'Project Runway' Winner Anya Reveals All
By MEG SWERTLOW
October 28, 2011
In a shocking turn of events, underdog Anya Ayoung Chee won Project Runway last night! The judges met Anya this season, Trindad’s former Miss Universe-turned-fledging-fashion designer, and were attracted to her aesthetic but very wary of her lack of practical skills. With her easy breezy attitude, beachy keen designs and alluring accent, Anya quickly won over the judges and fans despite her lack of design experience. She had only been sewing for four months – a fact that was mentioned about a million times! Throughout a season that was wrought with catfights, cry fests, Anya had some major ups and downs but managed to keep relatively cool despite the storms around her and -- pulled it out in the end.
I caught up with Anya and talked about how it feels to be Proj Run’s big winner, her beauty pageant past, her sex tape controversy and what’s up next for the rising design star.
TheInsider: How do you feel this morning?
Anya Ayoung Chee: "I feel great. Very excited, I am finally able tell the world what I’ve been hiding for [a month and a half]."
TheInsider: What have you been up to since the win?
Anya: "I was in Trinidad for a week or so, and also in New York, just working. I am finally putting things together for my website and building my online sales presence and other things that I just wanted to be in place by the time this all happened."
TheInsider: Are there plans to move to New York? Or are you going to stay in Trinidad? I know that’s a big part of you.
Anya: "No, absolutely I am moving to New York. I’ve more or less been here since we wrapped. I home to celebrate my birthday, things like that and be with my family."
TheInsider: This season had a lot of interpersonal controversy. You seemed to be above it. How did that work for you?
Anya: "First of all, I didn’t know that some of that stuff was going on. A lot of stuff what you see is what’s going on in the interviews and that’s something I didn’t have a lot of knowledge about. I was a little surprised watching the show after and seeing what was going on behind the scenes. And to be honest I was so busy trying to stay above board with all the sewing side of things, I just didn’t have time I think to get too involved in the drama."
TheInsider: The judges and contestants keep talking your not knowing how to sew. So how did you teach yourself to sew in four months?
Anya: "I had an instructor, she is from Tobago. She kind of taught me the basics but also taught me how to get through [the show] – we really focused on what I would have to do on the show. So for instance, I didn’t learn a lot of pattern making, I learned a lot of draping skills, because we figured on the show I wouldn’t have time to pattern much stuff, which turned out to be exactly true. It helped because it meant I fast forwarded in terms of learning and I want to go back now and learn the more important pattern making skills, because it really does help with my designing capabilities. So I am glad that I was forced to learn to be able to be on the show and it worked out for me."
The Insider: Joshua M. and Viktor had a grudge against you because of your lack of experience. They would mention, "oh she hasn’t made a jacket." Was that hard to hear?
Anya: "I think that’s completely valid…. I couldn’t make a lot of the stuff that in my head because I didn’t have the skill. So now it’s nice to be off the show and learn how to make things I would have designed anyway, it just wasn’t wise to try to make stuff I didn’t know how to make …I get it. If I was them I think id feel exactly the same way. I really get it."
TheInsider: You were Trinidad’s Miss Universe in 2008. When you were doing that, could you ever have imagined being on Project Runway?
Anya: "Oh my god, no, it’s completely a new dream in the sense that I always wanted to do fashion. I went to parsons I wanted to do fashion design but I did graphic design instead. Only because I just wasn’t confident enough at the time to enter that whole field its so competitive … I got kind of thrown off, I did start in the fashion program, but I decided I didn’t have what it took. And when I did Miss Universe I got the chance to design some of the clothes for my competition and because the clothes were being made for me I didn’t have to make them myself) and that kind of showed me that I could maybe start a line on my own. I thought if I didn’t have to make it, all I have to do is design it, it became a lot less daunting. … I did teach myself how to start a clothing line and start from scratch literally. I think I have a natural desire and flair for it. And it’s been wonderful to do something I really have a passion for."
TheInsider: Was there anything that any of the contestants said behind your back that really hurt you?
Anya: "When people called me a beauty queen that really hurt. I’ve spent the last four year really working hard and for people to just call me a beauty queen hurt. I just don’t want to be thought of as nothing more than a pretty face."
TheInsider: How was doing After the Runway? Sometimes after the runway got pretty tense, how was it for you?
Anya: "Honestly, I didn’t like doing After the Runway. I really hate all that drama. There were times when things were very tense during that filming because we had just watched parts of the show and heard what people had said. I was very surprised to hear a lot of things happen that I didn’t know had gone on. Zanna [Rossi Roberts] would call it Project Therapy. It was hard at times but despite what you saw Joshua M. and I are very close, good friends. Anthony Ryan, Laura, Joshua M. and I all became very close and are still very close to me. And Viktor is just hilarious. I wish you saw more of that."
TheInsider: From the get-go, Heidi was clearly a big champion of yours, despite your lack of experience.
Anya: "I know without a doubt I could not have won Project Runway without Heidi."
TheInsider: When you went home, you mentioned the sex tape that came out in 2009. I don’t think a lot of people knew you had a sex tape. Why did you mention it?
Anya: "I am a very honest person and I just wanted to put everything out on the table, since people were talking about. When I applied for Project Runway, I had told [producers} about the tape. I didn’t want them to find out in some other way. The tape caused a lot of hurt and a lot of shame, Trinidad is such a small and religious country. It was very hard for me and especially my family."
TheInsider: How did your brother’s death inspire you?
Anya: "My brother died when he was 18. Because he died so young, I feel like he didn’t get to live out his dreams, so I had to do that for him. I think about him all the time, and he gives me strength. I named my first collection, Pilar, after him."
TheInsider: You struggled a lot during the finale Part I. I was a little worried for you.
Anya: "I was a little worried too! That night I got my critique from the judges I thought about my brother and family and realized I could do this. My head was swirling, I was thrilled that I got to go to Fashion Week, they’ve never sent four people, but I also realized I had to focus and make some changes."
TheInsider: How did it feel when the judges and L’Wren Scott piled compliments on you?
Anya: "It felt amazing. I was floored by all the things the judges were saying. It felt like a dream."
TheInsider: What’s up next?
Anya: "I am going to build my online presence; I think that’s very important now. So that people can see my clothes. I am living in New York and going to try to learn a lot of the sewing techniques that I didn’t have time to learn yet, since now I am off the show and there is no pressure. I am looking forward to making a name for myself, and having people see my designs."
-Do you think Anya deserved to win?