As the former Miss Trinidad and Tobago, Anya Ayoung-Chee was already recognized internationally for her beauty. But now the Project Runway Season 9 winner wants the beautiful things she creates to find their way overseas.
Throughout the competition, the designer inspired viewers with her can-do attitude. She decided to pursue her fashion dreams after the tragic death of her brother Pilar. Although she had some local success in the Caribbean for her designs, she took the next step and learned to sew four months before applying for and being cast on Project Runway.
After being announced the winner Thursday, Ayoung-Chee spoke to TVGuide.com about how much more she has to learn, how she doesn't hold a grudge against competitor Joshua McKinley and her plans for the future.
Congratulations! How hard was it to keep your win a secret?
Anya Ayoung-Chee: Thank you so much! Sometimes if it were with my best friends, it was difficult. And, oh gosh, everybody asked me on the street and everywhere I went. But I didn't want to spoil it. It's so much more fun to find out in real time, so I'm happy that I didn't give it away.
How was it then when everyone found out? You had some sort of viewing party?
Ayoung-Chee: Yes. I live in New York so I had a party here, and I had one in Trinidad — I was Skyping with them. Trinidad and Tobago has gone crazy. It's like the World Cup or something. It's crazy and everybody was screaming. It was really overwhelming.
In the moment, what was going through your mind when you found out you had won?
Ayoung-Chee: I was really shocked. I did not anticipate it, particularly because it was just a few days before that I almost went home because I didn't make the best choices of what to show the judges in the three looks. I was so thrilled to be still in the running, but I did not think I was going to win. So it was a complete shock to me.
When you learned that you had won in the finale, you also made a point to thank Heidi Klum for her support. What are your feelings about her part in your success?
Ayoung-Chee: From the very beginning, Heidi rallied for me because the other judges were not really interested in letting me be on the cast because of my lack of sewing skills. If it weren't for her, I wouldn't have been there; I really believe that. What's nice about her, though, is that she was always fair. Even though she had pushed to have me on the show, when I didn't perform well, she made sure to let me know that. So I really appreciated that she wasn't acting on any favoritism, but she certainly was integral to my being on the cast in the first place.
How much did you overhaul for that final collection at Fashion Week?
Ayoung-Chee: I pretty much did half of it, so out of 10 pieces I made five the day before. [Laughs] I know it's crazy, but we got to go to Mood as you know, so that really helped. Geez, I don't know what I would have done without that.
Have you come to the conclusion that you can you only produce under pressure?
Ayoung-Chee: [Laughs] I don't think only, but clearly I'm good at it. I don't know where that comes from, but I think I really do produce better when I'm forced to do it.
Do you think the criticisms that you need to take more lessons as far as technique and study more diverse styles are fair?
Ayoung-Chee: Yeah, I don't anticipate making clothes for my customers directly, but I do see that having skill will improve my design sensibility and I want to keep on that path. So, I think I'm going to challenge myself continue to learn more techniques. It will only make my designing better. And in order to make it in the international market, I have to have a wider variety. I do feel that having more sewing technique will assist me in designing things, let's say for winter, and outside of the things I'm accustomed to.
The creative silhouette on the dress inspired by the raven made it a particular favorite. Has anyone requested that you remake it... but with a more practical way of getting in and out of it (instead of sewing a person in and cutting them out)?
Ayoung-Chee: [Laughs] Literally, exactly what you said I've been asked to do that. They want me to put a zipper on it.
Joshua McKinley always seemed so resentful and angry at you and your successes. Was it really as it seemed from watching TV?
Ayoung-Chee: I really do think that because of the editing you only see a fraction of what our relationship was. A lot of the time we were really having a good time, and we were tablemates for a lot of the season. We've since grown in our friendship and we've had very honest conversations at how things went on the show. It's in the past. If at times he was just under pressure and he was feeling nervous about where he was at in the competition, he would say things that, although I agree they were unnecessary, it was just par for the course of the competition I think.
Who was the most entertaining behind the scenes?
Ayoung-Chee: Oh my God, Viktor Luna by far. He kept us all in stitches the whole time, down to the episode you saw last night. They didn't show a lot of what was going on. We were so tired and he just kept us going because he was almost finished with his collection, so he could just be the jokester the whole time. His comedic timing is on point. He's extremely funny.
Who were you closest with? Is there anyone you keep in contact with?
Ayoung-Chee: Laura for sure. She and I have become very good friends. She lives in St. Louis, so I don't get to see her very much but we talk all the time. She's an amazing girl.
Is there anything you learned about yourself from watching this show?
Ayoung-Chee: I definitely saw that I was able to remain myself completely and not get caught up in a lot of the drama. I just see now how effective that was. It wasn't intentional, but when I see now how much was being said behind the scenes, I'm just glad I didn't get into that.
The huge earrings and the bracelets you wore on the show were part of the look too. Will you be offering accessories as part of your fashion line?
Ayoung-Chee: Absolutely. Like you, I just think an outfit is never complete unless you've styled it properly. I love earrings, I love bracelets, I love rings. I'm super into accessories, and I'm absolutely going into that arena and I think it's very viable commercially because you don't have to do sizes or any of those things.
In the After the Runway specials, Kimberly Goldson mentioned that she's had many male fans ask her out. Have you had any similar proposals or attention in that arena?
Ayoung-Chee: You know what's funny, it was only one or two of those, but overall the messages have been much more friendly and platonic. It's been just a lot of love and support and definitely not anything too much on that side of it really. I don't know why, but I'm happy it hasn't gone in that direction.
What is the funniest fan response or request you've received?
Ayoung-Chee: Hmm, that's a good question. So much of it has been so great in the sense of inspiring people to do ... whatever it is that they've been dreaming to do. ... I've just been overwhelmed by how many people have messaged me about being inspired to sew or whatever it is that they realize now they can do if they try to do it.
How do they message and contact you? What's your Twitter?
Ayoung-Chee: My Twitter name is @AnyadeRogue and then on Facebook. That's a bit overwhelmeing,. Between the two, it's been hundreds and hundreds of messages about being inspired to follow their dreams.
How are you going to celebrate now that the secret is out?
Ayoung-Chee: Well, I really feel like now is when the work really begins because I want to continue in the effort to build my online retail presence and get my line into boutiques and stores in the U.S. I don't know if I'm going to celebrate just yet. I want to see the line progress, and that's going to take a bit of work at this point.
What is the next step for you then?
Ayoung-Chee: My website anyaayoungchee.com is on the verge of launching the retail portion. That's really my big fish right away. I'm also starting a microfinance loan program for young creatives in the Caribbean to support the kids who are like I was when I was a teenager, who need that extra boost to follow their dreams in the creative field.
Are you happy that Anya won? Would you purchase any of her designs?