Miss Philippines Pia Alonzo Wurtzbach reacts as she was announced as the new Miss Universe at the Miss Universe pageant on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Las Vegas. Miss Colombia Ariadna Gutierrez was incorrectly named as Miss Universe before her crown was taken away. AP PHOTO
Must our beauty queens wear fabulous, Filipino-designed gowns to help them win a global tilt?
After waiting for 42 years, have Pinoy “beau-con” fans finally proven a point with Pia Wurtzbach’s victory?
For the first time in more than two decades, the Philippine bet to the world’s most watched beauty pageant wore a long dress or a gown by a Filipino designer—a lovely, form-fitting royal blue silk gazaar by Albert Andrada.
Many are again saying that her gown made her stand out and played a huge role in her victory.
In previous years, the country’s Miss Universe hopefuls wore gowns either designed by Colombian Alfredo Barraza or bought off-the-rack in the United States.
The issue exploded early this year when people behind the Binibining Pilipinas Charities Inc. (BPCI) were bashed online and received hate mail after then Philippine bet MJ Lastimosa failed to crack the Top 5, the first time it happened in five years.
Netizens pinned the blame on Lastimosa’s tight, fully beaded serpentina designed by Barraza. They said it made her look shorter and a tad pudgy.
In previous years, fans were also unhappy with Venus Raj’s flowing silver gown, which they found too loose, and Tugonon’s ice blue gown, which they said hid, instead of showed, her toned figure. Barraza also designed both dresses.
It must be said that before the foreign designers took over, the pageant tapped Filipino designers—an exercise that also had its share of controversies and intrigues.
Inquirer Lifestyle asked Filipino designers what they think —if our bets should wear locally made gowns to pageant night.
Their answer is a resounding yes: Nobody knows the needs of a Filipino beauty queen better than a seasoned Filipino designer.
“A made-to-measure gown is very important for beauty contests,” said James Reyes. “It should fit well, move well and frame the face well. Missing a fraction of an inch on the fit or proportion would spell disaster.”
Jojie Lloren noted: “A well-designed and -executed gown can instantly highlight a woman’s physical assets while at the same time hide or downplay her body’s flaws.”
Eric Pineda, who dresses Miss Earth contestants, said that Andrada’s gown—from its color, fabric to shape—contributed to Wurtzbach’s “regal posture.”
“I appreciated the fact that Albert kept the front panel simple so as not to upstage Pia’s face,” he said. “The gown was actually modest. He astutely placed couture details at the back. That takes both humility and confidence.”
Timing and astute planning also worked in Wurtzbach and Andrada’s favor, said Rajo Laurel.
“The wearer needs to be confident and comfortable in the gown,” he said. “Pia was all that. Albert’s gown became visually more memorable and captivating because it stood out in a sea of neutrals, reds and golds. Pia ended up looking more stunning and different in a good way.”
Said Randy Ortiz: “Pia and Albert complemented each other. The collaboration turned magical on stage. It also helped that Pia is a professional model.”
She gave justice to Andrada’s design by displaying “effortless sophistication and elan,” which everyone saw and appreciated, Ortiz added.
Noel Crisostomo was already in awe when he saw Wurtzbach walk in Oliver Tolentino’s red crepe de chine gown during preliminaries, but things still got much better in the finals when she glided onstage in an Andrada.
“The royal blue gown Albert made for Pia was exceptional,” he said. “The drama at the back was new and different. It definitely made an impact on both judges and audience.”
There’s a reason Miss Universe has chosen to make the evening gown competition the penultimate challenge before a delegate hurdles the make-or-break final question.
Miss Universe is still a beauty contest, said Rhett Eala. The gown portion allows audiences to get a closer look at contestants. At the same time, it gives contestants a crucial opportunity to win over more judges.
“The evening gown event is a true test of grace and poise under pressure,” Eala added. “Can a girl pull it off or not? A great deal rests on her choice of gown.”
Wurtzbach’s case wasn’t unprecedented.
Margarita Moran wore a white Auggie Cordero embellished with his trademark cabbage rose in 1973, while Gloria Diaz chose a Pitoy Moreno sleeveless empire-cut in 1969. Both won Miss Universe.
What makes the collaboration between Filipino beauty queens and designers click on the global stage?
“Filipinos are already exposed at an early age to beauty pageants,” said Dennis Lustico. “It has been part of our culture. Such exposure helps both future beauty queens and designers.”
Filipino designers also put a lot of passion in their work, said Crisostomo. In Wurtzbach’s case, this passion was fueled by the fact that the country hadn’t won Miss Universe—hands down, to Filipinos, the biggest and most prestigious beauty pageant—for 42 years.
Our fashion designers were as hungry for the crown as its beauty queens.
Crisostomo said, “Whoever is tasked to make Miss Philippines’ gown would give it his all compared to someone from another country.”
“There’s something more connected and involved when you design for your countrymen,” said Laurel. “You have this emotional bond that propels you to give your all because of the relationship. To us, it’s not just any other gown, but something really important and in most cases life-changing.”
Introduced by the Inquirer sometime ago—Pia is a contributing writer/stylist/model for the Lifestyle section—Andrada and Wurtzbach are used to collaborations.
Even if his design was approved by Stella Marquez-Araneta, BPCI chair, on Dec. 9, or just 11 days before the finals, Wurtzbach was free to choose the design, including her favorite color.
The development “emphasizes how talented Filipino designers are,” said Reyes. “You can see the love and care put into Pia’s gowns. I think the world also saw that, because Pia was just oozing with confidence. She looked proud and happy wearing them.”
Dubai-based Michael Cinco said: “We can’t deny that Pia looked stunning in Albert’s gown. But I think Pia’s best assets were her faith and her confidence. She was oozing with sex appeal and class. She was so fierce and determined to win the title.”
The designers hope that this fashion coup would bring back the glory days when the best talents in fashion brought honor to the country not only by making Filipino beauty queens shine, but also giving the world a glimpse of the country’s rich and diverse design tradition.
All of them consider it an honor and a privilege to dress the country’s beauty queens on the global stage.
“It’s like preparing for battle,” said Reyes. “You bring out the big guns to win.”
But dressing up a beauty queen, even if she wins the crown, shouldn’t be considered a career highlight, said Lustico.
Laurel disagreed: “This would have been a career highlight for me. I have been watching Miss Universe since I was four. I’m a huge fan!”