Why Filipinos Are Touched By The Unexpected Inspiration Behind Miss Universe Philippines’ Evening Gown

“It’s not just a gown.”

The annual Miss Universe competition is upon us!

On November 19, one of the biggest pageants in the world held its finale night at the José Adolfo Pineda Arena in San Salvador, El Salvador. Philippine representative Michelle Dee stunned viewers with her black dress in the evening gown portion.

It was made by famous Pinoy designer Mark Bumgarner and his team.

Netizens immediately voiced their love for the overall look on social media, calling it the “best evening gown.”

Though Michelle Dee did not make it to the final five, she left a mark on her fellow countrymen with her dress. The public soon found out that besides being a stunning piece of work, it also had a unique backstory.

It turned out to be inspired by the legendary Filipino tattoo artist Whang-Od.

A tribute to a legendary Filipina who has become an icon, preserving the rich cultural heritage of indigenous tattoo art. She has achieved global recognition and symbolizes timeless beauty, coinciding with Miss Universe lifting its age restrictions, championing inclusivity and challenging age stereotypes. A true icon and the last of her kind, a symbol of bravery, beauty, and inclusivity… Whang-Od. This evening gown draws inspiration from the icon, with every stitch crafted passionately and proudly dedicated to our country.

— Mark Bumgarner

Known far and wide for being the last mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattoo artist), Whang Od champions the art form that was passed down from generation to generation in her tribe.

The 106-year old tattoo artist is beloved for keeping this traditional Filipino art form alive as well as raising its recognition around the world.

According to fashion designer Mark Bumgarner, it was their intention to raise the Philippine flag through this Miss Universe garment, using Whang-Od’s art as a point for inspiration.

We wanted to show the world how vibrant our culture is, and I think we did. We wanted to showcase the pintados or the Filipino tattoo art to a level where it is not just a costume but could be elevated and applied to an elegant evening gown. We wanted to show the Universe our vibrant culture and world class fashion combined.

— Mark Bumgarner

As soon as this information went public, Filipinos posted their emotional responses to the well-thought out design. They said the tribute made it “even more meaningful,” adding that it is “not just some gown” but rather something that pays homage to a national treasure.

They loved how it is a modern way to preserve the Philippine’s cultural heritage on a worldwide stage.

Michelle Dee is the Miss Universe 2023 representative of the Philippines. She made it to the Top 10 among 84 country candidates, with Miss Nicaragua eventually taking the crown.

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