Everyone Wins

Recap of episode 12 of Project Runway: Under the Gunn

As this recap series concludes with this installment and designer Anya Ayoung-Chee fades from the limelight, because there isn’t a year-round appetite for homegrown celebrity in the islands, I wanted to journal about a few events that unfolded while producing this recap of Project Runway: Under The Gunn.

During my visit to Trinidad Carnival, a business executive asked me: “How does Anya feel about your column?”  I crossed paths with the Project Runway winner twice before receiving his question.  So I replied: She hasn’t said anything.  I bit my tongue to be diplomatic with an influential exec.  Actually, I think Anya, who knows it’s better to have tongues wagging than silent if you yearn to be on TV, recognize brilliance in the recap series I conceptualized and got published by two daily newspapers in her hometown.


Above: Design by Asha Daniels for the Marvel superhero challenge. Below: Design by Shan Oliver Keith on Team Anya. Bottom: Design by Sam Donovan on Team Mondo. Photos: Under The Gunn/Lifetime TV

But some in Anya’s circle weren’t tickled by how I weaved insider facts, observations, and a variety of real perceptions.  In their mind, the media exists to produce pretty press releases, criticize politicians, and unfavorable sentiments about Anya’s performance as a designer or mentor should remain under a rug.  I flipped that script, but by the sixth column I had hit a nerve that wanted the series sugar-coated.

During that same Carnival visit I was startled, at dinner at Buzu Restaurant, at a performance at Queen’s Hall, and in the VIP lounge at Carnival fetes, I was approached by socialites, local celebs and upmarket citizens who told me they look out for the column: “because it’s so cheeky” and “the writing is so entertaining.”  Many didn’t know Anya was on a TV show till they encountered this recap series.  An editor wrote: “It’s a breath of fresh air for the Guardian.

Twenty-four hours after the Guardian published my sixth submission, which was edited by the paper’s editor-in-chief, I received an email from same editor that read, in part: “You also need to be more generous with your remarks about Anya in the series.  While criticism may be warranted, it must not be relentless.”  This same editor handled my copy on Friday and approved the article to publish on Sunday, without a single delShan12_UnderTheGunnetion.  Her revelation on Monday suggests her office received a call from someone west of St Vincent Street, that persuaded the top editor to suggest I board her censor ship.    I swiftly repositioned this TV show recap series with another daily paper without skipping the seventh installment.

This was a creative writing exercise that came to me as I watched the show’s first episode.  I have been invited to write a column for a daily newspaper.

The premise of this reality TV show asked twelve unknown designers: Who do you want to be and how can we help you get to where you want to be? Three Project Runway alumni with varying degrees of industry recognition took on the task to grow their mentoring skills, while they each groom four ambitious fashion designers.

The final design challenge required the remaining four designers to create a garment inspired by a Marvel comic book superhero. “You are not creating costumes, you are to be inspired,” stressed Tim Gunn. Oscar took top honors for his sleek cloak that covered a complex and incomplete looking pant suit.

Previously we affirmed that Oscar and Shan Keith Oliver are sure shots for the finale.  And I stated that designers Asha Daniels, who tended to “put a lot on heSam12_UnderTheGunnr plate,” to ace a challenge and Sam Donovan, who survived but failed to push the envelope, deserve to be grand finalists, too.  Mr. Gunn and his squad of sharp-tongued judges cast Asha and Sam, both from Team Mondo, in the grand finale.

If emerging designers took tight notes from the mentors on Under The Gunn, they should be familiar with these parting soundbites on what it takes to make it work: Trust yourself, trust your voice, articulate your point of view, take risks, deliver wow factor, and please don’t get in your own way.

Peace out.



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Recap of Episode 11 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

“I feel like I’ve been to hell and back.” That was the sentiment of designer Shan Keith Oliver after he won the challenge, that made him the last man standing on Team Anya on episode 11 of Under The Gunn. During the formation of teams, Shan was chosen by mentors Nick Verreos and Anya Ayoung-Chee, he rejected Nick. That decision spared him from a load of drama and frantic energy. His mellow temperament paired well with Anya. But so did Blake Smith and Nicholas Komor, who presented portfolios that convinced viewers that their modern point of view could slam dunk almost any challenge.


Above: Shan Keith Oliver edits in the workroom. Below: Mr. Keith’s winning design. Oscar Garcia’s emerald green gown. Bottom: Mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee deliberates. Photos: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV

In last week’s recap we declared that Shan has earned his invite to the grand finale, which will be judged by Heidi Klum and actor Neil Patrick Harris. After acing the quick fix challenge this week, Shan sealed that deal. Winning the finale means he and Anya would be cruising in their own Lexus CT 200h this summer, adding Marie Claire to their resume, and the quiet-spoken family man will jet to Paris to chercher l’inspiration (get inspired).

