always been serious about fashion and have approached it as a business,” said Dao, here this week for the Elle photo shoot that was part of her prize package. “I specifically studied patternmaking at FIT and not design so I could get an advantage.”

As the winner, Dao, 33, receives the cash prize as well as a Saturn and a mentorship from the Banana Republic design team. Dao, who was born in Laos and is one of eight girls in her family, won praise throughout the season for her designs, which were feminine, well-tailored and finished with no loose hems or bulging seams.

The second season of the series ended last week when favorites Daniel Vosovic and Santino Rice lost to Dao after each presented his runway collection during fashion week here. The reality design show has exposed some of the inner workings of the fashion business to a mass audience. While the design competitions were sometimes inane — making a party outfit out of plants and flowers was one challenge — and caused many industry insiders to roll their eyes, audiences have clearly latched onto the concept. About 3.4 million viewers tuned in to the final episode, making it the single most viewed episode in Bravo’s 20-year history. The second season averaged 1.7 million viewers per show, an increase of 59 percent from season one.

This story first appeared in the March 16, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Bravo is already trolling for the next “Project Runway” crop. The company is doing casting calls throughout March here and in Los Angeles, Miami and Chicago for the next season.

The two runners-up from this edition are also busy plotting their next moves. Rice has already set up a Web site at santinorice.com and is exploring his options.

“I love the idea of starting my own brand,” Rice said. “I am looking and talking with a lot of investors now. I have had many false starts, but I want to build a brand and a lifestyle.”

Rice was known for his over-the-top creations that often required complex tailoring techniques and multiple fabrics.

Vosovic is also looking to start his own line. The 24-year-old FIT graduate was a favorite for his clean designs that were well-tailored and feminine, as well as his gentle and jovial nature. Even though he didn’t win, Michael Kors told Daniel to give him a call at the end of the final episode.

Vosovic too, has set up Web site danielvosovic.net and was approached by investors.

As for Kors’ offer, he said: “I am meeting with Michael next week.”

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