Some of the best gowns were worn by candidates who did NOT place in the Top 5.
If evening gowns were the sole criterion for giving away the crown to a single wannabe beauty queen among equally hungry and ambitious hopefuls, then the lives of beauty pageant judges would be much easier.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way in the often opaque world of beauty tilts where a candidate’s face, quick wit, figure and that undefinable and highly subjective X factor also come into play.
Take the recently concluded Miss Universe Philippines 2020 won by 23-year-old licensed physical therapist Rabiya Mateo of Iloilo City. Wearing a beaded, sleeveless and appliquéd crimson gown with a sheer cape by Jung Candelario, Rabiya, I’m sorry to say, didn’t top our list of the evening’s best dressed candidates for a number of reasons.
For one, there was too much going on in the gown, which in itself was fine had it perhaps been worn by a more mature woman. From where I sat, there was a disconnect between Rabiya’s styling, especially her long, bedhead tresses, and the heavily embellished number she was wearing.
Since Rabiya has narrow shoulders, it was probably the designer’s intent to draw attention away from them by incorporating a sheer cape to the entire look. Again, for a pretty young thing, such a distracting element is the last thing you need, as you try to draw attention to your face.
Stylist-turned-designer Monika Ravanera echoes our observation: “Disconnect is the right term. The fit is also a bit wanting, and that sheer cape nearly swamped her on stage. But I must say that the particular shade of red she chose flatters her skin tone.”
Jo Rubio’s unembellished and form-fitting terno for Davao City’s Alaiza Malinao was a masterstroke in counter-programming. She stood out from all the beads, glitter and shimmer.
“I have seen that kind of gown in countless pageants, big and small,” designer Noel Crisostomo chimes in. “Nothing special, really. The color is nice on her, though. But she has not changed her look. She’s been sporting the same hairstyle since the beginning of the pageant.”
But all our comments are now water under the bridge, as the young lady ran away with the coveted title. Well, she definitely clinched the crown not on the strength of her gown alone.
Billie Hakenson, the 26-year-old flight attendant from Cavite, seemed like she was constantly channeling Miss Universe Vietnam 2018 H’Hen Niê—from her short hair to her color choice. If you recall, H’Hen wore a flowing yellow dress, which exposed her long, runway legs, to the Miss Universe preliminary competition.
This time, Billie and her team went for a sheer, appliquéd gown with a thigh-high slit for the finals. For added visual impact, designer Louie Pangilinan fused the sheer material with a more solid yellow green fabric that draped part of the gown’s bodice and accentuated its skirt.
It was an ideal gown choice for the slim and almost androgynous-looking Billie. But Noel would have wanted to see the Caviteña lass, an out-and-proud bisexual, wearing an “edgier, more modern silhouette.”
As for 24-year-old Pauline Amelinckx, the half-Filipino, half-Belgian aspirant from Bohol, we all found her overall styling dated—from her high bun, “very Miss Universe Ukraine 2014,” says Monika, to her stiff royal blue duchess satin gown by Mikee Andrei.
“I like the fact that she went against the usual beauty pageant look by avoiding beads, glitter and shimmer,” says Monika. “But there seems to be something wrong with her gown’s bustline.”
Noel, a veteran designer, agrees. “There’s something amiss with the draping on her bust area,” he says. “I saw the same problem with her hot pink gown during the preliminaries. To be fair to her and her team, she looked regal and queenly in royal blue. But I would have liked to see Pauline in softer, more flowing pieces.”
Ysabella Ysmael, the regal 23-year-old ballerina and psychology major from Parañaque, also went for royal blue—a two-piece number by Dubai-based designer Furne One. But while the petite Bella only days ago looked statuesque in a nude column also by Furne during the preliminaries—a move that allowed her to clinch “Best in Long Gown” award—her gown choice for the finals had mixed results.
Because of the midriff top, which exposed part of Bella’s torso, Noel felt that the gown cut her unnecessarily, putting the focus instead on her high-waisted voluminous skirt. Alas, the visual anomaly in terms of proportion instantly ruined the illusion she so carefully created and succeeded in earning praise for just a couple of nights ago during the preliminaries.
Though looking regal in royal blue, Pauline Amelinckx’s overall styling looked dated—‘very Miss Universe Ukraine 2014,’ says a former stylist-turned-designer.
“It didn’t really help that her torso was visually cut,” says Noel. “It succeeded only in making her figure really short, which, in turn, looked disproportionate compared to her long legs, which were supported, I suppose, by chunky platforms. All I managed to see on TV was a huge skirt made of heavy fabric.”
Despite her diminutive size, Bella earned praise from both Noel and Monika for her elegant walk. All those years of hard work as a ballerina had paid off.
“She’s truly Margie Moran’s niece,” says Noel, referring to the country’s Miss Universe 1973, the undisputed queen of regal bearing. “I have to give it to her. She is the most poised among all the ladies on stage.”
“I love Bella’s styling,” adds Monika. “The low bun is modern and suited her face and image really well. I also like her gown’s neckline.”
Finally, after receiving both her share of praise and criticism for the goddess-inspired teal blue and beaded number by Noel Crisostomo, which she wore to the preliminaries, Michele Gumabao seemed to have finally gotten it right this time.
For the finals, the biggest and perhaps most important battle in the 28-year-old professional volleyball player’s life, Michele chose to wear a spaghetti-strapped sheer and partly beaded forest green number by Ezra Santos. But, unfortunately, her overall efforts fell short, as the former frontrunner only managed to place second runner-up.
We would have wanted to see Billie Hakenson—constantly channeling Miss Universe Vietnam 2018 H’Hen Niê— wearing an edgier, more modern silhouette.
“The gown suits Michele’s figure to a T,” says Monika. “The color also flatters her. She carried the gown well and not the other way around. I also love those details, especially the strategically placed beads and see-through parts,”
Noel also praised Michele’s gown for accentuating her curves. Because of her formidable build, the 5’10” athlete often looks big and heavy on stage. But in person, says Noel, her curves are in the right places. And her gown choice reaffirmed Noel’s observations.
“I also like the gown’s sheerness at the bottom,” he adds. “It makes the entire look lighter, considering that her gown is beaded.”
Finally, before this review comes to a close, I’d like to mention three girls, who, in my book, could have earned a place in the finals based on the strength of their respective gowns alone: Davao City’s Alaiza Malinao in an immaculate white terno by Jo Rubio; Biliran’s Skelly Ivy Florida in a form-fitting dress by Ben Leguiab; and Romblon’s Maria Fee Tajaran in a beaded gold number by Pablo Mendez.
It was all about shape for Skelly, and Ben made sure of that by creating a gown with beaded and embroidered gold patterns and lines that lead the eye in the right places. The entire look fits Skelly like a glove!
On the other hand, Maria Fee, another golden lady, wowed us for her beaded gown, a painstaking labor of love that translated well on TV.
Finally, whatever happened to everyone’s Inday, dear Alaiza? Tall, svelte and tanned, she was perfection in Rubio’s unembellished and form-fitting terno. When you know that almost every other girl would opt for either beads or shimmer, Alaiza’s gambit of going plain and native was a masterstroke in counter-programming. As a result, she stood out from the rest of the pack for all the right reasons.
Unfortunately for her, beauty pageants aren’t decided on the strength of one’s gown and runway skills alone. Had that been the case, Alaiza could have easily run away with the crown and made the socially distanced judges’ lives as easy and as refreshing as the cool Baguio winds blowing outside the event’s venue.