Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo is armed not with just one evening gown, but four when she steps on stage in the coming days in her ultimate mission to slay the competition.
And she has Dubai-based Filipino designer Furne One (pronounced as O-ne) of the fashion house Amato to thank for providing her with some of the weapons to help her complete her assignment to bring home the country’s fifth Miss Universe crown.
Pageant fans in the Philippines will see Rabiya wearing one of Furne’s creations in Hollywood, Florida on May 15, 7 a.m. (Philippine time), for the preliminary competition and May 17, 8 a.m., on coronation night. It’s important for Rabiya to make an impression on the judges in the preliminaries to be able land a spot as one of the 21 semifinalists, whose identities will be revealed two nights later.
Not a few observers believe that Rabiya will breeze through the series of cuts and make it to the Top 10, even the Top 5, on finals night. Only the Top 10 contestants will get a chance to strut their stuff on stage in their respective dresses.
“I actually created four gowns for Rabiya,” said Furne over Facebook messenger. “Jonas Gaffud and the whole MUP (Miss Universe Philippines) team will select two, which she will each wear for the preliminaries and finals.”
It was a team effort, Furne disclosed, since he and his team as well as the whole MUP team, including the design council had Albert Andrada and Rabiya, were all involved “in the process of making these masterpieces.”
“I’m so excited for all of you to see what we have been preparing for the longest time,” he continued.
“One of our main considerations for tapping Furne, apart from his global reputation as an excellent designer, is we want a seasoned talent with fresh perspectives,” said Albert. “Prior to this, Furne hasn’t created any gown for a Miss Universe candidate. Although creating a gown for the country’s beauty queen will always be challenging for any designer, we were confident that Furne would be up to the task.”
Furne, who also did the contestants’ swimsuits and sheer overlays during the local search for MUP last October in Baguio, buckled down to work a few weeks after Rabiya was crowned. It might seem like a long time ago, but because of the pandemic, he and his team also had to abide by certain protocols in Dubai.
“All those protocols and lockdowns somewhat restricted our movements and made our operations tighter, taking us more than five months to finish all the four dresses,” Furne shared.
Since they had a bit of time to spend, the most challenging part of the entire process is the distance between Dubai and Manila. Again, because of the pandemic, what used to be a routine eight-hour flight between the two cities has now become fraught with risks. In the end, they decided to just stay put in their respective corners of the world and just do everything long distance.
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“I wasn’t able to see Rabiya personally and was thus unable to fit the dresses on her prior to her departure for the US,” said Furne. “But, of course, if there’s a will, there’s a way. I’m happy to see, again through pictures, that the fitting of all four gowns, which she finally received early May, is perfect. I saw her wear each gown, and I’m ecstatic that they all worked really well on her.”
From one creative person to another, Jonas, MUP’s creative director, gave Furne the creative freedom to fashion Rabiya’s gowns. There were only two unwritten rules, of course, that the designer had to be mindful of: Rabiya’s personality and the Filipino culture.
“In short,” he said, “the gowns had to be a perfect marriage between Amato’s DNA and Rabiya’s core as a beauty queen. Her personality really played a big role when I was doing the concepts for her four gowns. I would love the world to see how vibrant and energetic this woman is. Whichever gown she chooses, I want each of them to scream these attributes: this is Rabiya and this is her story!”
When it comes to haute couture, fitting is everything. Otherwise, Rabiya would have been probably better off picking one of those fabulous off-the-rack dresses at Saks or even Rustan’s. Since designer and muse didn’t have the luxury to meet personally, technology played a big part in making the partnership work.
“We burned the lines, exchanged frequent direct messages and did countless Zoom calls,” Furne related. The designer took a leap of faith by finally sending the gowns directly to Florida where Rabiya and company were still doing last-meaning training several days before the start of the competion. From there, they continued meeting virtually over Zoom to discuss the merit of each dress and see how well they fit Rabiya. Everyone can now breathe a sigh of relief, as Furne shared with us that the four gowns fit the country’s bet like a glove.
“All four gowns have totally different cuts, silhouettes and colors,” said Furne, who declined to reveal anything more since he is still bound by secrecy. “I think the common denominator is each gown has a story the evokes patriotism.”
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Albert and Jonas also wanted a gown that would make Rabiya feel confident the minute she slips it on. And it looks like Furne, judging from how Rabiya reportedly loves her gowns, has been able to deliver.
“In addition to such considerations, we want her finals gown to draw certain inspirations from her native city, which Iloilo,” said Albert.
As the underlying message of each gown, it is also patriotism that guided Furne and his Amato team as well as MUP Inc., as they labored to make everything right.
“I’m afraid I won’t be able to fly to the US this time due to prior commitments,” Furne said. “But for sure, I will be cheering Rabiya and Team Philippines on from Dubai. We’re all bound to give our best, including, of course, Rabiya, for the love of the Philippines.”