Shan11_UTGOscar Garcia-Lopez, who is the Don of impeccable construction, is Shan’s main roadblock. During an interview on an entertainment show in Miami that aired before Thursday’s episode, Oscar hinted that he was safe.

So this week, the remaining five designers had to conceptualize instant fashion solutions that “get women gorgeous in no time.” Each had a client with a unique reality. Oscar’s client is petite and wanted an age appropriate look that exudes beauty queen glam. Shan’s client is a mom who wanted clever coverage for a stubborn baby pouch. And Blake’s client has a boyish figure and needed a transformation from dull to darling.

Asha Daniels’ dilemma while trying to please her client and preserve her vision, prompted Tim Gunn to advise: “You have to tell her, I respect you as a client, you have to trust me as a designer.” That is a handy takeaway for young designers with complicated clients.

Oscar11_UTGThe judges saved Oscar though he aged his client. Asha delivered the Beyonce moment her client desired, but Shan snatched the win for pulling-off “a miracle,” according to Anya. Shan started over twice on his garment because of his client’s allergic reaction to his fabric of choice. Meanwhile, Blake suddenly despised his fabric, and took the loss for a dress he admitted is “looking tortured.” Mentor Anya rooted for her struggling mentee to do his best and prove himself, instead he was crowned the only designer not to win a challenge.

As Blake doled out hugs in the lounge, he missed Anya’s parting remark: “I don’t know if it’s a case of where he is in his life, he just has to be more confident with who he is and let it all out there.”

AnyaLasLap_UnderTheGunnIf the judges don’t use a politically correct filter, the three designers in the finale would be Asha, Oscar and Shan. Asha’s critics have credited her for having “a plethora of ideas that are creative.” I don’t expect executive producer Tim Gunn will allow mentor Mondo Guerra to have two contenders in the finale—reality TV is not that real.

As you know, judges on reality TV shows are encouraged to be obscure and serve the audience equal portions of the unpredictable and predictable. So an upset could be coming. From what has paraded on that runway over the last nine weeks, Sam Donovan is as ambitious and deserving as Asha of that finale slot.

The final cut boils down to who the judges shred for having loose threads in the next runway display. We’re tuning in to see who fails to make it work and into the finale.


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Oscar Guns for Finale

Recap of episode 10 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

The dust from the emotional departure of Michelle Uberreste last week hadn’t quite settled when episode 10 cranked-up.  Tongues and tempers were still acidic.  To make matters worse, for this do-or-die team challenge the outspoken Asha Daniels was paired with the designer deemed the weakest link—Natalia Fedner.  Even mentor Mondo Guerra was a sourpuss, who anticipated a negative scenario from having to collaborate with Natalia’s mentor Nick Verreos: “Some of my personal eUTGshanmotions are going to get in the way.  This is going to be a disaster.”

Sam Donovan on Team Mondo credited Natalia with making “the most progress in this competition.”  But he overlooked that Oscar Garcia Lopez has evolved from an aesthetic that over-draped Cuban cha-cha drag queens from the 1940s, into a powerhouse able to deliver and edit modern ideas with Fifth Avenue finesse.

Either way you pair the designers you hope advance to the finale, Oscar is a winner. This recap series concludes before the final show airs.  Garments in the final show reflect Oscar’s flare for well-draped elegance.  All three mentors walk the red carpet at the final show, which was recorded December 16, 2013.  Actor Neil Patrick Harris joins the delicious Heidi Klum who dons red kinky boots to judge the collections that will determine the overall winner.  Shan Keith Oliver saved the day for Team Anya, and earned his invite to the finale.


Designers Shan Keith Oliver and Oscar Garcia Lopez collaborate on a mini-collection. Top: Shan’s blazer walks the runway. Below: Blake Smith (l) and Sam Donovan. Bottom: Oscar’s maxi dress. Photos: Under The Gunn/Lifetime TV

At this week’s judging, Oscar and Shan were praised for bringing “obvious genius” to the mini-collection team challenge they won.  Sam and Blake Smith escaped judging unscathed.  Asha and Natalia had their necks on the chopping block for an awkward dashiki and ill-constructed dress.  “It looked so much better before I put the pleats down,” cried Natalia about the messy bust of her dress.

UTG01-ep10-episode8The facial cue of judge Jen Rade usually says enough, but her critique is incomplete without her colorful narrative:  “I love a dashiki, but this looks like she yanked a curtain off a motel and wrapped it around herself.”  “This dress is mirroring the worst construction ever seen, why is one nipple over here and one up here?!”  Their collection made “even the models look uncomfortable,” added Rachel Roy.

