The winner for Season 9 of "Project Runway" has been chosen. For once, a relatively inexperienced contestant triumphed, leaving the other finalists, if not the judges and viewers, dazed and confused. But how much will her sewing skills matter in the real world?
Anya Ayoung-Chee, the winner, got a lot of grief throughout the season from fellow contestants, particularly from finalist Joshua McKinley, for her limited sewing experience. Ayoung-Chee, a former beauty queen who competed in the 2008 Miss Universe pageant, had only been sewing for about four months when she was chosen as a contestant.
While making their own garments is an essential part of this competition, Ayoung-Chee's lack of sewing skills is unlikely to hurt her in the fashion world. According to an article on StartingAClothingLine.com, the usual process involves the designer sketching a garment, then creating a computer sketch using fashion design software, and giving the detailed sketch to manufacturers for them to complete.
Furthermore, the Web site of the Elizabeth Bence School of Fashion says different fashion designers employ different methods in their production processes. Some turn over their sketches to an assistant, while others prefer to work with a dress form or a live model, draping and pinning the pieces to create a desired look.
In her journey on the show, Ayoung-Chee worked with a dress form, creating designs and then seeing them to fruition. That is, after all, the way that "Project Runway" works. But on one of the final challenges, Ayoung-Chee gained assistance from previously eliminated contestant Bert Keeter, who gave her pointers on how to create a sleeve the way she wanted. At this point, McKinley made a snarky remark about how she didn't even know how to make a sleeve, but she got the last laugh when her final collection of fashions inspired by her home country of Trinidad and Tobago impressed the judges, despite relatively simple designs.
A few years ago, a documentary chronicled the efforts of Season 1 winner Jay McCarroll to create his own fashion line. "Eleven Minutes" showed the painstaking and frustrating process of shepherding his Transit collection of transportation-inspired clothing from inspiration to realization in time for New York's spring 2007 Fashion Week. As the documentary showed, McCarroll's sewing skills mattered only for his own personal mock-ups of each look. In order to create the collection, he had to communicate his ideas clearly to a team of seamstresses who produced the real clothing.
By now, it shouldn't be a surprise to anyone that reality TV shows employ methods that build drama but don't necessarily relate to everyday reality. There have been fashion-design shows where the designers got to use a seamstress, but those have been short-lived. It's much more impressive, and dramatic, to watch the designers struggle to complete their ambitious designs themselves. It's even more impressive when they work with a material or attempt a type of work they've never used before, and then succeed.
And that's precisely what Ayoung-Chee did, all season long. In multiple group challenges, she proved herself capable of working with teammates to communicate her vision, and despite her light experience, she went head-to-head with her competition and won. Her victory was not just good television: it was an indication that she has the drive and vision to make it in the real fashion world.