Philippine bet Michelle Dee might not have won the crown but her atypical black evening gown in the Miss Universe 2023 semifinals has been earning conversations and praises.
The Philippine bet finished in the Top 10 of the pageant’s 72nd edition in El Salvador, which Nicaraguan bet Sheynnis Palacios won.
For the semifinals, Michelle showed off her black evening gown with detailed patterns which was a tribute to tattoo living legend Apo Whang-Od.
The gown was created by fashion designer Mark Bumgarner, who Michelle called her “friend” and a “designer of dreams.”
The Pinay said it is a “tribute to a legendary Filipina who has become an icon” in “preserving the rich cultural heritage of indigenous tattoo art.”
“She has achieved global recognition and symbolizes timeless beauty, coinciding with Miss Universe lifting its age restrictions, championing inclusivity and challenging age stereotypes,” Michelle said, referring to the respected tattoo artist.
She also described Whang-Od as “a true icon and the last of her kind,” adding that she is “a symbol of bravery, beauty and inclusivity.”
“This evening gown draws inspiration from the icon, with every stitch crafted passionately and proudly dedicated to our country,” the Philippine bet said.
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Unlike her mom and cousin who wore green at the final leg of the Miss International 1979 and Reina Hispanoamericana 2017 pageants, respectively, Michelle chose to don black at the Miss Universe 2023 finals.
Michelle also wore a black gown during the coronation of Miss Universe Philippines 2023, which Mark described as “an evening gown with restraint.”
The beauty queen previously said she wanted an “iconic masterpiece” that would bring out her best assets — “daring, elegant [and] fierce.”
Meanwhile, her Miss Universe 2023 evening gown was lauded by her fellow Filipinos who took note of the tribute to the esteemed “mambabatok.”
“No. It is not just some gown. It’s paying homage to national treasure. It’s representation. It’s history, culture, arts. It’s nationalism. It’s mad respect,” a user on the X (formerly Twitter) platform said.
No. It is not just some gown. It's paying homage to national treasure. It's representation. It's history, culture, arts. It's nationalism. It's mad respect. 🇵🇭🖤 #MichelleMarquezDee #MichelleDee pic.twitter.com/nC8hpF1iZC
— Tonee Tiu (@itsthonie) November 19, 2023
“WHEN MICHELLE DEE SAID SHE WILL ALWAYS INCLUDE THE PHILIPPINES IN HER MISS UNIVERSE JOURNEY, SHE MEANT THAT. LOOK AT HER GOWN, PAYING HOMAGE TO APO WHANG OD. Tears,” another user exclaimed.
“Next to Catriona Gray’s Lava Gown, this is my second favourite evening gown worn by a Miss Philippines on the Miss Universe stage. Talk about having deep meaning and story in a well-executed way. I CANNOT MOVE ON FROM THIS EXQUISITE MASTERPIECE,” a different Pinoy commented.
“Thank you, @michellemdee, for this stunning gown. For giving respect to our own national artist. [On] behalf of the Cordilleran region, thank you for honoring Apo Whang-od. Mahal ka namin… You did a good fight, a true warrior,” another user wrote.
Lawyer Emil Marañon also took note of how Michelle’s evening gown “continued” her “snake-inspired performances and fashion choices.”
“MMD’s gown’s pattern is called ‘tinulipao’ (snakeskin), which is a tattoo design worn by Kalinga women to protect them from malevolent spirits of their enemies and also, to honor and link them to their ancestors,” he wrote, sharing a picture of the tattoo pattern he talked about.
Continuing her snake-inspired performances and fashion choices, MMD’s gown’s pattern is called “tinulipao” (snakeskin) which is a tattoo design worn by Kalinga women to protect them from malevolent spirits of their enemies and also to honor and link them to their ancestors. pic.twitter.com/UY5KoE9zdY
— Emil (@13thFool) November 19, 2023
Whang-Od is the oldest-living “mamabatok” in the country from Kalinga, who, summoned by host communities, would travel to far and neighboring villages to imprint the sacred symbols of their ancestors on individuals who have crossed or are about to cross a threshold in their lives.
She has been hand-tapping tattoos since she was a teenager and was mentored by her father.
Whang-Od is the first and only female “mambabatok” of her time.