UTGoscarWhen Tim Gunn revealed the vote to cut Natalia, mentor Nick cried: “This has been life-changing to see how much she has developed into a great designer.”  “Pursue your dream,” he told Natalia, “Thank you for letting me grow.”  Though Team Nick is on its last leg, Oscar is a consistently strong and favored contender.

As her 15 minutes dwindled to seconds, Natalia told the camera: “Although I let the criticism and lack of respect to get to me, I did not take it out on anyone.  It showed me that under pressure I’m a good person.”  That offers a usable takeaway.  To which I add, win or lose, being chronicled with a slight side of pepper, benefits the popularity of those who willfully step into the critical lens of reality TV.


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Anya, Mondo Under Attack

As episode 9 of Under The Gunn unfolded viewers were drenched by venomous comments from castmates on the show.  It was easy to assume this week’s challenge was to explain why everybody hates Natalia.  “I don’t think Natalia deserves to be here.  I’m not sure who she is as a designer,” explained designer Asha Daniels.  “I don’t think she’s trying to bring anything new or different, or take any risks.”  Another Team Mondo designer, Michelle Uberreste added, “Natalia should have gone home, there are other people here with a lot more talent and a lot more drive.


Above: Tim Gunn and Nick Verreos with Natalia Fedner in the workroom. Pictured below: Tim Gunn with judges Jen Rade, Rachel Roy and recording artist Macklemore. Oscar Garcia Lopez with his winning design. Natalia Fedner with her design on the runway. Photos: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV

””I’m perceptive,” defended Natalia Fedner choking back tears, “I can tell they don’t like me, at the same time I so badly want to show everyone what I have.  I know the other designers don’t see me as a threat.”  Her perception is on target though her designs falter.  Mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee chimed in with two-cents saying Natalia delivers “inconsistent work, incomplete ideas.”  The slinging of hot grease at nervous Natalia was nonstop.

Designers were required to create a garment that transforms from a daytime look to an evening statement.  Judges Jen Rade and Rachel Roy were joined by recording artist Macklemore for the task of applauding and slamming the final designs.  Judges#9_UTG

The bacchanal around Natalia was a distraction from the focus on the complexities of negotiating the design challenge.  Meanwhile, mentor Nick Verreos was ambushed for nurturing co-dependency with his mentees.  Finally, Tim Gunn ushered Nick to an Ah-Ha moment by suggesting he use a socratic approach and pummel mentees with questions such as, What do you think?  How do you feel?

After runway judging of the transitional garment challenge the playing field was leveled, each mentor supports two designers.  Oscar Garcia Lopez from Team Nick stole the show with his sleek, black shimmery design for an heiress of a philanthropic family.  “At the end of the day I’m happy to go home on something I love,” admitted Michelle from Team Mondo, who was eliminated.Oscar#9_UTG

While Anya is usually critical and complimentary in the same breath, her observation of Shan’s design was conservative and borderline clueless.  “I still think there are issues with the construction, at least there is thought and innovation,” noted Anya as the dress that revealed mid-section cutouts and a zippered skirt sauntered down the runway.  In the end, the judges felt: “It has a sexy, cheerleader feel to it; this met the challenge.  It’s youthful, super successful in a really modern way; great construction.”

Judge Rade felt Blake Smith’s evening look befit an ObGyn’s office, not a runway.  Macklemore reinforced that sentiment with his vote: “Would I want my girlfriend to go out in this, absolutely not!”

Credit Natalia for this week’s takeaway: “Although I am at a disadvantage at being able to edit and construct quickly, the judges see a lot of imagination in me and for that reason I’m still here.”  In other words, having ideas matters.Natalia#9_UTG

After the runway cleared mentors Mondo Guerra and Anya stood defiantly to show their disagreement with the verdict of the judges.  Mondo argued, “Why should someone stay who depends so much on their mentor!?”  Anya vowed the judges will regret their elimination decision.  Then hundreds of viewers raced to Facebook to ignite a firestorm of critiques that denounce Anya and Mondo as ‘bullies,’ ‘disappointing,’ ‘appalling,’  ‘despicable,’ ‘immature,’ ‘arrogant,’ and ‘shameful.’  Read for yourself, visit Tim Gunn: Official Page, Mondo Guerra Fan Page and the Project Runway Page.

We’re tuning in to see if an underdog can shutdown the antagonists and if Anya will be forced to eat her words.


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Recap of episode 7 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

Going into Thursday’s episode, the playing field was leveled, each mentor had lost one contender.  Mentor Mondo Guerra has three challenge wins—Nick Verreos has one—and has aimed his arrows at Anya Ayoung-Chee who he calls his only competition.  The mentors stand to win a new 2014 Lexus 200h and some neat perks.  The designer who rules the runway walks away with U$100,000, a 2014 Lexus, a trip to Paris and tools to launch their career.


Mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee consults Blake Smith. Below: Mentor Mondo Guerra with mentee Sam Donovan. Bottom: Shan Keith constructs his garment.
Photos courtesy: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV.

Anya was feeling the heat from being a regular on loser’s row.  She took her own advice and stepped it up.  She dropped the girlfriend persona and donned drill sergeant armor this week to unleash her determination to prove she can mentor winners.   Hands clenched at her waist with shoulders as broad as a prison warden, Anya paced around mentees Nicholas Komor and Blake Smith, who were having difficulty realizing their vision into runway presentations.

During critiques, Anya barked: “You have to step up, you have to prove to me that I made the right choice, you have no more chances.”

“The really sweet Anya that we had has completely left the building,” snapped Blake.

Nicholas, whose portfolio persuaded me to believe he had longevity, also fooled Anya. MondoSam_UnderTheGunn_DRAKESAnya’s sixth sense smelled a fraud and needed proof that Nicholas was not a bootleg designer.  “We’ve reached a point where I want this more than you do,” explained Anya.  “I chose you out of what I believe is a tremendous amount of potential.  It came from work in your portfolio and impeccable construction.  Did you make these pieces?  Then why doesn’t anything look like this?”  That was a thick serving of humiliation.

Nicholas barely defended his integrity then failed to deliver the goods on the runway.

The challenge to create the fiercest look inspired by the steampunk genre came down to Natalia Fedner and Shan Keith, according to the judges. Shan#6_UnderTheGunnDRAKES Natalia invented a pulley to raise her dress.  Shan produced a well-tailored, deconstructed pant-suit fit for a “futuristic warrior”.  Shan heeded Anya’s advice to stay true to your voice and delivered the first win for his team.  Victory was bittersweet.  Team Anya also held the bottom two slots.

“I have realized that the designers are the drivers of their own journey, whether they’re inspired enough or not [to] take the inspiration of being at the bottom and turn into being on the top—I can’t do that for them,” offered Anya as a useful takeaway.

Anya didn’t receive return on investment from Nicholas, whom she saved from the chopping block once before, so it was a no-brainer for her to cut him loose.

We’re tuning in to see how long the taste of victory will last for Anya.


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Anya Targets Team Morale

Recap of episode 6 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

Armchair critics in the land of Carnival anticipated mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee’s team would slam-dunk a challenge to construct wearable designs inspired by costumes in a Roman gladiator flick and the Greek ambience of a palatial villa.  Anya’s foray into Carnival costume design, following her reality TV show win in 2011, is useful on a challenge where a minimalist approach trumps design that is too literal.

ImageThat might be the issue for Carnival enthusiasts who expect substance from bikini mas, they’re thinking too literally.  “Where the design?” jabbed a New York-based, Trini-born designer at an after party last week.  “She is a designer but what is that she calling mas.  Look at K2K mas, I see more fashion from those untrained twins than in her bikini and feathers.”  Such interrogation of design integrity and value has long shadowed Trinidad’s bikini mas movement.  Surely, it wasn’t an oversight by Anya.  In the age of the hustle for Twitter popularity, substance seldom precedes the quest for profit.

To steer her mentees toward the elusive prize, Anya acknowledged, “I recognize how morale can suffer from stagnation.  It’s time to step it up.”  During her workroom visit to guide garment construction, Anya attempted to nudge her team into kick-butt mode: “I feel you’re all holding back in effort to harmoniously get through this, I don’t think compromise is the right place to start, I think complimenting is what you’re trying to do.”

Image“In my experiences, there are a lot of moving parts when you’re dealing with a team challenge,” noted Mr. Gunn, “and you have to oversee all of those parts.”    In the workroom mentors scope the competition to compose their views.  Anya had a mouthful: “Mondo’s group looks a bit costumey.  [They] went a bit more literal, perhaps the judges will see something that I’m not seeing.”  She added, “Nick’s team seem to be very incongruent.”  The harshest stinger was slung by Mr. Gunn, “I’ll be honest, it was a pile of hot sticky diapers,” he said of Team Nick’s garments during construction.


Top: The winning design by Oscar Lopez. Above: Oscar Lopez and Natalia Fedner collaborate to make it work for the team challenge. Here: Mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee with mentees Nicholas Komor and Blake Smith.
Photos courtesy: Under The Gunn/Lifetime TV

Mentor Mondo Guerra assumed Anya’s team would be safe since their designs weren’t “conceptual or literal,” but safe translated to being picked for elimination.  Team Nick stole the show.   “Oscar became the king of my Pompeii,” cheered mentor Nick Verreos.  Oscar Garcia-Lopez pinned his imprint on each design in the three-look mini collection and took the overall win for his modern Grecian goddess look.

