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

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Image Credit: 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)

Comments (132 total) Add your comment
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  • as

    Anya let Josh eviscerate people over and over again and just stood by quietly because it benefited her. GUILTY and not really all that nice. Lifetime is supposedly a women’s network….the judges kept mentioning ‘ a woman’s voice’ in design. Anya was handed the money just like Gretchen was.

    • dan

      where is Gretchen?

      • Mike B.

        “Gretchen Jones, cleanup on aisle nine!”

      • likda

        My best friend has just announced her wedding with a great man who is a cele+brity!
        They met-via { millionaireluv .сσм }
        It is nice club for rich men or pretty girls mate.
        You do not need to be wealthy or famous, but you can meet your true love, it’s worthy a try.

      • shuido

        Everyone is entitled to their opinion however Anya now has 110k in the bank so I doubt shes concerned.BTW,I wanna share a good news to you.My best friend ,she just has announced her wedding with a millionaire man who is a businessman!they met via Millionaireloving.C óM ..it is the largest and best club for rich people and their admirers to chat online. …You do not have to be rich or famous. ,but you can meet one , It’s worthy a try,Maybe you wanna check it out or tell your friends!

    • wakeforce

      Although I liked everyone in the final 4, Anya was my favorite. Not only is she beautiful, but I’ve liked her from the very beginning.

      • Linda

        I liked Anya’s designs the best as a whole. So glad Josh didn’t win — he had the attitude that he should win it all. I liked Victor, Kimberly and Bert. Many of them. even though they didn’t win, will do well in the “real world” if they really have the talent. Exposure is the key.

    • Michael

      Ugh. Anya isn’t responsible for Josh any more than I’m responsible for you.

      • think

        Right on!

      • Shelly Rose

        100% agree – it wan’t Anya’s job to rein in Josh!

  • Catherine

    The judges were obviously very biased in favor of Anya all season long. There were several weeks where she should have gone home, like the week she made shorts and they had a huge hole in the seam in the back?!? And her clothes last week looked terrible, like something an 8th grader in home ec would make. Really bad. I was disappointed and disgusted with the entire season, I thought it was lame.

    • MarilynP

      My husband and I totally agree with you. The favoritism in this show is sickening. I swore after last year’s Gretchen debacle I would stop watching. But I thought there was hope this season. How does a person who sews peope into their clothes win project runway???????

      • Erica Anderson

        I completely agree. I was yawning at the end of Anya’s presentation on the runway and realize Project Runway has nothing to do with design. It is about drama and clearly Joshua was used because he was the more expressive of the bunch. All the judges should be ashamed of themselves. They are all about money not design and creativity.

      • Rhys

        It’s a design competition- not a sewing competition. I agree with the judges’ decision. Anya is a talented designer who has a vision that can sell.

        This competition is not about who can sew or tailor the best. It’s about who can design clothes that are marketable and sellable, and who has the vision to create a line that can sell. Just because Anya isn’t very good at sewing doesn’t mean that she isn’t going to be successful in designing and selling clothes. Michael Kors, Donna Karan, Isaac Mizrahi, et al – none of them sew their own clothes.

        This is a design competition. She’s a great designer.

      • HG

        I agree and disagree. It is clear that the judges have their favorites, and it is really irritating to see how they put those favorites first. However, Gretchen and Anya are completely different. People would want to wear Anya’s clothes. They are beautiful and flowy, and she did her best to show range- let’s not forget her fitted capped sleeved black dress for the bird challenge. Gretchen’s clothing was hideous- and you could see the judges double standards, such as hating kimberly’s diaper shorts but loving Gretchen’s.

      • BG

        Um, Josh himself said that everyone was sewing people into their dresses so get off your high horse lady. Loved Anya and her clothing. Her designs are fantastic!

    • sandyshoes

      Viktor was robbed. Anya can’t sew or come up with a real design. She used everyone to help her finish each week. She’s exotic and was definitely the judges’ favorite, though she can’t make a dress for anywhere but the beach. And she had to sew the models into the dresses! None of these designers could hold a candle to the earliest designers of the first 4 seasons, but this was the worst season yet. I thought last year was bad, but this topped it.

      • E

        Going into the last episode, I thought it was Viktor’s competition to lose – and that’s exactly what he did by taking out those gorgeous prints and replacing them with all the awful sheers. What was he thinking? The dress he paired the the white leather jacket in the first part of the finale was unbelievable, and he just got rid of it? It makes me crazy, because his tailored pieces were so beautiful. I can’t help but think he could have – and should have – run away with this competition if he’d just shown the right pieces.

      • Erica Anderson

        This is in response to Rhys. Anya has good taste but please don’t confuse good taste with good design. If you want a one note designer then Anya is your designer. Joshua and Victor were clearly much more imagnative and sophisticated. I thought that Victor’s collection was superior to Joshua’s but feel that Joshua was used to add heightened drama cause he was so dramatic. Project Runway MO was so transparent.

    • Lyn

      They really did adore her irrationally all season. “She just learned to sew last week!!! Wow!!!” I don’t hate her, but am totally flummoxed as to who they think wants a wardrobe full of tropical caftans. Given a pretty piece of fabric, I could have sewn such a garment while in 4H at age 12.

