Campus Features


Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo wasn't the only candidate rocking some Filipino-designed looks on the international beauty pageant.

/ 17 May 2021

The Miss Universe competition has always been an event of wild fanfare surrounding so many culturally-iconic moments, from Q&A discussions to varying top picks. But one portion that always gets the world talking is the national costume competition, where the 74 contestants walk down the runway with custom-made ensembles that embody the culture, collective mindset, and heritage of the countries each Miss Universe aspirant is representing.

On top of the usual celebrations we don on the pageant and this particular segment, another win to applaud are the contributions Filipino fashions designers gave, not only for our country’s candidate, but several others as well. From stunning sets to powerful statements, this year’s national costume show saw several contenders walking down the runway with ensembles that not only look good, but has something to say. Three of this year’s contestants achieved this with the help of some talented Filipino designers, two of which are students still.

Of course, on the list is Miss Universe Philippines Rabiya Mateo, who walked down the runway with a piece by the late avant-garde designer Rocky Gathercole, who unfortunately passed away in March 2021. The outfit she wore was heavily inspired by the Philippine flag, celebrating the colors blue and red with massive wings, and 3 gold stars to complete the look. Many Twitter users likened her costume to that of a Victoria’s Secret angel—one touched with a strong Filipino spirit.


The surprising Filipino contributions were for the national costumes of Miss Universe Singapore and Miss Universe Cameroon, who embodied the best of Filipino craftsmanship on stage.

For Miss Universe Singapore Bernadette Belle Ong, her statement piece on “Stop Asian Hate” was created and designed by a team of Filipino students in just two days. Fashion design student Arwin Meriales and artist Paulo Pilapil Espinosa were thanked by Ong on an Instagram post where she talked about the ensemble’s message against racism and prejudice, and the designer’s impressive show of talent and passion in juggling this piece, on top of his university exams.

Ong, who was born and raised in the Philippines and can speak fluent Tagalog, shared her appreciation for her team, despite the urgent time constraints: “Given the slim timeframe we had to get it sent from the Philippines to Singapore before I flew out to the US, I’d say this is a HUGE win for everyone! We got our message across loud and clear! Thanks for roaring back at us with love and praise!!!”


Miss Universe Cameroon Angele Kossinda also wore a piece by a Filipino fashion student for her national costume piece, debuting as her country’s first-ever representative in the competition. The costume was designed and made by Kennedy Gasper, an undergraduate currently studying as a Fashion and Textile Technology student at Central Luzon State University in Nueva Ecija.

The set was in the running to be this year’s winning costume, with its standout lion headdress and back piece, paired with a stunning beaded ensemble.


Veteran Filipino designers were also heavily featured at the evening gown portion, with show-stopping pieces by the likes of Michael Cinco, Rian Fernandez, Jian Lasala, and Furne One. Their designs were showcased by different Miss Universe candidates, who all showed tremendous appreciation for the talent and craftsmanship of the Filipino fashion community.

Undoubtedly, it’s not only through Rabiya Mateo’s beauty, brains and charisma that showed off the country’s inherent talent for showmanship and craft. Thanks to our Filipino designers, and especially to the fashion students who took in more responsibilities on top of their course work, the world was able to witness some of the best work in Filipino design through the globally-celebrated pageant. The future is surely bright for these students and the local fashion community as a whole.