Judges lathered praise on Nick’s motley crew: “The romper is on trend,” “love how you layered a solid over the watery fabric,” and  “the minute elements of the studs, are the things that bring it together.”  The takeaway from Team Mondo: Avoid looking arts and craftsy. The spirit of comradery is good, even among competing designers, and always aim to be sophisticated and dynamic.

Sounding like a broken LP, Anya lamented: “Unfortunately, someone is going home from my team, that’s hard to wrap my mind around.”  Mentees Shan Keith and Nicholas Komor got slammed for delivering “a resounding failure.”  But Mr. Gunn threw Anya a lifeline, no one was eliminated.  Perhaps Anya needed to bait her struggling mentees with the incentive of a trip to taste the VVVVIP life in Trinidad, and share that shuttle service she gets on Carnival Tuesday so she can air kiss cameras at judging points.  We’ll be tuning in to see who gets drop-kicked from the A-List.


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Recap of episode 5 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

The contender who amped up the frenzy factor of each episode of Under The Gunn with her lost in translation demeanor, just couldn’t wrap her signature origami silhouette around the challenge to create a stage look for 17-year-old pop princess Zendaya.  But before Isabelle Donola could exit stage left, her mentor Nick Verreos grabbed the mic to properly slam his loopy mentee under a bus.

At runway judging, Isabelle bluntly blamed Nick for being a distraction, and told Mr. Gunn there was persistent friction.  Nick, who was “cautiously optimistic” about his mentee’s potential at the start of this week’s challenge, blew a fuse listening to Isabelle whine.  “It was beyond amateur hour, I have done all I can do,” blasted Nick.  “It’s been draining, it’s been a struggle to give her information.”  He branded Isabelle’s work “a failure on many levels.”  Isabelle sewed her garment on the invert, and got no mercy for bloodshed from her punctured finger.  The ill-stitched shimmery jumper looked “home-made” to the client.  Isabelle took ownership: “The garment wasn’t finished.  [Nick] didn’t step up for me.  I am a great designer, and I know that!”

The takeaway, courtesy mentee Sam Donovan: Asha#3_UnderGunn_DRAKES“Time management is one of the things you need most.”  Nervous energy impeded how Isabelle processed directions. While tough love was a trending theme of episode five, tolerance is a message that has permanent residency on this reality TV show.  The anonymous few who coward behind fictitious names to comment online that there are “too many queers in the fashion industry,” miss the message of tolerance that Anya supports through her conduct on this platform.

White, black, plus-sized or gay, Anya is collaborative, respectful and professional without bias or hesitation.  Determination and aspirations may get you in the door, but unless you intend to remain stuck in a conch shell, accepting diversity in its many hues, shapes and flavors is mandatory for success on the world stage.  Same applies to sports, entertainment, business and politics.AnyaIsabelle_UnderTheGunn_DRAKES

While Anya scores big for being a poster girl for tolerance to the global movement, she struggles to inspire her team to bring their A-game.  Mentor Mondo Guerra made Anya eat dust once again on the runway.  Asha Daniels, who Mondo boasts “has the potential to grow the most,” nailed the tomboy with edge look requested by the client.  Judges called her garment “grungy and glamorous” and Zendaya rocked it at a tour stop.

Previously, Anya planned to reinforce that a mentee “get to risk being yourself fully, I want to impart that.”  After she failed Brady, she doesn’t want to “sway [designers] away from what’s natural to them.”  Words yet to translate into wins


From top: Winning design by Asha Daniels. Asha in the workroom. Mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee with designer Isabelle Donola. Above: Mentor Mondo Guerra (2nd from left) with his cast of mentees. Photos: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV

.According to mentor Mondo, the battle to impress Mr. Gunn and set an unknown designer on the path to become ready-to-wear royalty, boils down to Team Mondo which “has the most creative” designers, and Team Anya, which has “a lot of talent.”   All three teams are neck-and-neck by body count, but with three consecutive challenge wins Mondo is proving his might as a mentor.  We’re tuning in to see if Anya can derail his winning streak.


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Anya Hits Rock Bottom

Recap of Episode 4 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

As opening credits rolled, the mentors zipped into self-editing mode to step up their game, by addressing critiques from the first round of judging.  Mentor Nick Verreos admitted: “My mentoring approach is still growing.”  Anya Ayoung-Chee commented, “Having two designers in the top is very validating.  I’ll keep doing what I’m doing.”  And Mondo Guerra committed to, “continue with mother love, but I am going to practice tough love.”

