This year she designed a cocktail dress inspired by a soft drink. Next year she'll be unveiling couture gowns on some of the world's biggest runways.

The rise of Judy Gao, via Project Runway NZ to being invited to appear at Paris, London, Milan, New York and Vancouver fashion weeks, has been meteoric - and she's totally self-taught.

The Auckland designer based out of her parents' home in Epsom was a contestant on the reality TV fashion design show this year, and it garnered her some exclusive attention.

"When I first got the emails I was like 'This is all getting pretty real'. It was kind of random: London, Milan, New York, Vancouver. I guess this is the time they look for people," Gao said.

Gao's dress from the avant garde challenge of project runway, which she won.
Gao's dress from the avant garde challenge of project runway, which she won.

"I probably can't afford to go to all of the fashion weeks. The one I'm looking at is Paris because I feel that most represents what I'm doing with evening gowns, and suits the whole theme."

The theme is 3D print dresses, and the opportunity to show them off is not something her on-screen competitors were offered.

"I really love my avant-garde look from Project Runway so I think I'll do something with a similar feel to it," Gao said.

"It was black, made out of neoprene, so it was 3D cutouts, it almost looked like it was 3D printed. More artistic, like you would wear it to the Met Gala.

"With fashion you don't need to stick to the rules, it's just general guidelines."

However, despite her success through the TV show, Gao said the conditions under which she had to design outfits on Project Runway NZ were totally foreign.

"At the time there was a lot of stress, being put on the spot [and being told] you have to do this right now. Whereas in real life I like to think through the design," Gao said.

"Especially something creative, it doesn't happen on the spot sometimes, it might take a bit longer. "

In addition to her intuitive design skill, the 24-year-old Aucklander is a nationally ranked New Zealand chess player.

And aside from designing her line of gowns for Paris Fashion Week in September next year, Gao also hopes to open a pop-up store in Ponsonby.

Gao looks back on Project Runway NZ with a mix of accomplishment and a sense of relief it's over.

"I feel like the experience was really beneficial, it really pushed us to our limits," she said.

"It gave me some insight into what the pressure was like, and also it expanded my appreciation for other different styles.

"There were so many different emotions, it was really amazing and in hindsight I would go back and do it again."