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The story behind Miss Singapore’s powerful national costume by Filipino designer and artist

By Romina Celina Faylon Published May 15, 2021 11:36 am Updated May 15, 2021 11:54 am

Miss Universe Singapore’s performance in the national costume competition left pageant fans in awe of her all-powerful message to stop racism against Asians.

Inspired by Singapore’s national flag, it carried in bold, red and white letters the message “Stop Asian Hate” hand-painted on the cape of Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong’s costume.

Ong’s costume was made by a Filipino fashion designer Arwin Meriales with the help of artist Paulo Espinosa, who hand-painted the message on Ong’s cape. The two Pinoys are best friends and based in the Philippines.

Pinoy fashion designer Arwin Meliares with Miss Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong’s national costume. Photos courtesy of Meliares. 

Meriales told PhilSTAR L!fe that Ong decided to represent Singapore with a powerful costume and it was made within two days.

Ong messaged Meriales on Instagram out of the blue and introduced herself. “I saw your designs and thought it would be worth a shot to ask if you’d be keen to dress me for some looks during my time there” (in Florida for the Miss Universe tilt).

Meliares made Ong’s costume in two days.

Meliares replied, “I’m very honored that you’re choosing me.”

He told PhilSTAR Life, “Technically, we can’t come up with a detailed and grand costume within that period of time. Bernadette came up with a statement national costume combining a cause with her roots.”

Miss Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong. Photos from Ong’s Instagram account. 
“What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence! Thank you #MissUniverse.

Ong and Meriales combined their ideas to produce an impactful ensemble. The fashion designer says it’s “the most classy protest” he has ever seen.

Meriales expressed his excitement because the whole style was more than just showing aesthetics but also proclaiming a meaningful message—one that’s genuinely timely after the horrible incidents that have happened and continue to happen to fellow Asians, especially in western countries.

“It’s 101% important because Asians are around the world. We want to raise awareness that will help Asians live peacefully, without fear, wherever they are,” Meriales said.

Espinosa, who hand-painted and put on the cape’s text arts, said he felt the pressure while making the costume. He revealed that the cape was sent to him on the afternoon of April 25, and he needed to immediately bring the ensemble back to Meriales the following day.

Artist Paulo Espinosa hand-painted Ong's message on her cape.  Photos courtesy of Espinosa
A message to the world. 

“The catch—I have a day job until 11 p.m. So I did everything from 11 p.m. until around 4 a.m.,” Espinosa said.

As a big pageant fan, Espinosa described what he felt and how he cried a little after seeing Miss Singapore walking on the Miss Universe stage wearing the national costume he made. “It was really a memorable moment. Plus, the costume is a statement. It’s such an honor to use your art for a greater purpose.”

In an Instagram post, Miss Universe Singapore shared a photo of herself showing off the back of her costume with the caption: “What is this platform for if I can’t use it to send a strong message of resistance against prejudice and violence! Thank you #MissUniverse for giving me this opportunity!!!”

Ong messaged Meliares on Instagram after seeing his designs. 

The 69th Miss Universe coronation night is on May 17, 8 a.m. (Philippine time), at the Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood, Florida, United States.

Banner photos from Miss Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong’s Instagram