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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

‘Project Runway’ winner impresses in finale

Published: November 11, 2011
Section: Arts, Etc.

Millions gazed as gold-splattered patterns brimming with vibrancy flowed down the runway, sleek reflections of mirrored pieces glittered before the audience’s eyes and innovative spectacles of plastic garments pranced alongside polished, creamy designs.

“Project Runway” had reached its momentous season nine finale locale, the runway show at Mercedes-Benz fashion week, where only four talented and persevering designers succeeded in gaining a spot—but only one would emerge truly victorious. As Heidi Klum says, in the cruel world of fashion “one day you’re in and the next day you’re out.”

For those who are not avid fans like myself, “Project Runway” is a reality television show seeking the most talented and promising designers to compete for the opportunity to display their collections at the Mercedes-Benz fashion show. Week after week, the show forces the competitors to utilize their creative abilities to create inspired designs under severe time constraints and limited budgets. In past seasons, designers have been challenged to create sophisticated, luxurious garments from unconventional materials, such as those found at a pet store. Throughout the show’s history, in the last few moments before the runway show unfolds, emotions rage in what host Tim Gunn deems a “make it work moment.”

As I watched the season nine finale, Kimberley Goldston introduced elegant dresses, yet concluded her collection with sad, heavy satin pieces of disproportionate shapes. Although Victor Luna created intriguing tops utilizing reflective mirrored fabrics, his over-reliance on sheer black materials left the collection with a less than sophisticated feel, while his pieces were sure to prove unflattering on any body type not satisfying the ideal proportions of a model. Astonished, I watched in dismay as designer Joshua McKinley sent a pair of laced, neon green shorts down the runway, disgracing his entire collection and indicating his utterly questionable taste level.

Perhaps the timing of the show was indicative of the final results. As Anya Ayoung-Chee’s collection dramatically unfolded down the runway, her mastery of patterns and effortless style proved to be a strong conclusion to an otherwise disappointing exhibition. The Caribbean influence of bold, dramatic patterns created an easy, flowing sultry air as the models swept down the runway. As I watched Anya’s designs from my own television screen, I felt myself transported to a tropical, exotic island, a world of cascading sunlight, the crashing of waves the only sound impressed upon my ears and the taste of salt lingering in the air. To what can only be credited to utter genius, Anya maneuvered her way past inexperience and delved into the techniques of sewing only to produce a truly stunning collection reminiscent of her inner passion and natural abilities.

Thus, it came as no shock when Anya was announced as the winner of season nine after the judges’ deliberation. A former model, Anya represented her home country, Trinidad and Tobago, in the Miss Universe Pageant. Although she obtained her degree from Parsons School of Design, she began sewing only months before appearing on “Project Runway,” demonstrating her innate talent and refusal to succumb to the judgments of other, less-than-supportive designers. While introducing her collection, Anya revealed the source of inspiration and emotion behind her work to be her brother Pillar, who died in a car accident in 2007.

Anya’s success did not cease with winning the season nine of “Project Runway.” She was voted the fan favorite of the show, an honor that left her with a prize of $10,000. Anya attributes this demonstration of support to a larger movement, stating, “Trinidad is currently in a state of emergency because crime has escalated, which means there’s a curfew every night … This whole thing, Fan Favorite, became about Trinidadians feeling proud. It lifted people’s spirits. I can’t downplay how much of an impact this has had. Because we are currently in a bad state and people are quite upset about it, voting for me as Fan Favorite became a shining light amidst of all of the depression.”

Recognizing her Caribbean roots and demonstrating her generosity, Anya announced her plans to establish a loan program to aid those who wish to pursue creative careers in her native country, while also donating $5,000 to fellow designer Anthony Ryan’s Rock One Campaign.

Ultimately, I personally feel Anya has succeeded in fulfilling an image yearned for by so many women globally. Her powerful yet flowing, dramatic yet effortless and breathtaking yet simple designs capture the image of an exotic, beautiful and independent individual who so many women aspire to become. In doing so, Anya has truly succeeded as a designer, transcending not only aesthetic visions in terms of what women want to wear but the confident persona they wish to possess as well.