Anya Ayoung-Chee ‘s journey to becoming the winner of Project Runway season 9 was definitely interesting after she was quoted as saying she only learned how to sew four months prior to the start of the competition. LEGiT spent some time with Anya, on a recent visit to South Africa, to find out about her inspiration for her designs and ask her about her time on Project Runway!
How did you feel when you found out you won Project Runway?
I didn’t really expect it. It was a bit shocking. Winning the competition was amazing and I was very happy to share that moment with my parents and the rest of my family.
What is it like behind the scenes when the camera is not rolling?
It’s intense and way harder than it looks. We were very much bogged down by the production of the show – you don’t see all the time we had to stop and start. A lot of the times we were not allowed to speak to each other when the cameras weren't rolling. The psychological stress of the show was actually way more challenging in some ways. Because I won, I only think of it in fond memories, but I really remember it was tough!
What have been some of the highlights of your career, since winning Project Runway?
I showcased in New York, London and SA for Africa Fashion Week – it was really amazing! Even after being on the show, the response I get in SA is amazing. I did a fashion show in February in Trinidad and Tobago, which is where I’m from, called Fashion Rocks The Avenue. It was inspired by carnivals and it was a big festival. For me, that was probably the most amazing moment since winning Project Runway because it was free to the public and thousands of people came. I feel so blessed to have experienced that.
Where does the inspiration for all of your designs come from?
Generally it comes from ethnic references and ethnic wear. That’s where I draw inspiration from. I’m also inspired by what’s around me. For example, for the finale of Project Runway I was inspired by scuba diving.
What’s a regular day like for you?
My most regular day is the one where I'm in New York but due to my lifestyle that’s not often, as I travel a lot. I can tell you what my ideal day would be like (laughs). I wake up, have a cup of coffee, usually I meditate and I will sort of take note of what I’m grateful for that day which helps me to remember what I’m doing and why I’m doing it. Usually if I’m working on a project I’ll go to the Garment District in New York; that’s where the fabric stores are, and shop for whatever I need at the time. Then I go home. I love magazines so I’m always scouring them for references. After that I'll do some form of exercise – hopefully (laughs). Finally, spend time with my friends – that always keeps me grounded.
You’ve been in South Africa for a while – first in Cape Town and now Durban, what have you been getting up to?
We did a private viewing party for the finale of Project Runway and that was really lovely. I really feel at home in SA. Everyone has been so welcoming and I’ve found that of all the places I’ve travelled in the world, SA is most like my home. It surprises me how similar we are in cultures.
Do you think you’d design a SA collection? If you had to, what do you think it would look like?
I would love to! Well, we’re actually talking with a designer… or more like a collective. It sounds like we may do something soon. I’m hoping that by the time I come back in October, the collection will be complete. My first collection was inspired by Rastafarian trends, so perhaps something along those lines. It would be nice to create something that is influenced by both SA and the Caribbean.
Do you have any words of advice for up-and-coming designers?
I always say that the most powerful way of pursuing your work, whether you’re a designer or whatever you are, is to be true to yourself, your voice and never be scared of being you. Each person has a different way of seeing things and if you hold it back, you could be preventing someone from having confidence about your voice. It’s very powerful.