**Edited 10/28/2011 — Spoiler alert, ANYA AYOUNG-CHEE is the new winner of Project Runway!

American viewers may be new to her, but Trinidadians around the world have already come to expect great things from Anya Ayoung-Chee.

Photo of Anya Ayoung-Chee by Laura Ferreira via lauraferreira.com.

As Trinidad and Tobago’s representative in the 2008 Miss Universe pageant, she showed the world the diverse range that Trini beauty comes in. As a woman slandered and disparaged during a scandal that would bring most people to the brink of a breakdown, Anya demonstrated grace under fire. And now as one of the strongest contenders who may be poised to win the current season of Project Runway, Anya Ayoung-Chee has re-written her own script. She’s now the beauty-queen beautiful Caribbean designer who shut the naysayers up with her talent.

On a recent trip to New York City I was able to catch up with Anya on a phone interview. I didn’t quite know what to expect. Would we be able to connect via phone and have the meaningful conversation I was hoping for? Or would it be all flash and fun without substance? I’m pleased to report, it was the former. Anya is beautiful, yes. She’s talented, yes. But she’s also very smart and surprisingly funny, and super likable. Win, win, and win!

In the 35 to 40 minutes that we chatted, we covered a wide range of topics, from island accents to the reality behind reality television. Here’s what we discussed, topic by topic.

On Meiling as mentor

If you’re not a Trini, you may not know who Meiling Esau is – so allow me to educate you. Meiling is THE premiere Trinidadian designer. Mama Bella has been a client of hers for thirty years. Meiling allowed me to help design my graduation dress, and she came to Miami to fit me into my wedding dress (which she designed). She’s an incredible woman who has meant a lot to me and my own family. And she’s meant even more to Anya and the Ayoung-Chee family. Meiling nurtured Anya’s ambition of being a designer long before Project Runway was a possibility, and she advises her on more than just fashion – Meiling offers expert counsel on life, love, and building a brand. When I told Anya that I think Meiling sees her as more than just a mentee, she agreed. “Meiling is like my mom. I remember sitting in her foyer in 2008 and telling her I wanted to have my own fashion line and she just said — let’s do it. There is no ego or competitiveness there and perhaps from others there would be. She has been supportive to the nth degree.”

On life in Trinidad versus life in New York

It can be hard to admit, but some of the opportunities you get abroad are so big, it’d be impossible to get them at home in the Caribbean. Anya recognizes that she could actually do a greater service to Trinidad and Caribbean fashion in general, if she stays in New York for part of the year. “I can travel to LA, to London, far easier from NYC than from Trinidad.” However it was refreshing to note she gets just as homesick as I do!

On winning the fan favorite contest

On Twitter, fans were blowing up the timeline with the hashtag #PR9Anya, in the hopes of winning Anya the coveted Fan Favorite prize — which she WON! Last night! The money Anya won will go to establishing a loan incentive program for up and coming Trinis in arts and entertainment. Anya made sure to stress that it’s a LOAN program, and the idea of offering a loan they’ll have to pay back reinforces that there is art but there is also business and creatives have to be aware of that reality. Anya remains very aware of the fact that fashion is art but it’s also commerce.

On the Trini accent

I remain very much aware of the fact that my own Trini accent is like a tortoise — it is slow to emerge and tends to hide inside me, unless another Trini or Caribbean person is around and then it comes right on out. This has been my unfortunate reality since migrating in 1998. Anya’s accent remains as gloriously strong as ever, and it’s something people comment about often. “Nobody remarked about my accent on the show — the head AD would always poke fun at me in a playful way by using this ridiculous Jamaican leprechaun accent! But there’s a few things people talk about all the time and that’s one of them. It’s so funny to me because my brothers have a much stronger accent and heavier dialect than me, but I was worried my accent would sound too posh. I went to Convent and I can’t help it!”

On her success and her brand

Although Anya is very much blown away by the success she’s enjoyed and the show of unity Trinidadians have shown her at home and online, she remains very much focusd and aware of what she wants her burgeoning brand to be, “All the things I’ve wanted to do in Trinidad, I’ve done. I want my brand to be an international brand. Jewelry, perfume, shoes. I’ve always wanted that. I want my brand to be one that represents me and the islands. I look at Calypso St. Barths and what they do to represent the Caribbean — I want to do things like that. Like a Tory Burch.”