ShanKeith#4_UnderGunn_DRAKESSDIn episode four of Project Runway: Under The Gunn, the aspiring designers were allotted 10 minutes to tumble and fumble across the dark, foggy lawn at the Fashion Institute of Design & Marketing in Los Angeles, which was staged to mimic an eerie graveyard.  The creepy ambience was inspiration for this unconventional vampire challenge, which requires designers to cleverly employ unusual items into a tasteful garment.

“When you are a mentor, you have to let them discover what they want to do,” Mr. Gunn told the camera.  Then he celebrated Anya on her ability to, “acknowledge the affection she feels for her designers, yet detach when she’s giving feedback, it’s a very good quality.”  Perhaps anxiety took control and stifled that message, and caused mentors to overshoot boundaries and misguide mentees.


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Anya Escapes Unscathed

Recap of episode 3 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

Industry trendsetters and followers are planning their outfits and schmooze scripts to attend Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in New York next Thursday.  Absent from the main runway shows posted online, is the Asian stylista we’ve been watching on cable TV ever since she learned to sew.  If ‘Under The Gunn’ mentor Anya Ayoung-Chee feels the pressure of the streets talking, she knows the clock is ticking for those eager to buy her collections off retail racks in Saks or H&M.


Challenge winner Sam Donovan from team Mondo. Photos: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV

Till then, Anya gets to cultivate a fan base by inviting prospective clients to survey her process and rational via reality TV.  In the first challenge to threaten elimination of a mentor on Project Runway: Under The Gunn, the12 designers were required to create a red carpet look in one day after an inspirational tour of the textures of Hollywood.  Some designers were clueless that the show is partly based on the premise of executing one’s imagination under the pressure of time constraint.  Mentors Mondo Guerra and Anya supported their designers in delivering their individual interpretation of glam.  While mentor Nick Verreos got too hands-on and caused Mr. Gunn to stab a stiletto into his over-draped dress train.  “Nick is being a control freak, he is micromanaging at a level that I could not even imagine,” griped Gunn.

The Mentors: Nick Verreos, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Mondo Guerra in the workroom with Stephanie.

The Mentors: Nick Verreos, Anya Ayoung-Chee and Mondo Guerra in the workroom with Stephanie.

Team Anya sailed through judging unscathed.  Sam Donovan from team Mondo delivered a two-toned jumpsuit that earned U$5,000 and will be worn by a celeb then published in Marie Claire.  For simply making “a pillowcase,” Camila Castillo got that one-way ticket back to Venezuela that her mentor Mondo predicted.  Anya counted her lucky stars that three of her mentees chose her over Mondo.  She has a strong team that suits her aesthetic and diva-free personality.  I can’t imagine her spitting the diva drama reality TV tends to demand, but if she can bring it, I’ll be front row to score her performance.


Team Anya: (clockwise) Blake Smith, Brady Lange, Anya Ayoung-Chee, Shay Keith and Nicholas Komor.

As we watch Anya navigate the learning curve to becoming a mentor, she has been busy with a crash course on how to broker the appeal of her image.   As the Carnival season neared, she allegedly pitched a proposal to install a pop-up shop in a luxe hotel in Port-of-Spain.  But donating prime real estate during peak season to the young designer, just to have Anya posing pretty in their lobby, doesn’t put a penny in a hotel’s till.  The takeaway for her mentees: assure the deals you spin deliver deposits for all principal players, and skip the request for a discounted room.

During her moment in the confessional, mentee Natalia Fedner admitted, “I have to prove to people why I am here.”  You wonder if Anya shares that sentiment as she courts investors, shapes her brand, and explores the possibilities of becoming a celebrity.  It’s a complex game for a reality TV vixen who can elicit admiration from sharp-witted critics.  We’re tuning in to see Anya pattern a strategy to dodge another cut.


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Making The Cut

Recap of episode 2 of Project Runway: Under The Gunn

“In the workroom it gets kind of tense, there all sorts of psychological games that start to happen, my mentoring is also going to be about how to play the psychological games,” advised Anya Ayoung-Chee to her four mentees.   Well, that teaser excited radars, who wouldn’t want to peep the playbook used to negotiate the illusion of honesty and authenticity some use to get ahead in the reality TV game.


There is no debate, Anya has an abundance of talent and ambition.  To make the cut to join her boys club, each designer endured her soft-spoken scrutiny.  In case you missed her notes: Anya’s not fond of nervous energy as witnessed with Natalia, nor over-styling which is Oscar’s trademark, and your garment better not underwhelm as evidenced by Stephanie.  Yet, each of Anya’s rejects got plucked from obscurity by mentor Nick Verreos and given the chance to knock her out.

