Obsessive Project Runway fans (really, is there any other kind?) may feel they know Chloe Dao, who was revealed as Season 2’s champ on the March 8 finale. But here’s one thing you might not guess about the draping queen of Houston: “I shop at Gap Kids. The pants are cheaper. I’m not embarrassed,” says Dao, who is, she points out, “4′11″ and three-quarters.”
Perhaps she was dwarfed by the outsize personality of second runner-up Santino Rice or the string of challenge wins racked up by runner-up Daniel Vosovic. In the end, her thoughtful attention to what looks good on a woman led Dao, 34, to tower over the competition. “I was shocked,” says Dao. “I had two really tough competitors.”
A fan of CNN’s Style with Elsa Klensch from age 10, Dao had emigrated to Texas from Laos with her parents and seven sisters just two years prior, in 1979. Her father and mother ran dry cleaning and tailoring businesses. Now Dao plans to use her prize money to expand her Houston boutique, Lot 8. She’s also returned to boyfriend Kenneth Pursley, 38, a mortgage broker she met just 11 days before being cast on Runway. “‘Honey, wait for me!'” she recalls telling him. “‘I’ll still be the same girl!'”
And it seems she will be. “I might have 15 minutes of fame, but it’s a good 15 minutes—it’s validation that people respect what you do,” she says. Most of the time, anyway. “I have gotten one or two weird phone calls,” Dao admits, “but nothing compared to Santino!”
When Heidi Klum appeared on the Today show last year to talk about Project Runway’s three Season 1 finalists, she had designs from each on mannequins behind her. But, showing off her own outfit, she said, “This is Kevin Johnn.”
Johnn, eliminated in Week 7, didn’t get any prize money or a spinoff show like winner Jay McCarroll. Yet the N.Y.C.-based designer, 44, isn’t crying into his charmeuse: Thanks to the boost he got from Runway, Johnn—who began his design career in the early ’90s and has apprenticed for Donna Karan and Thierry Mugler—was able to show for the first time in New York in September 2005 and at L.A.’s Fashion Week in October ’05. He’s also garnered fans like Mary-Kate Olsen along the way. “Kevin, you are my favorite !” Johnn recalls the star shouting at him after they bumped into each other at a nightclub.
With his clothes (ranging from $450 for a skirt to $3,000 for an evening gown) already selling in upscale stores like L.A.’s Jack Henry and Chicago’s ikram, Johnn plans to have a line of jeans out this fall and is in talks to license shoes, belts and other accessories. No wonder he says of his Runway experience, “I am so happy I didn’t win!”