Regarding the reality of “reality television”

If you’ve been watching this season you’ve noticed that as we approach tonight’s season finale, the claws have come out. Tensions are high. Competition is stiff. But behind the scenes, Anya reveals that the friendships forged on this season of Project Runway remain real and strong. “It was very intense to me to see something so heavily manipulated… The 16 of us were THERE and we have the benefit of knowing how things really happened. Everything on TV is a fraction of what it was really like, edited for maximum drama. They barely show how much FUN we had! Joshua is great, Anthony Ryan is a gem of a person, and Laura is fantastic. I made genuine friendships there.”

On who wins Project Runway

I knew better than to ask her, so I phrased my question coyly. I told Anya that regardless of who wins or loses Project Runway, showing at New York Fashion Week is major and her life would never be the same. In that regard even if she loses, she’s already won. She remained tight lipped on the subject. Anya just gave a knowing laugh and said “Definitely.”

Anya Ayoung-Chee, photo by Laura Ferreira - lauraferreira.com

I’m rooting for Anya tonight and I know all of Trinidad is too! It’s hard to put into words how proud she made us feel as a country, how proud she’s made the Caribbean as a region. Even if she doesn’t walk away as the winner of Project Runway tonight, her future is beyond bright. And now the world at large can look to the islands as a fashion destination in their own right. If that isn’t a victory, I don’t know what is!!

**edited 10/28/2011 — if you watched last night, you already know. Anya Ayoung-Chee won Season 9 of Project Runway, and now celebrities are already contacting her for clothing. Her future is SO bright and I’m really excited for the future of Caribbean fashion as a whole!!

You can follow Anya on Twitter @AnyaDeRogue, or visit her official website here.



