Anya Ayoung-Chee by Laura Ferreira
It has happened. Trinidad's fashion chief Anya Ayoung-Chee has prevailed, and is the newest winner of the Emmy award-winning show Project Runway.
It's a funny thing to be invested in something that you technically have no personal stake in, but that's how every Trinidadian felt over the last 2-3 months as we sat and watched Anya prevail time and time again against designers more experienced than herself.
I was a fan of the show before Anya became a contestant. But this season I found myself torn between loyalty to my fellow Trinidadian (and Convent girl), my personal tastes, and my need to judge the show objectively. Because as much as I am glad that Anya won, there were times when she floundered and others when I simply was not personally taken with her design. (See looks 3, 8 and 9 below).
via tom and lorenzo
Anya's looks from this season's competition
As far as I was concerned, it didn't really matter if she was auf'd early. Making it to the show at all after battling through the "I just learnt to sew" narrative was validation enough for me. She would have made it, and people would know her name. But she fared far better than anyone could have hoped. She was a designer, she was a Trinidadian, and she was GOOD.
It cannot be denied that Trinidadians were biased. It's not a surprise, or even a problem since we had no say in the outcome. We are a bandwagonist society; but we are also fiercely loyal. Even in her "darkest hour" (Reggae Jesus I'm looking at you) Trinis rallied in support of a subpar offering; one that Anya herself acknowledged was less than exemplary. Instead of recognizing the misstep, we praised Reggae Jesus that she was spared elimination. Typical Trini logic.
But this season, what impressed me most about Anya was not her design capabilities but her sincerity. There were very few times when Anya felt the need to denigrate her fellow competitors, and she was genuinely upset when Joshua McKinley's bad mood over losing the L'Oreal challenge carried over into the next week. She managed to form genuine friendships with people who had every right to resent her successes. That to me, speaks highly of her character.
I was also impressed by the fact that she made sure to keep the Fan Favourite vote as positive as possible. When things started turning nasty between her fans and Anthony Ryan's in the last few days of voting, she made it clear that they were actually friends, and that she supported his initiative The Rock One Foundation, just as much as her own. After she was announced as the winner, Anya opted to share half of her winnings with Anthony Ryan to help him launch his foundation, which seeks to raise awareness of testicular cancer. With the rest, Anya plans to start a micro-finance fund to benefit other creatives in Trinidad and Tobago. She has stated that it is her way of giving back to the people who dedicated their time to supporting her throughout the competition and providing a means for other artistically minded Trinidadians to follow their own passion.
via apartment 17
Anya's final collection for MBFW
On the show, Anya mentioned feeling the pressure of having to live up to the nation's expectations, and commenters online wondered if the pressure was all in her head. Since I knew better, something struck me about the immense support back home for her: Anya is ours and we are immeasurably proud of her.
Trinidadians are quick to claim any person who is even vaguely well known as a compatriot. We've claimed Nicki Minaj, Nia Long and Tatyana Ali, but with the exception of Nicki (sometimes) have they ever claimed us? Anya's success resonates so deeply with the citizens of Trinidad and Tobago because she is wholly and truly ours. She grew up here, she went to school here, she represented us at Ms. Universe, she started her fashion career here and she speaks our lilting dialect. She is ours to claim completely and outright.
So Anya, if you haven't gotten tired of hearing it already, congratulations again on winning Project Runway Season 9, and thank you for representing us so well, with equal measures of talent, class and dignity.