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Last Friday, thanks to our friends at HP, we were fortunate enough to land an interview with Project Runway's newly crowned winner, Anya Ayoung-Chee. It was late in the day, so we just posted a quick excerpt, which included info on Anya's favorite Season Nine collection (one of the decoys!), and other decoy-related scoop. We found Anya gracious, intelligent, and surprisingly forthcoming—she answered many of the questions that had been plaguing us throughout the season. Now, here's the rest of the interview: Anya, in her own words, on her design background, her cast, and the accuracy of the show's editing. She also answers that one question everyone's been wondering about...
Racked: We have to ask this, and we apologize in advance, but, can you make sleeves?
Anya: (Silence for a moment, and then laughter.) I can, I just can't do them very well. I just sort of avoided doing anything that in a competition environment would be detrimental to me. So it's not that I can't, I just thought it was wise to avoid it and not really go there.
Racked: That makes a lot of sense. You're obviously very smart and savvy—unlike some people who tend to shoot for pie-in-the-sky unobtainable goals. Yet you auditioned for Project Runway when you had less than a year of sewing experience. What made you apply so early in your design career?
Anya: Well, I'm really a few years into my design career, but I applied with absolutely no expectations of being accepted. It was kind of on a whim, and I figured there was nothing to lose to just fill in the application and send the video. I knew that I had credentials in terms of my design background, but I did not expect to be called to the audition. And then when I did get called to the audition I was a bit nervous because of my lack of sewing skills. I almost didn't do it. But I'm glad that I took the chance. I guess that in the end, it's really proof that having a solid design background and education is really what the competition values.
Racked: So how long had you been designing clothes before you got into this process and had to learn to make them yourself?
Anya: It will be about three and a half years. I did my first collection in 2009.
Racked: Ah. The show's editing really pushed the idea that you're this naïf who had never done anything in fashion. So, as someone who did have design experience, how did working with the HP TouchPads and the rest of the technology differ from your normal process?
Anya: I found it helpful to be able to sketch, and then put them all on one page to compare the designs easily. And once I got the hang of it, the movement of the pen and then being able to erase so quickly—it just speeds up the process, which was really very important in the challenges. Now that we're no longer in the competition, I'd like to use it more. Definitely in terms of ease of use it's great and I really enjoyed having it.
Racked: The HP/Intel Design Your Own Fabric challenge is one of our favorites each season, what was the process of doing that like for you?
Anya: I thoroughly enjoyed it because my degree was in graphic design, and I was a graphic designer for a few years before I decided to become a fashion designer. I found that the HP challenge gave me an opportunity to bring my graphic design skills into the whole process and I had the best time. The software that they gave us for that challenge was fantastic. I love prints and so the whole process of designing my own print was really exhilarating. I loved it from start to finish.
Racked: Will you be doing more of it now that you'll be doing your own collections?
Anya: Absolutely. Now that the bug has bitten me, I'm super excited to do the same for myself and make sure that my work is original and more exclusive. It's just a great way to build my brand.
Racked: Speaking of your own collections, one of the prizes was worded a bit vaguely. It wasn't clear whether you actually get a Piperlime collection or just the "opportunity" to have one. Can you tell us more about that?
Anya: To be honest with you, I don't know much more than you do. I'm still being informed of the details now, because obviously not much could be discussed until now that the season is over.
Racked: In the finale episode, you seemed surprised that you'd won. You were giving what seemed to be a concession speech early in the show.
Anya: Yes, after my critique, when I showed three pieces from the collection and almost went home. I felt really very grateful [to be showing] at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week, but not with any expectation of winning. I just figured I was just going to enjoy the process at that point, and I did. I think that maybe in some ways, being calm about it—because I didn't expect to win—allowed me to produce all the new pieces that I did, and produce work that I liked. I think if I had on my mind trying to win at that point, I may not have been able to pull that off.
Racked: According to the editing of the show, you went home to work on the collections and—by the way, five weeks to do it is absolutely horrible, they need to give you guys more time! Do you know how much time the designers from past seasons were given?
Anya: I think last year they had like four months.
Racked: Appalling! Anyway, you went home, then Tim Gunn came to visit you, and when he got there, it seemed like you hadn't started to make anything yet. As we interpreted it, you were in a bit of a meltdown once you left the womb of Project Runway and were exposed to the fact that the world was counting on you. Was that what happened?
Anya: Yes, and I actually went home right after we were given the budget to produce the collection, but then I came back to New York to buy the fabric, and then I went back to Trinidad. And Tim came to me first, so in reality he came to me within a week and a half, and I had been to New York in between. So maybe it looks like I just decided to lounge on the beach and drink rum punch, but that's not really what happened. I just really didn't have that much time.
And I was overwhelmed because I didn't expect the show to have such a response in Trinidad. It took me by surprise. I generally take expectations very much to heart and it did keep me back a little bit, I have to admit.
Racked: Is there anything that happened on the show which wasn't shown that you wish had been, or anything that was shown which you wish hadn't?
Anya: I definitely wish there was more time given to some of the funny stuff that happened. We really had a great time and there were so many hilarious moments in the workroom. I think the show is really well edited but probably in some ways I feel the issue about lending fabric towards the end of the competition was a little bit exaggerated. But I get it. It's a story line, so I understand.
Racked: Is there anyone who you feel was not portrayed accurately on the show?
Anya: I definitely think Joshua's character was blown out of proportion. I mean he did say the things he did and he did react in the ways he did, but at that same time there were many more aspects to him that perhaps were not highlighted. He was demonized a bit. But I do think those episodes of After the Runway did expand his character a bit more. Because he's a really lovely person and I think that he got a bit misconstrued at times.
Racked: Watching After The Runway and last night's finale, it seemed like the final four designers all genuinely liked each other, which is certainly not the case in every season.
Anya: Oh absolutely. We're all very good friends and we had the best time. Even though it was down to the wire, even though it was competition, even though it was unexpected that there were four of us still, we just enjoyed it thoroughly. The producers did comment on how we had such a great vibe and that we genuinely have real friendships.
Racked: Everyone hated Bert in the beginning—no one got along with him. And then all of a sudden, it seemed like he was beloved by everyone. But the audience really didn't see that transition. What was the story behind that?
Anya: I think that it was a combination of him just accepting that he was doing the show. In the beginning, he was definitely resistant to the process. But eventually, by The Sheepdogs challenge, he relented. And I think we also warmed up to his humor and understood him a bit better. It was sort of like a meeting halfway moment. The Sheepdogs challenge is when he began to share with us all his knowledge of the '70s. It was just wonderful to have his perspective, because we're all obviously a couple of generations younger than him. So he was able to share with us design history and background that he had firsthand knowledge of. He's still irreverent and he still makes totally inappropriate comments. But somehow it just became entertaining and likeable in some strange way, and he really is a great guy.
Racked: Did you know that Keith Rowley, political leader of the People's National Movement and the leader of the opposition in the government of Trinidad and Tobago, tweeted congratulations to you right after you won?
Anya: I noticed that he had tweeted me before the finale, so I don't doubt that that's true. I cannot begin to describe what the response has been in Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean. This was on the level of the World Cup and the Olympics. It just has been extremely influential and has had a huge impact on the general, national, and regional pride.
Racked: What are your plans going forward?
Anya: I am building my online retail presence and I am now moving to New York so that I can bring the brand to the US and expand the customer base. I'm also working on a microfinance loan program for young creative people in Trinidad and Tobago, and hopefully eventually the Caribbean, to support the creative careers of young people who don't necessarily have that support in developing nation settings.
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