MzNappyTrini says:
October 27, 2011, 12:17 pm
Anya all the way!!!! so so proud of her! can't wait to see her in 5-10 years. this is only the beginning. i think what i admired the most on the show was how she epitomized the ability of our trini ppl to be so fast on their feet, quick thinking and creative and best under pressure. alyuh know we like a last minute business lmao. Cant wait for tonight.
Davina West says:
October 27, 2011, 12:18 pm
She is beautiful, and very talented. I'm rooting for her.
Andrea Harvey says:
October 27, 2011, 12:22 pm
Great job Bella! I love Project Runway and I must admit Anya is my fave designer. Her drive, determination and sense of style is so admirable. She's also gorgeous inside and out. Thanks for giving us a glimpse into the "person" behind the designs.
bella says:
October 27, 2011, 12:38 pm
Last minute business like me posting this interview today!! LOL - I hope she wins!!
bella says:
October 27, 2011, 12:38 pm
I agree, and me too!!
bella says:
October 27, 2011, 12:50 pm
It was absolutely my pleasure to interview Anya, Andrea. Thank you!
Jean ( Trini ) says:
October 27, 2011, 1:54 pm
I love Anya, you have represented Trinidad with honor. I am with you all the way. Thank you Bella. I love you too.
AnnellaBella says:
October 27, 2011, 2:35 pm
Fabulous piece, Patrice! Both you and Anya are doing Trini very proud!
Tafari says:
October 27, 2011, 2:58 pm
A) Anya is FINE as hell! B) It was cool to see Anya prove herself in this season of PR but I am not feeling her for a winner. I have felt like they kept her around because she brings a nice bit of drama to the competition that is not too over the top. The looks that she showed on the last episode showed me that she should have been stopped perhaps 4 shows ago. But that is just what was shown on TV. I did see her runway presentation at Mercedes Benz Fashion week and was not moved at all. The craftsmanship was not there. She showed little range & it was all basically resort wear. Her competition really brought the pain. I be surprised if she was not the 1st person to be let go tonight. I will say this, on the challenge when she lost her money & her, I was happy to see her kick ass, especially Viktor's because he has been a total elitist asshole.
shay says:
October 27, 2011, 4:06 pm
Well I like Antagonism I did look at the collections and I personally think victor will win but she had a good collection.
pets says:
October 27, 2011, 4:18 pm
Congrats to Anya for being one of the Four Finalists! We here at home certainly hope that she wins! Great post Afrobella!
goldenstar says:
October 27, 2011, 5:45 pm
There's something about Anya and her integrity to herself and to others. I really really admire this quality in her. She's driven to lover others and not so driven to criticize.
bella says:
October 27, 2011, 9:50 pm
Carla says:
October 27, 2011, 10:37 pm
I was exited elated and encouraged when she won. Why? First of all ... She's ah TRINI. Secondly, she brought hope to people like myself who are talented and have goals they will like to reach and dreams fulfilled as well. Lastly, she has defied the evil words spoken against her. We all make mistakes at some time or the other but the mistakes don't define us. She is now going to be referred to as The girl from Trinidad who won Project Runway Season 9. WOW.... You go girl..... I'm proud of you.
Tasha says:
October 28, 2011, 6:24 am
Everyone the region over who watches PR and knows of Anya has got to proud of her! Trinidad & Tobago has to be busting at the seams. Keep reppin' her and her wonderful work, like wow she is like butter! Talented. Gorgeous. Spirited. Congrats! And, we who know of Anya in 246Barbados will keep rooting for her as she moves forward after this phenomenal opportunity and win! Definitely loved this post, Afrobella! You rep your country, for real!!
Sapphire says:
October 28, 2011, 9:27 am
Soooo proud of Anya. I'm Jamaican and i must say i don't know one person here who wasn't rooting for her. We're all sooo proud. I do see the point made earlier about Viktor being perhaps deserving of the win but what truly gives Anya the edge is she is smart. Have you guys noticed her thought processes and how she never interprets things literally? I'm a graphic artist and i swear i was always uber excited at her interpretations as before she reveals them she often mirrors exactly what i say i hope she does. She is most certainly not a pretty dunce...lol. as we say here in ja "we likkle but we tallawah". Anya demonstrated that.
MS says:
October 28, 2011, 11:30 am
What I love about Anya is that she is a wonderful Trinidadian and Caribbean woman who is in LOVE with her Identity and her being. That quailty radiates from her. She represents and demonstrated on the show all a quality that I have experienced with the universal Trinidadian Woman - She is the mother! Oh My gosh that is a fantastic trait! What a great leader she would be in her business, motivating her staff, taking care of her clients, making them feel motivated and loved and well cared for. Every time she reached out to a fellow contestant on that show to build them up to encourage them, i remembered the countless Trinidadian women I know in my life, The Arties, Sandras, Ermines, Marcias, Monicas, Naphies, and Barbaras. Her authenticity extends and embraces you. In her selflessness she has risen to the top! Anya is by far one of the best role models that young women of the Caribbean and beyond can aspire to emulate. Her strength is her generosity it holds her together and lifts her up. CONGRATS ANYA! I can safely say the entire Caribbean is proud of you.
Islandista says:
October 28, 2011, 11:41 am
Great post Afrobella! Wonderful to get some personal perspective on Anya. I enjoyed it so much I actually linked to it on my own blog. Like Tasha and Sapphire said, people all over the Caribbean have been rooting for Anya. I love that about the Caribbean - we might fuss and quarrel among ourselves but when one of our own is before the world, we all pull together behind them and cheer them on as one people. I've been a fan of her work for a while - more specifically of her Pilar line and I'm sooo proud to see her success and that she.keeps.REPPING.the. Caribbean! Straight through - go girl!
TriniJean says:
October 28, 2011, 1:27 pm
Congrats Anya!! We are so proud of you. May God continue to bless you darling.
Babe Hope says:
October 29, 2011, 10:27 am
Yup! Anya puts her heart and soul in everything she does and it shines through!
Anya says:
October 29, 2011, 12:14 pm
Thanks for this interview Bella... I honestly didn't know that she won until I saw this post. I knew she would win... now my name is going to get really popular in North America, Anya's are the best lol... I love her and I loved when she rocked her hair like locks (dreadlocks) so hot... I wish her moons and moons of success.
Emily says:
November 2, 2011, 5:53 am
I have a necklace just like the one in the bottom picture from www.st8ment.co.uk I can't afford the expenive versions!


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