Interview with Anya Ayoung-Chee, Winner of Project Runway

All season I’ve been live-tweeting Project Runway (@cc_intern), and from reading all of my tweets, it’s obvious that I was rooting for Anya Ayoung-Chee to win the whole thing. When she came in for casting, the judges were baffled by the fact that she had just learned to sew four months ago. Her designs were impeccable, and the judges didn’t buy that she sewed them herself. Heidi convinced the other judges to put her through to the show, believing she could do well, and now she’s the winner.

I talked with Anya today about her experience on the show, and learned some interesting things (like who she thought she would hate, but turned out to be best friends with, and how long the judgings actually take).

Me: You were basically the under dog the whole season, how did that motivate you to do better?

Anya: I think that when I look back on the season, I definitely see how I was cast as the underdog. I didn’t really think about it. I was more concerned about getting from one challenge to the next. I think it was good that I didn’t think too much about it.

Me: How does your experience as a beauty queen help you as a designer?

Anya: When I went to Miss Universe, I got the chance to design pieces of my wardrobe. So that inspired me to become a designer. I hired people to sew for me, because I didn’t sew then.

Me: How helpful was Tim Gunn during the show?

Anya: There were specific moments when Tim’s advice was extremely integral in how I moved forward, like when he came to Trinidad, and I was stuck, and he unstuck me. He would always be there to reflect the best parts of who you are, like a mirror.

Me: During the HP challenge, how did the tablets and other HP products you were provided with help you create your team’s concept for the fashion show?

Anya: It was so great. The software we were given to create the fabrics was so easy to use. It made it a joy to make. My background is as a graphic designer, so I reveled in it. I really didn’t remember that we were competing at that point. We had a fantastic time. It really shows how technology can be used with fashion.

Me: So, one of the prizes was a $50,000 HP technology suite. How is that going to help you create your fashion line?

Anya: It’s really going to help with everything I’m going to do. There’re so many possibilities. I could use it to manage my business.

Me: Have you watched any of the episodes yet? What do you think about how the designers talked about you in their interviews because you had just learned to sew?

Anya: There’s hundreds of hours of footage, so there’s so much that you don’t see. We had such a great time together, especially toward the end when we formed friendships. I would be pretty pissed off myself. Some of those designers have a lot of skill.

Me: Who did you form good friendships with during the season?

Anya: Laura and I have a really great friendship and have since first day. Before the show, they asked who I would fight with, and I said Laura and then we ended up in the same room. Joshua and I have a great friendship too and so do Anthony Ryan and I.

Me: Who has been your mentor?

Anya: Her name is Meiling, and she is one of the more established designers in the Caribbean. I’ve known her my whole life, but I really started to work with her when I launched my line in 2009. She’s facilitated a lot of the groundwork. She’s been there for me in knowing how to navigate the industry, teaching me to have humility. I really couldn’t do what I do without her.

Me: Throughout the show, the judges said you have amazing taste. Where do you think you get that from? What inspires your taste?

Anya: I think my parents have really great taste, I grew up seeing good design, like how they dress and have designed their home. I traveled tremendously as a child. When I was 15, they took me to Tokyo, I remember that as pivotal in my understanding of design. That’s when I decided to become designer. Also, my mother would take me to every single art exhibition and event, and that has really influenced how I see the world.

Me: What was your lowest moment during the season?

Anya: In the Sheep Dog challenge when I made what Michael called “Reggae Jesus”. I wanted to dig a hole in the runway and bury myself. I really wanted to erase that moment completely.

Me: What was your favorite challenge of the season?

Anya: This is going to sound like total product placement, but I really loved the HP challenge because I really felt like it was a showcase of all of the skills that I have.

Me: When we watch the show, we see the judges say they are going to talk about who is in and who is out, and then five minutes later we see the results. So how long does the judging actually take?

Anya: Hours and hours. It was very long. The runway days, as much as it was relief that we are not working, they were so draining. It was a lot time where we had to wait, a long time on the runway and off the runway.

Me: What advice do you have for young designers or people who are thinking about getting into designing?

Anya: It’s as simple as just do it. I started with no real fashion experience. If it’s something you are genuinely passionate about, you just have to go for it. Having a mentor is really important. Getting an internship is a great start, just absorbing everything, almost like being a sponge throughout your career. It’s important to be open to learning.

Impressed with Anya? Check out photos from the season below!

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