Those curves have been revealed only to be covered later in flowing sheath dresses that evoked glamor, elegance and high fashion. As the first pandemic edition of Miss Universe inches closer to coronation night (Monday morning in the Philippines), the world was given a recent preview of the delegates in swimsuits and evening gowns that separated the girls from the ladies in the make-or-break preliminary competition.
Who are the top three delegates who stood out in their respective evening gowns? Perhaps the bigger question is, how did Philippine bet Rabiya Mateo, in her partly beaded canary yellow number by Furne One, fared versus the competition? PhilSTAR L!fe asked several leading local designers and stylists on their take.
“Medyo napagod ako sa Catriona variants—high slits, wavy beadwork patterns,” says designer JC Buendia.
Nevertheless, several girls stood out in Buendia’s book. “The ones who I thought carried their gowns with confidence and looked good on stage were led by Venezuela as a modern day Disney princess,” he said.
Vietnam, in her flowing chiffon gown, also caught Buendia’s attention. Range against all those beadwork and strategic reveals, her overall look, the designer added, “was a breath of fresh air, as she glided with ease” on the runway.
“Finally, Albania was sylph-like in her gown,” Buendia said. “I guess because she was the first to come out, she had that Bond-girl confidence in her.”
Although Rabiya didn’t make the cut in Buendia’s top three, he cited the dusky beauty and her gown for its color and impeccable fit.
“Yellow was a pleasant surprise and a brave choice after we’ve seen all those reds, blues and silvers,” he continued. “Rabiya’s train could have been done a bit lighter though, but overall, it was a beautiful dress that didn’t disappoint.”
In designer Noel Crisostomo’s book, Jamaica, Thailand, Puerto Rico and the Philippines stood out.
“Jamaica tops my list,” he declared. “The gown was arguably not the best, but she carried it so well. I also love the cutout on top, which tastefully showed some skin. She walked with grace and elegance, the rose pink shade flattering her dark skin tone.”
“Thailand’s gown is impeccable, modern, and fits like a glove,” Crisostomo added. It also reminded him of some of French designer Thierry Mugler’s best works. “I also love her bare midriff, the gown’s flawless beadwork and those little shoulder pads. Its designer really knew how to highlight the beauty queen’s best assets.”
He cited Puerto Rico, who effortlessly glided on stage like a Grecian goddess in an electric-pleated pickle green number, for her “refreshing” choice in a stage already awash in bling, sheer and beads.
“I also love the gown’s lightness, sunburst pleats, and movement,” said Crisostomo. “Because of the right amount of bling and shine, she looked younger and fresher.”
Finally, Crisostomo also cited Rabiya’s yellow number for its 60s “couture vibe.” By choosing to wear canary yellow, she also stood out in a sea of white, silver, and gold dresses.
“I also love the train in the back, which was giving me a Cristobal Balenciaga vibe,” said Crisostomo. “The ombre beadwork of yellow to white is also outstanding. She’s fourth on my list.”
Crisostomo’s only quibble with Rabiya’s overall look was it tended to make her look a tad older. Who knows, he surmised, perhaps it was really her team’s intention.
“But the look could have benefitted with a touch of lightness,” he concluded. “The back was a bit high. It would have looked sexier had it been cut lower.”
Stylist-turned-designer Monika Ravanera was also drawn to Puerto Rico’s look. Rounding out her top five choices are Philippines, Dominican Republic, France, and India.
“Puerto Rico gave me the goddess feels in her pleated, flowy and playful look in a tricky shade of green,” she said. “Rabiya’s color choice also complemented her skin. The gown’s cape, not the usual flowing cape we see, gave it added drama.”
She cited Dominican Republic for her gown’s “airy vibe, abstract details and those straps,” while France made it to Ravanera's book in a dramatic gray gown with oversized sleeves that she carried with confidence. Finally, she cited India’s “queenly styling” for her beaded gown that showed just the right amount of skin and shine.
Designer Luis “Chito” de los Santos was wowed by France, Canada, and Puerto Rico. Bubbling under his top three choices are India, Jamaica and Curaçao.
“France wore a gown with voluminous sleeves that would have swamped most girls, but she carried it with aplomb. Like it was the most natural, ordinary thing in the world,” he said.
“Canada, who already commands attention because of her height, chose the right gown, an elegant pale pink number that had just the right details,” De los Santos added.
Fashion watchers have already seen a gazillion times the type of gown Puerto Rico wore, but kudos to her for being able to give it a fresh take. “It was a classic Grecian number that looked beautiful on her. She looked all woman,” he said.
Although De los Santos liked Rabiya’s gown, he found the look a bit dated—as in 20 years too late.
“If that gown debuted during Lara Dutta’s time (Miss Universe 2000), it would have been bongga,” he opined. “Sunny yellow worked for Ariella Arida, but for Rabiya, I would have loved to see her in more neutral colors like silver or gold done in sheer fabric. It would have made her taller. I also wished she wore her hair up. It would have been a better look for the gown she chose to wear.”
Finally, designer Eric Pineda gave Puerto Rico, Singapore, and Venezuela high marks. “The green metallic gown worked for Puerto Rico,” he said. “She carried it with such ease. It’s the type of gown that would draw your attention, but not for one minute did she allow it to upstage her.”
Amidst a procession of fitted, slinky and sheer dresses, Sinagpore, in an old rose corset made more interesting because of its origami-inspired details, dared to look different.
And as for Venezuela, a white, strawberry blond beauty, drawing from the country’s classic lookbook—red gowns for blond Caucasian girls and white gown for their dusky, dark-haired sisters—earned Pineda’s praise. “The shade of red she wore worked for this Latina,” he said. “The gown also looked queenly and wasn’t too revealing.”
“As for Rabiya, is her choice of color a political statement,” Eric deadpanned. “But kidding aside, the overall look is elegant. The tone-on-tone beadwork didn’t upstage her face, which is, after all, Rabiya’s best asset.”
Photos from ©IMG Universe LLC/BENJAMIN ASKINAS