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Should designers get paid for dressing up pageant candidates, celebrities?

By ALEX Y. VERGARA Published May 27, 2021 4:35 pm Updated May 27, 2021 5:21 pm

Almost two weeks after a new Miss Universe was crowned in Florida, controversy continues to swirl between Dubai-based Filipino designer Michael Cinco and certain personalities in the pageant world.

The irony of it all is it doesn’t involve the new winner, but an also-ran who failed to make it to the pageant’s first cut.

In a nutshell, Michael was tapped months ago by people from the Miss Universe Canada camp to make two gowns for their candidate Nova Stevens to wear to the pageant’s preliminary and coronation nights. But when the preliminary competition was finally staged, the statuesque beauty queen came out wearing a Brazilian designer’s gown instead.

A certain Miguel Martinez of Team Canada drew first blood on social media days after the contest, blaming Michael for Nova’s failure to land a spot in the pageant’s Top 21. Short of saying that Michael sabotaged Nova’s chances in the contest, he claimed that the designer didn’t send the gowns he made for her on time, and that when they finally arrived, none of them fitted the Canadian bet well.

Miguel also took Michael to task for dressing up one of Nova’s rivals in the contest. “He had time to custom-make a gown for another delegate who checked in with a custom-made Michael Cinco gown,” wrote Miguel. “Things don’t add up! Sadly!”

A day or two later, it was Micheal’s turn to go on social media to debunk Miguel’s accusations by posting pictures of an obviously happy Nova looking svelte in his two creations. He also went on to say that he has been dressing up Canadian delegates to Miss Universe for several years now for free.

Instead of thanking him, wrote Michael, “they’re trying to ruin me for the effort I’ve done [for them].” He also added that there’s no existing agreement between him and Team Canada that prevented him from dressing up other Miss Universe hopefuls.

What local designers say

In light of the ugly tit for tat, PhilSTAR L!fe asked several local designers for their take on the issue.

What motivates designers to loan out gowns despite the considerable expense and sometimes headache involved? When does a designer charge and when does he lend a piece? Do they have horror stories with stars, beauty queens and their styling teams when it comes to loaning out dresses?

As a fashion and costume designer, Eric Pineda deals with all sorts of people, including those involved in stage and TV productions, as well as denizens from the advertising world.

Occasionally, production people, including pageant scouts and contestants themselves, would borrow clothes from him for special events and photo shoots.

“My attitude has always been if you find anything in my stockroom, fine. But I have already forewarned them that I don’t have much simply because I hardly participate in fashion shows,” says Eric.

In other words, if you ask him to make a gown or costume specifically for you or even for someone else, that is already considered “commissioned work.” Be prepared to be charged accordingly.

As part of Carousel Productions, the outfit behind Miss Earth, Eric also straddles the pageant world not as a pageant impresario, but as a wardrobe consultant. In both local and international editions of the pageant, he says, there will always be girls who are in need of help with their official wardrobe.

“For Miss Earth, for instance, we always have one or two candidates who are experiencing problems either with their gowns or national costumes,” he continues. “This may be due simply to delays in shipping their garments from their respective countries. Due to these delays, some are even in need of outfits to wear for pre-pageant events. We do try to help out these girls as best as we can.”

As a wardrobe consultant, Eric and Carousel executives also seek out on occasion certain designers such as Lulu Tan-Gan, Dita Sandico-Ong and Mixy Dy, among others, to dress up the semifinalists.

“Whenever I negotiate with a designer or a designer’s organization, I represent Carousel/Miss Earth,” says Eric. “Everything is done in black and white.”

The letter, signed either by Carousel’s Lorraine Shuck or Peachy Veneracion, states in so many words that the transaction is an “exchange deal.” After going through the trouble of lending out their clothes, designers, who effectively double as sponsors, are assured of getting some form of “media value” through exposure in print, on TV and social media.

Cuentas claras (clear accounts),” Eric stresses. “Without meaning to offend stylists and pageant impresarios, the transaction is purely between Miss Earth and the designers involved.”

When Filipino-Canadian Noel Crisostomo decided to move back to the Philippines from Canada more than a decade ago, the designer was quite open to lending his clothes to certain A-list celebrities and beauty pageant aspirants.

But after experiencing, in his words, “unfortunate instances” involving certain stylists, Noel has now become more selective when it comes to loaning out clothes.

“I do get some form of publicity from celebrities posting pictures of themselves wearing my pieces,” he admits. “But it has become my unwritten rule to limit lending to a select few. I always end up choosing who I want to see wearing my clothes. If I’m in it just for the publicity, then I make sure that the wearer suits the brand’s image.”

Over the years, the bulk of the pieces he has loaned out have been used either for an editorial shoot or a special promo event. If he’s going to sponsor a high-profile celebrity, then the event—ranging from awards nights to gala fashion shows—should also offer a great deal of media mileage.

“Since I’m also a pageant fan, I’m open to lending clothes to candidates that I truly believe in and have a strong chance of winning,” he says. “But they also have to carry the brand well.”

Like Eric, Noel charges for custom-designed work whether or not you’re an A-lister or pageant frontrunner. “Unless it has been agreed from the start that I’m lending the dress for free, then it’s understood that they’re going to be charged for it,” he says.

Experience has also taught Noel to be more strict and methodical when it comes to dealing with pullouts.

“I’ve come across certain stylists who are oblivious when it comes to protocol,” he reveals. “Apart from late returns, some think nothing of returning damaged pieces, uncleaned and stained. But the one that really gets to me are those who return my clothes bundled in paper bags. Wrinkled and without the benefit of dry cleaning, the clothes looked as though they’re being sent out to the cleaners. It’s the height of disrespect!

For Dennis Lustico, everything all boils down to “relationships.” “I only lend out gowns or special outfits to people whom I have a relationship with,” says the designer. “They’re either good friends or clients of long standing. The last time I made a gown to be used in a beauty pageant, it was paid for.”

Apart from such exceptions, Dennis charges for every single made-to-measure piece that comes out of his Makati atelier. “Except during instances when I decide that that particular piece is to be given out as a gift because I owe the wearer a favor,” he shares.

To charge or not to charge?

With social media omnipresent in everyone’s lives, Dennis doesn’t dismiss the power of dressing up a popular personality to promote a designer’s brand.

To charge or not to charge? That’s entirely up to the designer, says Dennis. “My only advice to fellow designers is to protect themselves at every stage of the transaction. Documentation is important,” he adds.

After the fiasco involving Michael, Noel feels that it’s high time for designers to start charging. It’s only fair that they get paid, he says.

If you ask JC Buendia, he doesn’t lend dresses to be worn to events, including pageants, period. It’s not that he’s being stingy or detached from reality. He feels that doing so is simply “unfair.”

“I’ve only lent out clothes in the past for magazine editorials,” he says. “I don’t lend for events because I feel that it’s unfair not to me, but to my paying clients. As for pageant gowns, I don’t do them simply because they’re not my forte. It’s a different arena where everybody has an opinion. Nakakatakot, the thought alone scares me!”


Banner photos from Pinterest (Pia Wurtzbach), and Michael Cinco's Instagram account (Iris Mittenaere and Nova Stevens)