With charity at the heart of the Miss Universe pageant, it was but fitting that the highlight of its court’s visit was a glamorous runway-show-for-a-cause.
Staged at the Grand Ballroom of Solaire Resort and Casino on December 7, the most confidently beautiful women of the galaxy stunned a benevolent crowd of admirers in a fashion presentation that also spotlighted the talent of the Philippines’ most noted designers. Most importantly, their beautiful work of love resulted in a brighter future for the less fortunate children of Hope4Change Foundation’s scholarship fund.
Titled “Give Back A Charity Fashion Gala,” it was truly a sight to behold three consecutive Miss Universe queens—the Philippines’ very own Pia Wurtzbach (2015), France’s Iris Mittenaere (2016), and the reigning title holder Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters of South Africa—share a single stage for the first time, in gowns designed no less by Filipinos.
Very touchingly too, beauty queens shared the spotlight in the grand finale with the very children their appearance will help—young girls from the foundation whom they undoubtedly inspire and empower to be confidently beautiful like them.
Wurtzbach sashayed the ramp in a fitting white bustier gown by Francis Libiran. Mittenaere lit the walkway with a flowing bustier white gown with silver accents by Albert Andrada. While the reigning Miss Universe, Nel-Peters, was queenly with silvery white gown with flowing cape by Rajo Laurel.
Of course, not to be left out from the fashion-for-a-cause were the international beauties who joined Nel-Peters and Mittenaere as part of Miss Universe Organization’s (MUO) Philippine visit under the Department of Tourism’s “Bring Home A Friend” campaign.
All candidates of the grand coronation night in Las Vegas on November 26, this bevy of beauties were only too willing to participate in a worthy cause during their jampacked four-day visit.
Miss Canada Lauren Howe wore a fuschia pink with large red lobster design by Noel Crisostomo. Miss China Roxette Qui was fierce in a bright pink Rocky Gathercole creation. Miss Great Britain Anna Burdzy came out with a purple dress with flowing trail by Ito Curata. Miss India Shraddha Shashidhar in feathery silver-accented flowing gown by Michael Leyva. Miss Italy Maria Miriam Polverino in wooly long-sleeved white gown by Frederick Peralta. Miss Korea Cho Se Whee wore a sparkling red long-sleeved gown by Edwin Uy. Miss Malaysia Samantha Katie James in purple bustier with intricate front design by Mak Tumang. Miss Netherlands in blue with three strap sleeves by Odelon Simpao. Miss Russia Alexandrova Kseniya in glittery blue by Cherry Veric. Miss Philippines Rachel Peters in black with silver accent by Val Taguba. Miss Singapore in red closed neck cheongsam-inspired gown by Mikee Andrei. Miss Spain in maroon gown with cape by Patty Ang. Miss USA in flowing red showing right leg gown by Mark Bumgarner.
Eight PH queens
Another first for this landmark fashion show was the participation of Binibining Pilipinas-Universe titleholders for the past eight years.
To start with, Bianca Manalo (2009) emerged in a glittering white bustier gown by Mark Bumgarner.
Maria Venus Raj (2010), who broke the curse of non-placement of Filipino beauties in the finals since Miriam Quiambao’s First Runner-Up placement in 1999, emerged in a flowing red gown by Jot Losa. During her Miss Universe stint, she placed fourth runner-up to Mexico’s Ximena Navarette in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.
Shamcey Supsup (2011), who placed Third Runner-Up to Angola’s Leila Lopes held in Sao Paulo, Brazil, also wore a white sparkling gown by Mark Bumgarner.
Miss Universe 2013 Third Runner-Up Ariella Arida—the year Gabriela Isler of Venezuela won the crown in Moscow, Russia—enchanted in a feathery cream-colored creation by Rosenthal Tee.
Mary Jane Lastimosa (2014) who finished in the Top 10 in Miami, Florida, USA, wore a sparkling blue gown over an inner dress by Aries Pico. Paulina Vega of Colombia won the grand title when Lastimosa vied for the crown three years ago.
Of course, Maxine Medina who competed for the 2016 Miss Universe crown right here in Manila was ever present at the fashion show, wearing her favorite designer Rhet Eala’s light pink gown.
Missing from the Binibining Pilipinas-Universe queens was Janine Tugonon, who placed First Runner-Up to USA’s Olivia Culpo in 2012 in Las Vegas. She is currently based in New York and pursuing a full-time modeling career.
Meanwhile, to show not just the talent of Filipino designers for women’s wear, Barge Ramos had a special participation in the fashion presentation with his latest Barong Tagalog collection. The pieces were worn by Mr. Philippines winners, led by Manhunt International 2012 titleholder June Macasaet.
Night of gratitude
In her speech before the runway dazzled with the world’s most beautiful women, Miss Universe Organization president Paula Shugart expressed her deep gratitude for the individuals and groups responsible for inviting Nel-Peters, Mittenaere and the other 2017 candidates to the Philippines.
As The Manila Times Entertainment reported on its December 8, 2017 issue ["Meet the man responsible for bringing Miss U beauties to PH,” Page 8D], it was Raymond “RS” Francisco—a noted stage actor and chief executive officer of multi-level marketing company Front Row Philippines—who extended the invitation to the MUO to visit the Philippines, after immensely enjoying his first experience watching the pageant in Las Vegas.
Francisco had repeatedly thanked Shugart and the rest of her team for bringing the beauties to the Philippines, as he did again on the night of the fashion show, but the gracious American executive insisted the tables should be turned.
“I disagree [t[that MUO should receive the credit for this visit] acknowledging Francisco. “In fact, the Philippines taught me how to be truly confidently beautiful.”
Shugart told The Manila Times the previous night that it’s the first time in the history of Miss Universe that three consecutive winners were together in an endeavor. She also explained how in her many years as head of MUO, the 2016 staging of the Miss Universe pageant in Manila in January was the “best show” she has seen. Former MUO owner and now US President Donald Trump appointed Shugart to her post as far back as 2001.
“It’s the people that makes the Philippine experience warmer,” she continued as she offered her profuse thanks.
As producer of Give Back A Charity Fashion Gala, Francisco immediately donated $100,000 to the Hope4Change Foundation, the MUO’s chosen charity in the Philippines, which provides scholarship to underprivileged children.
And with the success of the once-in-a-lifetime fashion event, he has further pledged $100,000 to the cause, to the grateful astonishment of Hope4Change director for the Philippines Paul Grimsland.
In a conversation with The Sunday Times Magazine after the fashion show, Grimsland eagerly shared how the foundation has been actively involved in charity and relief work in the Philippines since 1990.
“Hope4Change is based in the US, but in the Philippines, our primary focus is education for students in elementary through college who are impoverished,” he imparted, adding how Hope4Change is proud of a handful of college graduates they supported and now gainfully employed.
Also present during the charity-cum-fashion show was Binibining Pilipinas Charities, Inc. (BPCI) chairman Stella Marquez-Araneta who was just as proud of the Bininibi queens, as well as Miss Grand International 2017 Second Runner-Up Elizabeth Clenci.
Staged at the Grand Ballroom of Solaire Resort and Casino, the Give Back A Charity Fashion Gala had Binibining Pilipinas-Intercontinental 2015 Christi McGarry as host, and “The Voice of the Philippines Season 2” winner Jason Dy serenading the ladies.
COVER PHOTO COURTESY OF FRONTROW