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Project Runway winner shuns New York for Houston, makes costumes sing for daring Houston Grand Opera

Designer Chloe Dao and style blogger Roz Pactor at Dao's Spring 2014 trunk show. Dao discussed her colorful collection and her designs for the Houston Grand Opera production of Bound. Kristen Eide
The Ao Dai plays a pivotal role in Dao's costume design for Bound. Courtesy of Chloe Dao
Stylist Dawn Bell and her daughter Myla. Kristen Eide
Sharron Melton and Jackie Fair at the DaoChloeDao trunk show. Kristen Eide Courtesy of Chloe Dao
The fashion flock forgot about winter to shop for spring from Dao's new collection. Kristen Eide
Heather Staible, New Head Shot, column mug, USE THS ONE

Chloe Dao has never been one to do the expected.

After winning Project Runway in 2006, she didn’t leave Houston for New York to grow her business. Instead, she stayed local, investing in her Dao Chloe Dao boutique.

She doesn’t preview her collection during New York fashion week like other Project Runway alums. She chooses instead to unveil her collections at Fashion Houston each year.

Dao did appear in a fashion reality show, but it wasn’t on the E! Network or based in the United States. She was a judge and co-executive producer of Project Runway Vietnam.

 “It’s amazing to be in the same room with all those voices. It’s so authentic too. The story is true." 

Her latest project is another personal choice, reflecting her love of Vietnamese heritage and fashion design. Dao can now add costume designer to her resume, with the premiere of HGOco Houston Grand Opera’s Bound, a new work that’s part of the opera’s community collaboration and education initiative.

Performances run Saturday and Sunday at the Asia Society Texas Center and the experience has renewed Dao’s interest in opera, since her initial trip to the Metropolitan Opera was a little less than exciting.

“I bought tickets to go see Carmen at The Met and left halfway through. It was during fashion week and there were all these big fashion parties, so I went to a club instead,” Dao says.

Fast forward to 2013 and Dao found herself with the HGO brass, embarking on a new challenge and an opportunity she reveled in.

“It’s amazing to be in the same room with all those voices,” Dao says. “It’s so authentic too. The story is true, and (the) composer and many of the cast are Asian. The story is complex and is a story of the Vietnamese people.”

The chamber opera is based on the real-life experiences of Diane Tran, a former student at Willis High School just north of Conroe. Bound explores Tran’s journey after she was controversially fined and jailed by a judge in 2012 for missing too many days of school because she was working multiple jobs to support her Vietnamese immigrant family.

Since Bound is a contemporary opera, many of Dao’s designs are rooted in current styles, but when it came to the Ao Dai, the traditional Vietnamese dress, Dao poured herself into the design.

“The Ao Dai was the most important piece and really had to reflect the sadness of the story and the Vietnamese culture. I spent six months really researching to make sure it was just right,” Dao says. She also found inspiration in the Houston Grand Opera’s costume shop, a place she described as “amazing and peaceful.”

As for opera itself, Dao said she’s come a long way since her Bizet experience at the Met.

“The beauty of opera is you don’t need to understand it, you can feel it."

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