Anya’s charged with grooming four young men for runway battles that will change their lives.  Brady Lange’s style is relaxed and youthful, Shan Keith channels the urban vibe that Anya digs, Blake Smith and Nicholas Komor are mellow souls that deliver edge with upmarket finesse.

From the 15 candidates, only 12 became mentees advancing to challenges to be judged by entertainers, editors, and the divine Ms. Klum.  Anya filled three slots in round one of mentee selection, and found herself “in a bind,” to quote Mr. Verreos, with just one vacancy and many bold voices to choose from in round two.  “I didn’t expect this seven to be as strong as they are; they are pushing the boundaries more,” admitted Anya.


Photos: Under The Gunn/LIFETIME TV

Mentor Nick revealed his arrows are aimed at Anya: “I don’t know how Anya is gonna discuss construction with these designers when she barely finished a garment her whole season [on Project Runway].”  Ouch!

The road ahead is no stroll in the park for these mentors.  Their brand and street creds may be tainted based on the pointers they pass to their contenders.  Tim Gunn, the show’s patriarch, is there to spoon servings of wisdom.  “Mentoring is very individualized based on the designer with whom you are working,” he advised.  Anya’s approach to design, business and mentoring is informed by her mentor at 6 Carlos Street.  We assume as she tweaks her team, she’ll impart that she learned the ‘M’ in Meiling is for meticulous, which should be evident in the details of a garment.

The formula for selecting teams felt like the recipe for paella.  Anya was glued to gut moves and used gender to her advantage.  On the flipside, Mondo was hardnosed and deemed over-designing a red flag and dismissed designs for being safe.  While Nick scoured for “who can do everything, not something that’s in stores now; I want to see the future of fashion.”  Odds are that Shan and Brady won’t get much playtime with the mind games of the workroom, we’ll be tuning in to see how long team Anya can make it work.


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Anya Goes ‘Under The Gunn’

If you’re one of the fashionistas who have been surfing cable TV channels to find what stylista Anya Ayoung-Chee has been up to since branding her name to a bikini mas section last Carnival, surf no more.  Last Thursday, Anya, who is officially a reality show starlet with nine lives, showed up on the new fashion challenge reality show ‘Under the Gunn’ on the Lifetime channel.Anya_UTGTim Gunn, the heartwarming mentor to emerging designers on Project Runway, stepped off the catwalk and onto his own stage with a show branded with his name and accessorized with his flare and flavor for coaching.

The show is fashioned after the singing competition series The Voice, where mentors build teams to coach into battle to crown just one winner.  Anya, the winner of season 9 of Project Runway, wears a mentor cap on ‘Under the Gunn’ along with popular PR alumni Mondo Guerra and Nick Verreos.

Gunn introduced Anya as “one of the most recognized fashion designers to emerge from the Caribbean, who has continued to grow her lines.”   By comparison his reveal of the other mentors was punctuated with celebrity name-dropping: Katy Perry, Carrie Underwood and Beyonce as clients of mentor Nick, and a generous plug for Mondo’s eyewear collection and shoe line.

Being on reality TV has become a progressively tough spotlight to navigate for some, due to the barrage of homeschooled bloggers who scrutinize every smirk and twerk to spark scandal-worthy buzz.  Anya seems undiscouraged and game to negotiate the ebb and flow of the real world of reality TV.

It wasn’t obvious that she was wearing her own designs, but she has ditched the shaven head style and filled out some in the face.  For a moment I wondered if there might be a mini-Anya in the oven.  But then I recall hearing she quietly swapped Imageher fiancé Wyatt Gallery for another lover that we’re yet to be formally introduced to.

Back to the show.  The sense that these mentors are speaking unfiltered truth on a relateable level to their peers, gives this show an edge that’s not part of the Project Runway format.  If you distill the notes Anya, Mondo and Nick share, you’ll find useful takeaways that can be embraced as golden rules to attaining success in the cut-throat business of ready-to-wear fashion.

To build her team of four, Anya’s process entails assessing “how they work, what they present and their perspective [point of view].”  She believes mentoring ought to be tailored to who you’re mentoring.  Anya shunned Camila for being a safe, one-note act, but desired Michelle for her “tenacity and ability to find solutions.”


Photos courtesy: Under The Gunn / Lifetime TV

Students and intuitive designers who never had a mentor coach their career should take notes.  We anticipate a few hard pills and tough love, the diva debates and weeping Wilmas in each episode.  Since Mondo promised “the boxing gloves are gonna come out,” we’ll also tune in for a trampy beat-down.

While ‘Under the Gunn’ encourages audience interaction, Trinis can’t vote for their Anya to win a 2014 Lexus CT 200h car and a guest editor gig with Marie Claire magazine.  If her team fails she leaves the show without top prize, but she still has seven reality TV lives in the bank.


