The ninth season of Project Runway is here but not without controversy! The show started with 20 contestants and was quickly reduced to 16. Of the 16 remaining designers, one hails from Trinidad by the name of Anya Ayoung-Chee. Ayoung-Chee, a former Miss Trinidad & Tobago Universe 2008, made headlines when a sex tape of her was “leaked” a couple of years ago.
Scandalous, but that’s not the controversy here. So what’s the controversy? Anya, while a designer, claims to have just learned to sew four months prior. This is the real controversy. “I’m horrified. You are, handicapped, in a matter of speaking, by not having the sewing skills to execute the work,” Tim Gunn told her. RCS has learned from sources close to the situation that many of her fellow designers are not buying into this claim by Ayoung-Chee and believe she is far more than she claims to be. Who knows? Who cares? If she’s talented, that’s all that matters – stop hatin’ people!
Despite this “handicap” Ayoung-Chee’s first challenge was to create a design from her PJs and bed sheet!!! Even after being awakened to this challenge at 5AM by Tim Gunn, Anya’s first creation was a HUGE success garnering many accolades from the judges. Nina Garcia called her work “extraordinary,” while Klum kept it simple by saying, “I’m happy to see you can sew.”
Ayoung-Chee, who is half Chinese, says she draws on the Caribbean as inspiration for her clothing line Pilar, which was named after her brother who died at 18 in a car accident.
Here’s an excerpt of a recent interview with Anya with PacificCitizen.org:
Why did you decide to audition for Project Runway season nine?
Anya Ayoung-Chee: Ive been doing fashion design professionally only for a couple of years, and I work in the Caribbean where Im from. I guess I just wanted to take what Ive been doing to the next level and expose my work to a bigger audience. Project Runway is just a great platform for that.
Anya, I know Heidi Klum said shed fight to get you on the show during the casting process. How did that feel?
Ayoung-Chee: Oh, she absolutely did. The other judges were not so keen on putting someone with such little sewing experience into a competition thats so heavily dependent on your skills from a construction point of view.
When I walked out of the casting room Heidi said to me, Im going to fight for you. [Laughs] Clearly thats what she did.
How did you quickly learn to sew?
Ayoung-Chee: I definitely learn very quickly generally, regardless of what it is. In the two years of having a line I had people sew for me. I was always aware of what I wanted. So I guess learning to sew just meant me doing it myself, which of course is not the easiest thing in the world to do. But I kind of put my head down and I focused on it.
Where do you get your fashion inspiration?
Ayoung-Chee: Im very connected to my heritage and Trinidad in particular is an incredibly diverse place. Im never wanting for inspiration that comes directly from there.
What did it feel like to be followed around by cameras all day on Project Runway?
Anya, do you think you have an advantage having been in stressful competitions like Miss Universe before?
Ayoung-Chee: Definitely. I feel that particularly Miss Universe was an opportunity to know how to act under pressure and to be judged. Miss Universe in a way was more like that because its so physical and I felt very vulnerable.
Youve overcome some scandals in the past like the release of the sex tape. Did you feel that going on the show might dredge up your past again?
Ayoung-Chee: Yeah. I think that certainly people who didnt know me before this will now be more likely to find out things about me that Im not entirely thrilled about. But I also feel committed to moving on with my life. I dont want anything thats happened in the past to keep me from achieving my dream.
Your families must be excited to watch the first episode.
Ayoung-Chee: Oh, my God [laughs]. I think theyre more excited than me to be honest. Pretty much all of the entire island is waiting to see the premiere [laughs]. Theres a lot of support, a lot of support.
Im very proud of being able to represent Trinidad, to do it in a way that is very much me. Because being Miss Trinidad Tobago was a little difficult for me because I didn’t enjoy being a beauty queen. I felt very honored to be representing the country, but I didn’t enjoy it personally. So this is something that I feel much more connected to and very proud of.
You didn’t enjoy being a beauty queen?
Ayoung-Chee: No, I didn’t. It was never a dream of mine. I ended up doing it sort of out of nowhere. I didn’t enjoy how kind of physical it was.
But I made the best of it. I definitely gained a lot. I learned a lot. I’m very happy to have had the experience. So I don’t want to downplay that. But I know now that I am a fashion designer I know this is my calling or at least this is what I want to do passionately right now.
Are your parents supportive of your fashion ambitions?
Ayoung-Chee: Absolutely. I went to Parsons when I was 18 to study fashion and I just kind of ran away from it because it was a very intimidating industry for me at a young age. Instead I studied graphic design and I continued doing that. And they were supportive of me since then. They knew I wanted to be a designer of some sort.
Ayoung-Chee: I mean it is something that Ive thought about. Ive explained to my brothers particularly, who are very protective of me, to just remember who I am and they know who I am. Whatever version of me is portrayed is not necessarily me. We’ve had that talk.