A week after the 69th edition of Miss Universe, the pageant continues to be part of the headlines in the country, unfortunately, not for a good reason. On May 22, 2021, Saturday, a revelation was made by MGMode Communications, the team behind Miss Universe Canada Nova Stevens, claiming that the creations by Filipino fashion designer Michael Cinco for the candidate arrived late and didn’t fit well.
“The truth [needs] to be told. The [gowns] [were] sent late by Michael’s team, and when [they] arrived none of them fitted! We were able to fix the one for the finals, but the one for prelims, we didn’t have time [for],” the PR firm commented on a now deleted post. “At the same time, they have time to custom-made a gown for another delegate who checked in with her custom-made Michael Cinco gown. Things don’t add up.”
The Dubai-based couturier didn’t take the claims lightly as he released a lengthy statement to defend his work and his team. In the said post, Michael called the PR team, led by Miguel Martinez, and the Canadian beauty queen “ungrateful, vile, and professional users.” He also mentioned that for three years that he has been dressing the country’s delegates, he has never received any form of payment, and that a simple “thank you” would suffice. He ended his statement by urging the team to “next time, don’t use Filipino designers” and just collaborate with Canadian designers instead.
Adding more fire are the stories released by the other Filipino fashion designers Jaggy Glarino and Rian Fernandez about working with the same team. While Miguel had already made a statement about his comment and Nova had expressed her apologies, the controversy has already produced online negativity and hate. Although what happened between Michael and Nova’s team is still unclear to us all, there is one thing we can be sure of, many aren’t educated on what happens behind the pageant, specifically, how the contestant’s wardrobe is constructed.
To give light on what happens behind-the-scenes, Manila Bulletin Lifestyle talks with fashion stylist Vhee Co. Dressing pageant contestants like Miss Universe 2018 Catriona Gray, Bb. Pilipinas Supranational 2018 Jehza Huelar, Miss Eco International 2020 first runner-up Kelly Day, among others, Vhee gives clarity to some concerns related to the issue such as designer dealings and if anyone is to be compensated in the process.
Is a stylish wardrobe necessary in pageants?
Having a stylish wardrobe is not really important in winning the crown. But for beauty queens who want to make a statement, they go the extra mile by hiring a glam team, especially for candidates competing in the international stage. The process is always different, but generally fashion stylists and designers work closely with the organization and the candidate. Some candidates hire the best people they could get, while others work with the people that supported them during their time in national competitions. Pageants have simple requirements when it comes to the wardrobe. They just require maybe to prepare a swimsuit, a dress, and casual pieces for daily events. But having, like, a statement arrival look and all isn’t part of their requirements. It is really up to the girls, how competitive they are, and what buzz they want to make.
Do fashion designers get paid for dressing candidates?
In my experience, we ask designers if they could collaborate with us. Some designers aren’t that capable to provide, that’s why some ask if the other expenses could be covered such as the fabric cost. But most of the time, they do it for free and they are willing to do it. More than the marketing, it is our pageant-loving culture that influences fashion professionals to extend help to candidates. Others even went beyond and created a number of dresses even though there is no assurance that the pieces are going to be worn. But if designers get paid or not, it really depends on their deal.
What are the things you find challenging and fulfilling in styling a candidate?
I never want to compromise my relationship with fashion designers. The hardest part is when the agreement isn’t made, and that is because of many things. Candidates, when they are already in the pageant, they too are also met with a lot of challenges. As much as people think that candidates are focused on what they will be wearing most of the time, the truth is that what they wear is only 10 percent of what is in their mind. Sometimes, planned looks aren’t followed. What I find fulfilling is when the designers are happy. I feel like somehow I helped them. Since they did it for free, you would want to make them happy.
Your name also appeared in the issue as one of Jaggy’s collaborators. For you, what do you think should be done in order to avoid conflicts between designers, handlers, stylists, and the candidate?
What happens in many cases is that people are only having verbal agreement. That’s the first problem. When dealing with this kind of thing, it is better to have a written agreement. So if cases like the dress not being the agreed design or if it got broken or if the designer should be paid, people would understand and know what needs to be done. Also, be careful with promises. When I deal with designers, I always set their expectations. Candidates always need options, so settling for one is not really good for them. Lastly, both sides should be transparent in the dealing process, from things like designer fees and requests to the candidates’ preference. To be honest, there are a lot of things we don’t see in the process, so many behind-the-scenes situations that even I, for three years of dressing candidates, still gets surprised.