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Chloe Dao wins
Project Runway

Chloe Dao wins
Project Runway

Chloe Dao, an aspiring designer from Houston who came to America as a child from war-torn southeast Asia, won the second season of the Bravo fashion-competition hit Project Runway on Wednesday, netting a $100,000 cash prize to start her own clothing line. "Are you kidding me? No way," said a genuinely surprised Dao when the Emmy-nominated show's judges named her the winner over the other two finalists, both openly gay--recent fashion school graduate Daniel Vasovic and Santino Rice, an outspoken Californian who emerged as the reality show's star and chief villain.

"We loved what you did," supermodel Heidi Klum, the cable-TV show's host, told Dao. In choosing Dao, who will also receive a 2007 Saturn and a splashy layout in Elle magazine, not to mention bragging rights and invaluable media attention, judges Michael Kors, Elle editor Nina Garcia, and actress Debra Messing cited the perfect construction and fit of the 13 designs she showed during last month's Olympus Fashion Week in New York City.

Her looks, which skewed toward the formal, were decidedly assertive and structured but elegant, with a dose of glamour. By comparison, the judges found Vasovic's collection to be sophisticated and rangy, but lacking a unifying theme, while Rice's was criticized for being too safe, missing cohesiveness and, in some cases, ill-fitting. Vasovic told the judges his looks were meant to meld Japanese sleek with a military influence, a theme that Kors said was lost on him. And true to form, the often-arrogant Rice told the audience at his show, "I'm not just good TV, I'm a great designer."

The win by the relatively low-key Dao was somewhat of a surprise as the judges and the other contestants had questioned her "passion for fashion" and showmanship during the run of the series, in which contestants competed in weekly design tasks that ranged from creating outfits for a garden party out of flowers, leaves, and other organic material to designing an outfit for Barbie or redesigning the clothes on their own backs into a party outfit--all on a tight deadline.

Sixteen aspiring designers competed during the second season of the show, which has proved a hit with critics as well as audiences and scored an Emmy nomination for best reality series. (Chris Michaud, Reuters)

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