The dress: An eternal bone of contention
By Iris Edén Santiago
Special to The STAR
Grace, style, poise. Time after time, Puerto Rican contestants score high and make us proud with outstanding performances in beauty pageants all over the world. And this year was no different.
Michelle Marie Colón, Miss Universe Puerto Rico 2021, made islanders very proud. From the moment she made the first cut to her captivating swimsuit catwalk, the sophisticated girl from Loíza was perfection. Beauty, intelligence, charisma and confidence. She has it all.
So what happened? Why didn’t she advance in the 70th anniversary of the Miss Universe competition?
According to missiologists and thousands of comments in social media, there is one offender: The Dress. That all important, final and iconic part of pageantry, where candidates have but seconds to wow the audience with one dress and convince judges why they should win that crown … didn’t work for Puerto Rico.
“The dress is highly important, crucial,” said local designer David Antonio. “It should be especially and carefully designed for the contestant. Not a last-minute impulse. It’s her once in a lifetime opportunity to shine.”
“The dress chosen by a candidate can make or break her,” he added. “It has the power to propel her forward or eliminate her.”
According to experts in the know, this part of the competition accounts for at least 25 percent of the overall score of a candidate.
Although not an easy task, some contestants have aced The Dress. And Puerto Rico has one spot in this exclusive club. Among the most memorable dresses in Miss Universe history, the Carlos Alberto creation worn by Puerto Rican Zuleyka Rivera. It is still celebrated. Her name appears at the top of every global list in news sites, fashion magazines and pageantry fan pages. The second she stepped out, everybody’s jaw dropped.
Joseph Da’ Ponte
“That is the effect you want to create,” said Joseph Da’ Ponte, president, Puerto Rico High Fashion Council. “The dress should be that memorable piece of clothing that helps a candidate project style, personality and stage control.”
Other dresses to remember include those worn by Catrina Gray (Philippines), Oxana Fedorova (Russia), Stefanía Fernández (Venezuela), Marta Magdalena Stepien (Canada), Lara Dutta (India), and Leila Lopes (Angola).
Colón wore a gray and mustard dress designed by Israeli designers Eli and Yehuda Biton.
Every local fashion designer interviewed feels the dress did not highlight her beauty. Also, that it should have been designed by a Puerto Rican designer. We agree. The island certainly has internationally known, highly talented and respected fashion designers with the experience, vision, elegance and technique to create the gown of any woman’s or contestant’s dreams.
“The dress definitely didn’t work for her,” said Lisa Thon, who doesn’t believe a dress helps a candidate win or lose. “It lacked the wow factor; wrong color, wrong neckline, short, ill-fitted and too heavy -- she could barely walk. She did her best with what she was given. But she didn’t look spectacular like when she won the local pageant.”
Fashion designer Emmanuel Acosta, who believes the dress is key to making it to the final five, added that “Colón’s choice wasn’t ugly: It just didn’t help project her personality, and prevented her from walking gracefully on stage.”
Regardless of the dress, Michelle (Marie Colón, Miss Universe Puerto Rico 2021) is a great candidate who deserved better luck, noted Sócrates McKinney, president and founder, Dominicana Moda.
“A dress for a queen should never compete with her, it cannot overshadow a candidate but rather must compliment her by strengthening her positives,” McKinney said. “Michelle has a strong presence on stage -- the exquisite and romantic lilac dress (worn in the preliminary competition) created a balance between her fierce side and her angelic nature. The dress (she wore the night of the final pageant) failed to achieve that equilibrium.”
For fashion designer Reynaldo José, the Israelí creation looked “withered,”gloomy, “it didn’t mirror her beautiful skin tone or help her body type, and the silhouette didn’t allow for the splendid catwalk she has us used to.”
Respected fashion designer José Raúl agrees with McKinney. He noted he too would’ve preferred Colón wore the lilac dress designed by Puerto Rican designer Valdy, which “was heaven on her skin.”
Despite the dress she wore in the final competition, José Raúl said the Puerto Rican candidate should’ve been in the top five. Designer Miriam Budet agrees that “the dress was beautiful, (but was the) wrong color because it disappeared into the background. … But she has a strong presence. She belonged with the final five contestants.”
“This is not the time to look for culprits, we will never know the truth behind her elimination,” McKinney concluded. “(Candidates) with worse dresses have conquered the coveted crown.”