Couture's Sexy Boy Wonder

     Richard Chai is the "boy wonder" of the New York fashion scene. But don't let his fresh face fool you. Prior to introduing his own label in 2004 to rave reviews, he worked for Geoffrey Beene, Donna Karen, Marc Jacobs and TSE. Chai was named People Magazine's Sexiest New Designer.
     Chai's designs are subtly sexy, classy and provide a good contrast to the more outrageous couture houses. His debut collection was the toast of Women's Wear Daily, Elle, and W Magazine.
     "Lately, clothes have been so opulent," Chai says. "I was aiming for something understated."
     Prior to starting his own line Chai helped launch the Marc, by Marc Jacobs line. He went on to revamp an uninspired TSE as the Creative Director. He is an Ecco Domani Fashion Foundation winner.
     "The influence my heritage has on my collection is in the pure/ minimal approach to design," Chai says. "It is also in the way I cut clothes in an unconventional way, at first glance, the clothes appear quite simple, but upon closer inspection one can see all the intricate details and construction lines."
     At the very least Chai gives a new ,cute face to an industry dominated by graying wasps and too-hip young women.

Project Runway Cutie

     Chloe Dao has owned and operated Lot 8, an upscale Houston women's boutique since 2000. Lot 8, and her creations which are showcased there, have been featured in Forbes, Lucky, Texas Monthly and the Houston Chronicle, to name a few. Outside of Texas however, Dao is probably best known for winning season 2 of Bravo's Project Runway.
     Chloe Dao was born in 1971. She is the sixth child in a family of eight daughters. She enrolled in a business and marketing program at the University of Houston but dropped out after a year and a half. Her first fashion job was with Madame Rossuel a costume couturier on the upper eastside. She worked as a design assistant and pattern maker for Finity, a knit and sportswear company for a little less than a year before becoming a design assistant and production manager for eveningwear designer Melinda Eng. After six years she left to work for the Catherine Dietlein Buying Office.
     In 2000 she moved back with her family.
     "Most of my sisters lived with my parents until they got married," she says. "I lived at home and didn't pay rent for three years. My parents did my laundry and cooked me dinner."
     The same year, she opened Lot 8. The boutique showcases Dao's own designs which provide much of the store's local draw. Before the Project Runway publicity, Lot 8 netted $100,000 on sales of $400,000. Lot 8 is planning on expanding into menswear as well as handbags and shoes.


Fashion's Hot Minimalist

     The designs that Thakoon Panichgul sends down the runway are minimalist, elegant, and practical — a rarity in the fashion industry. They have been featured in Elle, Vogue, Marie Claire, and even Time Magazine in September 2004. The former Harper's Bazaar editor dresses celebs like Rachel Bilson, Demi Moore and Sarah Jessica Parker.
     "There is deinitely an Asian influence in me," Panichgul says. "I just don't know where it's coming from."
     Panichgul was born in Northern Thailand. His family moved to Omaha, Nebraska when he was 11. As a kid he was interested in photography. He graduated from Boston Univeristy with a business degree and worked in New York as a fashion writer before pursuing studies at Parsons School of Design. He produced his first ready to wear collection in September 2004 at the age of 29. His early fascination with photography is apparent in his graphically pleasing lines. They make the wearer look more like an understated work of art than a trendy fasionista.
     His designs can be purchased in Barneys New York, San Francisco Nordstrom, Jeffrey in New York, Harvey Nichols in London and Lotte Department stores in Seoul to name a few.
     "I think that fashion is entering into a new kind of formalityone that is spirited and space age, rather than stuffy and boring," Panichgul says.

Couture's Moneymaker

     Sue Wong uses beading, fringe and lace to put a new spin on styles from the 20's, 30's and 40's. Before starting her own company, Wong took the woman's fashion company, Arpeja's sales from $3 million to $51 million in three years as their head designer. Her creations sold 800,000 to 900,000 units. Wong's success at Arpeja cemented her status as one of the most highly-paid, in-demand contemporary American designers.
     But Wong didn't always have an interest in color and couture. She was born in rural China in 1949. Her parents brought her over to the U.S. in 1955 for a more stable life and wouldn't hear of her pursuing design. She was offered a scholarship to California Institute of the Arts, but turned it down to attend technical school.
     Wong is not a formally trained designer. After a month of enrollment in a fashion program at Los Angeles Trade Technical College, she took a scholarship by Arpeja. And spent three hours every day after class sketching for the head designer. She left technical school for a full-time position. In 1979 she left to begin her own company, Sue Wong Inc. She lost everything in a year. In 1984 she tried again. This time she hired two partners to control the finances and publicity. In 1989 the corporation's production moved overseas to accomadate demand.
     Her dresses are sold in department stores like Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, Macy's, Bloomingdale's, Bendel's, Lord and Taylor, and Saks Fifth Avenue. And Wong's fans include Kelly Hu, Christina Milian and Tyra Banks.