Tonight, when Heidi, Tim, Nina and Michael unveil another layer of their process to transform an unknown designer into a brand name, many viewers expect a challenge involving stilt walkers will be a cinch for Caribbean contender Anya Ayoung-Chee.
The skyscraping stilt walker, which originates from West Africa, is a traditional character known as the Moko Jumbie in Trinidad’s Carnival. Odds are in favor that Anya’s vision for styling that silhouette will knock it out the ballpark. Among those with high confidence is Meiling, the women’s wear designer who groomed Anya for her shot on Project Runway season 9.
From her charming Gingerbread house on Carlos Street, in Trinidad’s capital city, Meiling offered 15-minutes to reflect on mentoring Project Runway contestant Anya Ayoung-Chee:
How and when did your mentorship of Anya begin?
“I’ve known Anya even before she was born, since her mother has been a close friend and loyal customer for many years. Anya is like a daughter to me and nothing pleased me more when I saw her interest in fashion. When she returned from studying graphic design at Parsons in New York, she gravitated to a natural passion for fashion and her second home became my atelier. She has been privy to my creative design process and she has always been open to advice and guidance.”
A fashion design apprentice should possess the mix of what personality traits and skills?
“It has often been said that to succeed in anything, you need one-third talent, one-third skill and one-third discipline. The most successful interns I’ve had are the ones who are open to embracing new experiences as an opportunity to learn and grow. Whether they are asked to sew a hundred flowers on a dress, assist in a model photo shoot or attend a fitting, they must do it all in a spirit of enthusiasm and readiness. The ones who think they are ‘above’ sorting out a box of buttons or feel they are better than the seamstresses, quickly fall by the wayside.”
Did Anya resist your advice to learn to sew or is it something emerging designers can work around?
“Anya is a very talented designer but as she admitted, her one weakness was the lack of technical experience in sewing. I stress experience, not skill because as a designer she would still be able to recognize quality workmanship and be able to hire staff to create her designs. However, not knowing how a garment is constructed or understanding the jargon in the industry in order to get her ideas across to a seamstress would be a handicap. All the great designers, such as Alexander McQueen, were also great couturiers in their own right.”
What’s the likely domino effect from Anya’s participation on Project Runway?
“I would hope, firstly, that PR would open many doors for Anya and people would see what an incredibly talented Trinidadian designer she is. Secondly, it can also open up new avenues for other Trinidadian and Caribbean designers since this show will definitely perk up interest in designers of the region. I have been mentoring many young women and men for several years and my door has always been open to up-and-coming designers, photographers, models, stylists and writers in the industry. I welcome the opportunity to work with new applicants since they will be the ones to sustain the industry.”
Describe the common threads that connect your aesthetic and Anya’s?
“I think the common thread with Anya is an understanding that fashion must be relevant to the times. It is important to be aware of current and future influences and to incorporate them into your designs. This has been one of the truths I stress to all my interns. In terms of an aesthetic, I was very proud to behold the top of Anya’s first [Project Runway] outfit which had a surprising T-back. I believe that the rear of an outfit should always be interesting since people see your back just as much as your front. It is one of my signature looks, especially in my wedding dresses. I was thrilled to see when Anya pulled that look out from her years of working in my atelier to shine under such a stressful first challenge.”
MORE ON MEILING:
The Meiling brand has been in existence for over 30 years, the philosophy is simply “less is more”. My trademark designs are deceptively simple looking but with great attention to detail. My customer is a woman who is comfortable in her own skin. She does not need to bare it all to be sexy, and has the confidence to stand out from the crowd in simple elegance. She loves fun, occasional whimsy and does not take herself too seriously. However, she does appreciate and can recognize quality in fabric, cut, fit and workmanship.
© SEAN DRAKES
[ 404.654.0859 | SEANDRAKESPHOTO@gmail.com ]