    • vicki

      I agree, I think that the judges were very biased and they knew that Anya was going to be the one that they were going to pick to be the winner all along. She had alot of mistakes that would have kick others out long ago. We had a pool going at work and all were disapointed by the judges choices through the whole show, that was always the talk at the cooler.

    • selina

      I dont think Anya deserved to win the competition. Her winning makes Project Runway look like a joke if someone who learned how to sew months before going on the show can win. Her Bryant park outfits were not that great-I bought a dress 4 years ago that looks like a lot of her dresses. Nothing was very creative. PR seems to pick the winner from the beginning and then gives this person a million chances, like the show prior to the last episode where she should have gone home. I liked her as a person but I dont think she deserved to win.

  • Joline

    So annoying. I agree Anya was the only “special” one of the finalists, but how can Project Runway declare a winner who cannot make a sleeve or a pant? And if they said Kimberly was “not ready,” what do they call this…

  • lexi

    I liked Anya and her designs. She will do well in the real world designing resort wear just as long as someone else does the sewing lol. Haters gonna hate, but I actually enjoyed the season for most part, not the best season, but fun to watch and listen to all the silly banter and bickering.

  • Same

    Project Runway is concerned about creating a “brand” at this point and picking a winner who has a chance to make it commercially – like Christian. I believe they have had too many winners never to be heard from again, and they knew Anya was the most marketable. Only reason she won as she was clearly not the best or most ready.

    • pthomas

      who can wear these dresses and other than the beach where do you wear them? There are only so many size 0 women with no breasts going to the beach……

      • Bored

        Thankfully Europe still produces hot women who can fit in those clothes.

    • Deidra

      I’m a toned size 10 and could rock the hell out of many of Anya’s clothes. Her personal style is cool, her personality is warm, and her line will be amazing. Go Anya!

  • Hey

    Also being able to sew well doesn’t mean you’re a great designer, Josh’s style is too gaudy for words, Victor really missed the mark with all that sheer black stuff. Anya’s final clothing collection was the prettiest and most put together out of the finalists

    • Rhys

      So agreed. Josh’s collection was horrendous, and I think his taste is awful. That plastic, neoprene, and the gaudy, grandmother looking prints were just yuck.

      • EB

        Stop hating on Josh. His collection was very runway and he used materials that were not common. The whole show wants you to be creative and uses non traditional materials. Josh would of won if Anya was not favored by all the judges. But both of their collections were good.

  • Leah

    Haters gonna hate. I’m glad Anya won.

  • Mike B.

    Yeah, it’s not “Project Seamstress,” but what made this choice remarkable is that her designs aren’t even moderately ambitious. She does simple dresses and doesn’t even execute them well. They’re pretty, sure, but they don’t exactly demonstrate that she’s got a brilliantly creative mind. And every other designer who has offered a simple, pretty line has been told that they aren’t pushing themselves.

    Anya is often compared to Uli. Guess what? Uli made the finals because she chose an unexpected and striking silhouette in the last challenge, and made the top two because she showed a very different side of herself in her collection, and they STILL thought she was less deserving than Jeffrey for the win. Where did Anya ever grow or push herself? What sign is there that she ever will, other than the faith of her many loyal fans back home?

    She deserved praise and encouragement for making some pretty dresses, but this is the first time in Project Runway that the ability to make a pretty dress was deemed enough to win the top prize.

    • MarilynP

      True true true….. She mad a million pretty dresses with the same plunges and low backs and this wins Project Runway????

    • Katie

      I was thinking about ULi the whole time. Didn’t the judges not pick her because she could only make flowing dresses?????

    • paula

      I will probably not bother watching any more.

  • FlGirl

    Ever since PR left Bravo it’s gone down the crap pipe! Last season was my cap. I was a faithful follower, put up with “Meana Nina” but Gretchen was the end of it for me! From the feedback, thing have not gotten any better. I thought I would regret not watching this season, but I guess not. Too bad. Should have stuck with Bravo.

  • Mike B.

    “Haters gonna hate.” LOL. One reason we’re annoyed with Anya’s win is that her fans can’t come with any defense more articulate than “haters gonna hate.” So what if we don’t like that she pretty much only makes one type of outfit, that it is only appropriate for one setting, that the cuts are mostly the same and they’re basically held up by belts, and that the only elements of visual interest are the prints which she doesn’t even have the skill to match within the same garment. Whatever, haters gonna hate. I’m sure you’d all fit in just fine as guest judges on the show these days.

    • Dude

      That was one person.

      I would say that she can make more than that, but given the time constraints of PR and her lack of sewing knowledge, obviously she isn’t going to put out something wildly different from what she is used to. It is a stupid idea more often than not to try what you have never done before. Sometimes it works out, but I think it was a wiser decision to not push TOO far outside of her comfort zone to the point where she probably wouldn’t have even sent a garment down the runway!

      IMO, you can dislike it all you want and that’s fine with me, but she obviously has talent and will probably grow into an even better designer than she is now.

      • Mike B.

