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Reality TV Interview

'Project Runway' winner Anya Ayoung-Chee on skills, confidence, future

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Project Runway Season 9 Designers: Anya Ayoung-Chee

© Lifetime / Richard McLaren

While having less technical experience than her fellow designers, Anya Ayoung-Chee made her mark on Project Runway's ninth season with her innovative take on fashion. After sailing through to the finale and New York Fashion Week, the 29-year-old Trinidad native struggled to complete her collection and suffered a lack of confidence which nearly caused her to give up. However, Anya pushed through and showed an impressive island-inspired resort collection which eventually earned her the win.

We caught up with Anya to hear more about the experience...

During your final day in the workroom, you seemed rather resigned to losing when talking to Tim. What was going through your mind at that point?
"I felt very resolved the morning I woke up to fix my collection, thinking that I was grateful to be there but I didn't expect to go further than third or fourth place. I think it was because I had such terrible critiques in the challenge before. I was just so surprised to be showing at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and wanted to enjoy that and in order to enjoy it, I had to let go of any pressure to win. When Heidi announced that I won, I was completely shocked. Even when Viktor was told he could leave the runway, I was just very confused. It was a complete surprise to me!"

Do you feel like you gave Kimberly an advantage at any point by letting her use your tools when her kit went missing?
"I don't think so. At that point, we were at the very end and I'm sure if she didn't have a little bit of help it would have been difficult to complete what she had to. But we were all helping each other along so it wasn't out of the ordinary to do that, even at that point."

What did your parents think about your dedication of your collection to your brother?
"My mum in particular was so touched! She didn't anticipate it and when the episode aired in which I talked about my brother, it was emotional to her. But they know that my whole career was inspired by my brother because I only decided to do fashion after he died and it's been a big part of this experience. They're very proud of that."

Project Runway Finale S09E14: Winner Anya

© Lifetime



Your fellow designers sometimes became frustrated with your lack of technical experience. Was that hard to deal with?
"I really maintain that if I was in the other designers' shoes - having more construction and sewing skills - I would feel very frustrated myself because I think it's natural. I do think, though, that having design skill is something that is more important in some ways and I do have that. I have a design background and a degree in graphic design, so it's something that should be said. When it comes down to it, a designer designs and luckily doesn't always have to sew. I'm glad it worked out in the end."

How much did you grow technically throughout the experience?
"It pushed me to another level in terms of design. Being on the show and having these great critiques every week was kind of like doing a very intense master's programme. I did learn how to sew even better than before. In terms of being with more experienced people, I didn't think too much about it because I think if I did, I never would have applied. So I tried not to let it bother me."

The judges often mentioned that your collection would be good as a brand. Do you think that strength is what made you the winner?
"They definitely seem to have taken into account my performance on the show as a whole. I think it's really so validating to have their feedback, particularly when it comes to the brand aspect as that's what I've always wanted and I've always seen myself as someone who can market and promote a whole range of products. I'm really looking forward to that being a reality."

Was there any one particular piece of advice that you got from the judges at any point during the competition that you've taken with you to this day?
"Up until the very end, I was very moved by Nina's comment to me to stay true to my aesthetic and to be proud of it and to be aware that it's what I'm good at, that very island vibe. That, I think - whether or not I continue to do resortwear - it's very integral and important that I remember where I'm from and what my strengths are and that goes beyond design. I will definitely keep that at the forefront of my mind for a very long time."

Project Runway S09E13: Anya Ayoung's design

© Lifetime



What kind of support have you received from Project Runway fans?
"The support has been so incredible. I'm particularly touched by so many girls who write and say I've inspired them to follow their dreams whether in fashion or something else. It's been extremely meaningful to me to get messages from teenage girls, especially. They're my favourite. But everyone else, too. It's been an overwhelming amount of support."

Will you continue flowy, airy aesthetic in your future work?
"I'll continue that as a resort line, but I'd really like to bring it to a wider clientèle. And now that I'm in the US in a more temperate climate, I have to consider fall and winter. But that doesn't mean that I will walk away from the resort stuff because I am from the Caribbean so it's part of me."

Will you keep in touch with any of your fellow designers?
"Laura and I are really good friends and we keep in touch - I spoke to her yesterday! Josh and I are also close, contrary to how it looks on TV. Anthony Ryan, too. All of us are really close."

What can we expect to see from you in the future?
"Well, I'd like to show again at NY Fashion Week in February. I'm building my own line of retail for my website. I also have a few fun projects here and there in the Caribbean but mostly I'm pushing to bring my brand to the US and make it happen here."

Project Runway airs on Lifetime

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