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Artist Peter Sheppard earns honor for magical,
imaginative compositions of Trinidad’s splendor

The Northern Range is sumptuous and nurturing as she cradles the western corner of the capital city.  The rainy season shaped the Range into a palette of greens that is dusted with gold leaf by the afternoon sun.  This isn’t a description of an imagined composition painted by Peter Sheppard—who’s known for condensing majestic scenes into miniature art—this is the view from his cozy patio perched on Fort George in Trinidad.

The eldest of three, Sheppard was born to be a painter.  His parents, Stephen and Margaret, painted and encouraged their children to paint.  “I remember Christmas and birthday gifts were usually three small canvases and a pack of paints.”  He would cut the 5”x7” gift canvasses in half.  Sheppard often toured Trinidad’s mountainous and coastal terrains.  “My dad used to drive me around on the weekends, not just to Maracas, but long drives across Trinidad,” recounts Sheppard.  The natural splendor of Trinidad he encounters is weaved into enchanting eco scenes that exist only in his mind.  “The quaintness of this land appeals to me.”

Sheppard_4519DRAKESIn Form 4 he studied technical drawing.  “I was doing building drawing rather than mechanical drawing; I was attracted to perspective, and box houses were one thing I used in my perspective practice.”  Those simple houses helped him develop a comprehension of perspective and sense of depth, and they became as commonplace as rivers and bamboo in a Sheppard miniature.  His paintings of box houses dressed in bright hues appealed to tourists.  Seventeen-years-old at the time, Sheppard found a niche.  Soon his 3”x4” paintings were fetching $35 at the Art Buyer’s Fair with the Art Society of Trinidad and Tobago.

In the Caribbean market, the value of fine art is influenced by exhibition sales, gallery curator’s appraisal, demand from collectors, and illustrious affiliations.  Sheppard, 46, is yet to mount a solo exhibit beyond Trinidad’s shores, but last May he attained an honor that is a game changer.   The Hilliard Society of Miniaturists in Wells, Somerset, is a 31-year-old fraternity of artists who paint miniatures; the society was founded by Sue Burton.  Though Sheppard has been painting for 30 years, he says, “I discovered in the last 5 years, that miniatures are my signature.”

On his first attempt to get into Hilliard’s juried show, Sheppard’s work was rejected because the surface of his paintings was a distraction.   “I paint on canvas paper and the pores of the PeterShep4599DRAKEScanvas were a distraction for them,” explains Sheppard, “remember, they scrutinize miniatures under a magnifying glass.”  The second year he submitted a monochromatic quartet from his “Blue” show—all four sold.  “That was something that stood out,” says Sheppard.  “It’s West Indian-themed but the way it was presented was contemporary—the work used cobalt blue paint.”  In 2013 his submission was mounted on masonite board, a surface as smooth as a kitchen countertop.  He lathered them in gold then applied his landscapes.  As Sheppard describes: “I was painting with a smile on my face.  I enjoyed painting the details with the gold luster underneath it, it’s really rich [work].  I sent them to London with such good energy.”  Then he got a phone call with an unofficial announcement, that he is being awarded the Sue Burton Memorial Award for Best in Show.  Jackpot!  Sheppard’s third try, beat 80 competitors and earned him £1000 and coveted recognition.

What’s next?  Possibly a show at the TT High Commission in London, and a collaboration that pairs his passion for food and lush landscapes with his fine art.  “I love the miniatures, because it’s how I interpret nature, everything is delicate and precise and neat.  When I get into a painting I go into a trance, it puts me at peace.  The handling of the painting is very delicate, time consuming and very controlled.  All the things I’m telling you are the complete opposite of my personality type.”

Isaiah Boodhoo and Carlisle Chang are artistsPeterShep4567DRAKES Sheppard admires, but he credits the late Wayne Berkeley, who designed theatrical sets and costumes, with inspiring his technique.   “You look at my paintings and there’s a backdrop, then wings coming in on the left and right,” describes Sheppard.  “It’s always like I make paintings into a 3D stage set.  I paint the background first and I start bringing the work forward.”

His largest work measured 2 meters x 5 meters and took six weeks to complete.  “I just felt like pushing the edges of the canvas out.  [Sometimes] I feel I want to express [nature] bigger.  Everything is still meticulously placed in those big paintings, and I am still using a 000 brush.”   It’s a painstaking process.  Sheppard chuckles as he repeats a comment often heard: “Dat is mad people work.”  But to his collectors, Peter Sheppard is madly in love with creating miniatures that reflect his fascination with “all things to do with the Northern Range.”


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