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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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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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