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Anya’s ‘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, Ayoung-Chee, 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.
Tim 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 accessorised with his flair and flavour 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. Ayoung-Chee, the winner of season nine of Project Runway, wears a mentor cap on Under the Gunn, along with popular PR alumni Mondo Guerra and Nick Verreos.
Gunn introduced Ayoung-Chee as “one of the most recognised 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 Verreos, and a generous plug for Guerra’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 scrutinise every smirk and twerk to spark scandal-worthy buzz. Ayoung-Chee 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 her 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 relatable level to their peers, gives this show an edge that’s not part of the Project Runway format. If you distill the notes Ayoung-Chee, Guerra and Verreos share, you’ll find useful takeaways that can be embraced as golden rules to attaining success in the cutthroat business of ready-to-wear fashion.
To build her team of four, Ayoung-Chee’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. Ayoung-Chee shunned Camila for being a safe, one-note act, but desired Michelle for her “tenacity and ability to find solutions.”
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 Ayoung-Chee to win a 2014 Lexus CT 200H car and a guest editor gig with Marie Claire magazine. If her entire team fails, she leaves the show without the top prize, but she still has seven reality TV lives in the bank.
• Sean Drakes is a travel and lifestyle photojournalist based in the US in a witness protection programme. His work has published in Ocean Drive, AJC.com, MTV.com, NPR.com and CondeNastTraveler.com
Next Sunday: Making the Cut: Let’s Dissect Team Anya