The Miss Universe National Costume competition is one of the most anticipated segments of the pageant’s preliminaries. Over the years, it has become a venue for each candidate and their respective fashion designers and creatives to display out-of-the-box but wearable works of culture and art that are distinct to each home country. Remember Miss Myanmar's puppet show piece back in 2016? or Miss Malaysia's grand botancial carousel ensemble in 2019? The NatCos competition has become a must-watch for both pageant fans and casual viewers for jaw-dropping reveals and entertaining iterations of each country’s national garb.
Because of the pandemic, you can say that more people have time to tune in to the Miss Universe preliminaries. Filipinos being social media obsessed, were 200% in tuned in and were highly anticipating Rabiya Mateo’s costume. The late Rocky Gathercole, who sadly passed away at the start of 2021, was in charge of creating the outfit. His vision was of a winged goddess representing the Philippine flag in a feather-adorned frock with a massive train and a sunray head piece. The problem is, the costume he had in mind was never finished because of his untimely death.
So when Rabiya stepped out on the Miss Universe runway in a costume with no headdress nor train in sight, coupled with the commentator’s remarks saying it was a depiction of the Philippine flag, many netizens asked, “But where is the sun?”, “How is that the Philippine flag without the sun?”
What ensued was a bombardment of comments filled with disappointment from fellow Filipinos, pageant fans, and the like who thought the look “wasn’t enough” or could have been better. The negativity reached Rabiya and she went on to Instagram live to air out her grievances. It resulted in the beauty queen tearing up because of the overwhelming responses and the pressure to perform well.
“People don’t know the hard work and stress that goes on backstage,” Rain Dagala, Rabiya’s stylist, tells Preview. In this exclusive interview, the celebrity stylist opens up about all the controversies that have suddenly popped up because of the feathered frock.
“When I came into the picture, the costume was about 85% done [before Rocky passed]. Then Albert Andrada stepped in because he’s in charge of the fashion for Miss Universe Philippines. We tweaked and edited what we could, but we wanted to honor Rocky’s vision,” Rain shares.
The original design had a headdress included, but the Miss Universe Philippines board headed by Albert Andrada decided that another head piece should be made to match the extravagance of the dress. That’s when jewelry designer Manny Halasan came in to create a gorgeous headpiece for the look. The problem was, none of them anticipated the dress’ total weight.
“Nung sinukat ni Rabiya yung costume niya [for the preliminaries], sabi niya, ‘Hindi ko kaya ilakad 'to. Gusto ko siyang ilaban pero hindi ko kaya.’ At that point, yung skirt naging 20 kilos na from 15 kilos [because of the embellishments and beading]. Tapos yung wings naging 21-25 kilos na siya, tapos yung head piece ni Manny 15 kilos—ang bigat din. So we had to choose comfort.”
To do some quick math, if Rabiya wore the entire look as planned, it would have weighed a whopping 60 kilos or 132 pounds. That would be as if Rabiya was carrying Kelsey Merritt on her back with a few extra dumbbells in tow. It just didn’t seem practical, and the chances of her tripping or greatly injuring herself if she went off balance would be dangerous.
So last minute, with the fear of not being able to walk or give justice to the look on the catwalk, Rabiya made a decision to cut the train. “It dawned on her na sobrang bigat nung dress,” Rain shares. At that point, Rabiya had come straight from grueling interviews for the competition and had no time to even change her hair and makeup. “She even cut the train herself kaya nasugatan siya! Totoo yung sinabi niya sa Instagram live niya na nasugatan siya. If you look closely sa stockings niya may mga blood stains pa yun.”
“Overall okay naman yung feedback. Parang 70% good and then 30% bad. But the 30% was SO BAD. Kaya siguro siya nag Instagram Live at kaya siya naiyak, because she just went through something so difficult to satisfy people pero parang nagkulang parin.”
Rain also received a lot of backlash for the look. But despite being used to negative comments being hurled at him, it was still difficult to stomach it. “Medyo na hurt ako, kasi I know what happened backstage. At alam ko na Rabiya tried. She wanted to respect what needed to be respected [when it came to the designer’s vision]. Pero in the end we had to go with comfort.
“And I feel like she gave it justice. Sino ba makakahalata na mabigat yung dinadala niya? Hindi naman obvious. In the end it was really a choice between her comfort versus the design aesthetics.”
If you’re wondering why the outfit was never revised to lessen its weight, it boiled down to honoring the late Rocky’s final work. “It was so difficult for us to edit it because the designer passed away. And, of course, we had to push through [with Rocky’s vision] because may word of honor tayo doon,” the stylist points out. Even during the first and only fitting before flying out to the US, Rabiya wanted to wear it and muster the strength and endurance to flaunt the complete outfit come competition day.
In the end, the edited ensemble sort of made one of Rabiya’s fantasies come true: a chance to be a Victoria’s Secret Angel for a day. True enough, the beauty queen channeled a glowing VS Angel as she strutted down the runway in her red and blue wings and custom platform Nereku heels. She even drew a heart in the air and blew a kiss like a true Victoria’s Secret model!
“This was the only part of the competition that she took hold of the decision and had the final say for what to wear. So she was very emotional during her Instagram Live because it was a very personal wish and she was proud of it. But the feedback wasn’t what we all expected,” Rain says.
But despite the hate, Rabiya has her chin up high for the next round of the competition. “Mother, okay na ako. Naipon lang talaga. Bukas, lalaban ulit tayo,” was what Rabiya texted Rain after her emotional Instagram Live. Now, that’s what you call grace (and beauty) under pressure! We’re wishing you all the best, Rabiya!
READ MORE STORIES ON MISS UNIVERSE 2020 HERE:
- • 10 Things You Need To Know About Rabiya Mateo
- • Here's How This Local Shoe Brand Became Miss Universe 2020's Official Footwear
- • Rabiya Mateo Reveals She'll be Wearing Pia Wurtzbach's Earrings to Miss Universe 2020
- • Rabiya Mateo's Miss Universe Wardrobe Will Showcase More Than 100 Designers
- • All the Details of Rabiya Mateo's Stunning Philippine Flag-Inspired Gown
- • Rabiya Mateo Looks Stunning Without Makeup and Here's Proof
- • Rabiya Mateo Wore a Sexy Slip Dress Inspired by Philippine Gold
- • Here's a Glimpse of Rabiya Mateo's Signature Pageant Walk "Halabira"
- • Rabiya Mateo Wore a Gorgeous Sheer Dress Inspired by the Barong Tagalog
- • Rabiya Mateo Fell Into A Pool During A Miss Universe Photoshoot And Handled It Like A Total Pro
- • All the Most Jaw-Dropping National Costumes from Miss Universe 2020
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This story originally appeared on Preview.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Candymag.com editors.