        Maybe she will. The top prize on Project Runway didn’t use to be for “most likely to succeed,” it used to be a measure of what a designer had accomplished THERE AND THEN. And many designers on the show have done incredible things with low budgets and in short spans of time.

        That Anya returned to her tried-and-true flowy dresses is entirely understandable–but it has ALWAYS been a fatal error in the past, because if you don’t have both the ability and the guts to do different things when it’s on the line, you don’t deserve to win.

        And that’s Anya. She did variations on the same look throughout the season and again for her final collection–all simple, nothing challenging. All attractive and salable. And she didn’t deserve to win, against strong competition or weak, because she’s barely given us an inkling that she’s more than slightly talented.

    • Sally

      Maybe Anya is not the greatest designer ever but she was definitely the best this season. Go Anya!

  • Simm Fan

    This board has always been so loaded down with people who dislike Anya as a person, let alone as a designer, but obviously the majority of the people watching the show — and many of the designers competing on the show — really like Anya. Quit whining and just acknowledge you’re wrong.

    • Owen

      Yes. I would like just ONE of the Anya Haters on this board to explain that. How, if she’s so awful, a vast majority of America picked her to be Fan Favorite. Huh? HUH?

      • warontara

        Um…duh, you guys. It was voted per tweet, and people could vote as many times as they want, and there were accounts set up that voted for her he maximum times possible per day (I think it was 24 times every 5 minutes or something).

        I don’t dislike Anya as a person, I just don’t think she deserved the win and dislike the way the PRODUCERS clearly manipulated the season to give her the win. And I don’t think many people really dislike HER, she’s just sort of the human embodiment of the downhill slope this show has been on for a couple of seasons.

  • Mike B.

    While you’re trying to come up with some intelligent words, try to defend how she got to the final four. “Only three of you will be showing at Fashion Week…wait a second; Anya’s dress is a disaster. OK, all of you will be showing! And we’re giving you a critique and another trip to Mood and some time to make new looks. Much better, Anya!”

    • fiddy

      I agree. They seemed to have decided on their winner from the beginning of the season! She should have been kicked out so many times for poor construction/execution (as many have in any other season) but she was excused every time!

      Please to the Anya lovers, I think she seems like a fantastically cool person but I’m more disgruntled with the obvious favourtism, bias and the unethical nature the show has now taken.

      Tim seems to be the only one who can stay somewhat neutral.

      Lifetime: where interesting shows go to die.

    • Owen

      Its because Anya had done so well during the show’s run and had come up with such a disastrous final piece that they had to put Kim in there (she had no business advancing that far) cause they couldn’t just award Anya for that piece of crap. Thusly, Anya was “included”.

  • Mike B.

    “Quit whining and just acknowledge you’re wrong.” Let me guess: Oxford Debate?

    Quit pretending that the majority of the audience is on your side when your only evidence is a stuffed ballot box. Some of us don’t like watching rigged games even if we like the winner.

  • as

    Anya made pretty flowy halter dresses. It’s not about ‘hating’…..they were pretty….not innovative…not ground breaking….not cutting edge….not high fashion…not unique…..not varied….not even cohesive in color palette. As a previous poster said, Project Runway seems to be all about branding now….Anya of no second Madonna….Gaga fame. One simple pretty note should not have won it all and that only happened because the producers scrambled to save her over and over. That $500 on the next to last day was all about saving Anya. Fairness matters. Achievement matters….not potential and beauty queen looks for ‘branding’. And it really does disgust me that Lifetime is only selecting women to win. Why have male contestants?

    • Mike B.

      To be fair, Seth Aaron won two years ago (and completely deserved it). And his runner-up was also male.

      I don’t think sex has anything to do with what was wrong with this season, which was fundamentally that the producers and/or judges identified two designers with TV-friendly backgrounds and personalities, praised them to high heaven for competent work, and went to great lengths to avoid eliminating them for incompetent work. It was a Kabuki show and not a talent contest.

      • as

        I’m not trying to be a conspiracy theorist. I remember that Seth Aaron won and deservedly so, but he was a married guy with 2 children. The other 3 Lifetime winners were women and Gretchen and Anya clearly didn’t deserve the win based on what they showed.

  • roni

    Everyone is entitled to their opinion however Anya now has 110k in the bank so I doubt shes concerned.

    • You Too Can Do It

      Given that she wants to build a fashion line, she should be concerned. Frankly why bother buying any of her designs when anyone with basic sewing skills can put them together in mere hours–just like she did.

      • mary

        I read this board with interest and total apathy…I see both sides. To the defenders of Anya’s win, I don’t hear hate coming from those that are attacking it, they just don’t think she should of won. I highly doubt anyone ‘hates’ Anya as she is such a likable peronality on tv…very kind to everyone. They couldn’t even edit any of her interviews to appear snarky towards her fellow contestants.

        But I find it ludacris to say that anyone with basic sewing skills could do what Anya did. The person posting that has either never sewn, or is a very very good sewer who has forgotten how hard it is. I’ve been doing occasionaly sewing for 30 years and I could no way no how create what Anya did, and certainly not in those light fabrics!

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