NEW YORK – Step off, Santino.
And Dao, in an interview with The Associated Press, directed some sharp words at fellow finalist Santino Rice, who had questioned her design pedigree during a tense elimination round. He had told her he thought she was a "brilliant pattern-maker" but an average designer.
"I can only say that I guess you're wrong!" Dao, 34, shot back in the recent interview. "I can't help it if I had skills, honey."
Dao snagged the title after she, Rice and Daniel Vosovic, considered the favorite, staged presentations during New York Fashion Week in the season's last showdown. The runway show was taped in February.
"I'm still shocked that I was chosen," said Dao, who has a pattern-making degree and 13 years of design experience.
The Houston native wowed supermodel-host Heidi Klum and judges Michael Kors, Nina Garcia and Debra Messing with her elegant runway collection, which she called her "baby."
"I think my collection was the most cohesive, and I think I did step out of my own boundary," Dao told the AP.
Her 13-piece Fashion Week presentation featured several gowns heavy on puffed sleeves and sleek silhouettes with open backs. One gown was a standout, with a detailed pattern of five slender cutouts in the back.
"To me, it was a very classic line, but definitely edgy and structural, still flattering to the female form," she said.
As the winner of the show's second season, Dao receives $100,000 in seed money to help launch her own fashion line and a mentorship from the Banana Republic design team, according to the show's Web site.
Dao said she plans to stay in Houston, where she hopes to expand her successful boutique, Lot 8, and design her own line.
"It's about me figuring out how to do this right, where I can balance having a life also," said Dao, who was 8 when her family moved to the United States from Laos.
She added: "People are going to hate me (for saying this), but I'm really happy with my life and I'm really happy I'm the winner and I'm really going to try to make something out of it, but am I going to be the next Vera Wang or Ralph Lauren? I don't know."