Anya Ayoung Chee: 'Project Runway' winner talks sewing skills, plans for future | EW.com

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'Project Runway' season 9 winner: 'I did not anticipate creating such great friendships out of a competition'

Anya Project Runway

(David M. Russell/Lifetime Television)

SPOILER ALERT! Click below if you want to hear from not only the winner of this season of Project Runway, but the official “fan favorite”: 

Throughout this season of Project Runway, Anya Ayoung-Chee has had to deal with quite a bit of scrutiny, both from viewers and her fellow designers. When she auditioned for the show, she admitted to the judges that she’d only been sewing for four months. Relying on her taste level and resourcefulness to make up for her lack of construction skills, she still managed to impress the judges and pull out the win on last night’s finale. Now, Ayoung-Chee is $100,000 richer from being crowned the winner of Project Runway – with another $10,000 on top of that from being voted fan favorite. Below, she answers some of the burning questions from the season and talks about her plans for the future.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Congratulations on your big win! How do you feel now that it’s all out there?
ANYA AYOUNG-CHEE: I have to say I’m most excited I don’t have to keep a secret anymore. It’s a big relief and I can’t really downplay how big of a deal this is for Trinidad and Tobago. They’re going crazy. That part of it is really wonderful.

How does it feel to be the fan favorite also?
That’s like amazing. I don’t know if you followed it but it was kind of a landslide at the very end. No one thought we could do it and then we did, and it’s just been amazing.

Were you surprised by what some of your competitors have said about you?
I didn’t expect some of the comments, particularly when they started talking about me being a beauty queen, that was unexpected. I didn’t really anticipate those comments, but I think, you walk around with your history, you can’t really avoid it. 

I know there was so much talk about your ability to make a sleeve or a pant. Once and for all, can you make a sleeve or do you just choose not to?
I can, but particularly with something like a sleeve, you can really see when it’s not done well, and it didn’t make sense for me to do things that I wasn’t 100 percent confident about. Not that I was really 100 percent confident at any point, but I avoided making things I felt I wouldn’t be able to do as well as the other designers. So I guess it was my strategy to avoid them.

You were queen of the make-it-work moments all season. Did the editing make it look like you’d been doing things last minute, or was that really how you worked?
No, I’m really like that. [Laughs] I’m slow, cause I really did just learn, so I’m much slower than most of the other designers. My time management wasn’t great, so I would kind of pull it together as best I could at the end. I was always running out of the workroom last, so I was very grateful it worked out in the end.

When you went back home to work and Tim visited you, did you really only have the fabrics picked out?
No, I had made a few things, but they were just not things I wanted to show. I mean, I already knew I wasn’t going to use any of it, so there was no point in showing him. And I had gone home, and then gone to New York to buy fabric, and then back home, and he came to visit me first, so I should have had more, but I really didn’t have that much time. Also, I was a little bit handicapped about feeling a lot of expectations from the people around me because I got back home and realized everybody knew I was on the show, and I didn’t anticipate that it would be that way.

It surprised me how much the Twitterverse cares about your lack of sewing experience. Do you plan on becoming a designer like Victor who can sew everything? Or is that just going to not be a focus for you in the future?
I don’t think so. I’d like to be able to learn, for the sake of improving my design skills. But in terms of making clothes that you actually sell, I’m definitely not interested in that. Most designers don’t sew themselves anyway, and in terms of like mass producing, obviously, you don’t sew. I very much respect the skill Victor, Josh, and Laura have, but I don’t see it as necessary for progressing as a brand.

Who from the show are you still close to?
Josh and I are very close.

Oh really?
We actually have a great friendship. You only see one side of it on the show, but we had a great relationship. We were table-mates for most of the season. Also, Anthony and I are very close, and Laura. The three of them I would say I’ve developed the strongest relationships with. And I’m surprised, I did not anticipate creating such great friendships out of a competition atmosphere.

What are your immediate plans, now that you’ve won the competition and all that money?
I really want to get my own retail line up and running, and I’ve been working on it. Obviously, having some capital makes it easier. I’d like to get some of my pieces in boutiques in the U.S., especially the biggest cities, like New York and L.A., and just seeing how it’s received. Now I have to prove that I can do this in the real world, and not just on TV. And I really want to prove it’s not just TV fame. I’m a real designer and I’ve met people who will actually buy the stuff.

Who is your favorite judge?
You’re going to make me look bad, but I love Michael just cause he’s so hilarious. He’s super smart. I really enjoy them all, but I have to say, he made even the bad critiques fun. He’s just so funny and on point. He’s just so fast and quick you know? It really made it impossible to take anything too seriously.

It definitely looked like Nina liked you or your work from the very beginning. Did you notice that?
I saw it evolve. At the beginning she was a little skeptical, because of the construction side of things. I sort of kept seeing this sparkle in her eye, and it was really interesting to watch, especially watching it on TV. I didn’t notice it as much on the runway, I guess because I was always very nervous. But now that I can look back on it, I think she was a little biased. [Laughs]

A lot of people have said that because they knew about your lack of sewing experience, the judges were automatically going to be more impressed by anything you accomplished. Do you think that’s at all true?
I think it’s somewhat true. If I were in the judges’ position, I think I would be similar. But I think if what I was making was bad – there had to be some merit to the quality of the design. I think it was an added intrigue, but I think what I made still had a lot of value on its own.

A couple of weeks ago on after the runway, a lot of the other designers sort of harped on you, but you seemed to kind of step back and say, “Okay, sure. You can think that.” That tipped me off in making me think you’d won, because you already seemed past it all.
I’ve been through some things in my life already where I’ve been heavily judged, and I’ve learned how to respect people’s opinions while knowing that they should not necessarily influence my opinion of myself. That’s not to say I’m above it all, but I’ve learned to kind of take it for what it is, learn from what I think is valid, and then leave it alone. Because it can be so damaging to be swayed by other people’s opinions of you.

What was your favorite and least favorite out of the dresses you made?
I loved the dress from the L’Oreal bird challenge. I despised what Michael called “Reggae Jesus” for the Sheepdogs challenge. “Reggae Jesus” has become an icon on Twitter. But that was quite horrible.

You really only had five weeks to make your final collections? That’s less than a fourth of the time they’ve had in the past.
Exactly. But the viewers don’t realize that so we get compared to other seasons. It is what it is. It’s TV.

(Erin Strecker contributed to this report.)

Read more:
‘Project Runway’ season finale recap: No sleeves, no bra, no problem!
‘Project Runway’ Style: 20 Hot Designs (and 13 Hot Messes)

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