Like a living piece of art filled with stories, Michelle Dee’s Miss Universe 2023 finals evening gown was a poetic homage to the traditional artistry of Filipino tattooing, each swirl and curve an ode to a vibrant cultural heritage
With each passing year, the Miss Universe evening gown segment becomes a backdrop for heightened anticipation, and in this edition, Michelle Dee unfurled a fashion spectacle that may as well stand as one of the pageant’s most iconic moments. The culmination of her journey was unquestionably a carefully curated affair, with Mark Bumgarner‘s artistic hands creating a black ensemble to celebrate it. Read on and delve into the intricacies of how MMD ensured her final dress did not just embody visual allure, but also a deep-rooted cultural tale.
In a sartorial ode that transcends threads and embraces cultural stitches, Michelle Dee delicately displayed her fashion narrative, paying homage to Apo Whang-Od, the last tattoo master of Buscalan village. It can be recalled that just this year, the living legend made waves on the international scene after gracing the pages of Vogue Philippines’ beauty issue. And a day before the coronation night, Michelle shared in an interview with pageant vlogger Luis Portelles that her choice to channel the artist was a symbolic gesture of cultural preservation. Each detail of her ensemble clearly weaves the tales of Whang-Od’s legacy into the very fabric of her being, proving that her runway strides carry not just the elegance of fashion, but also the weight of an entire nation’s cultural heritage.
Bold in black
In the vibrant canvas of pageantry, where vivid hues traditionally steal the spotlight, Michelle defied the conventional palette. A risk-taker by nature, she concluded her Miss Universe journey adorned in a striking black ensemble, a choice that set her adrift on the sea of silvers on the Top 10 stage. Notably, it’s a shade she previously donned on her path to winning Miss Universe Philippines, and this year, she reclaimed the color, imbuing it with renewed symbolism and individuality.
On working with Michelle again
Following back-to-back victories in the Evening Gown category at Miss Universe Philippines, expectations soar for this latest collaboration. When discussing the creative process with Michelle, the designer shared, “She wanted a silhouette that wouldn’t restrict her hand movements, aiming to showcase her curves and accentuate her long legs. Seeking to defy the typical pageant dress, she aimed to redefine the modern beauty queen image with a simple yet visually striking design.” Mark mentioned that he also saw this challenge as a pivotal moment for personal growth, venturing beyond his signature clean lines to incorporate embellishments and hand beadwork from an original pattern, marking new artistic territory.
“I hope they delve deeper into the country’s traditional way of tattooing art, with a special focus on learning about Apo Whang-Od, the legendary tattoo artist from the Kalinga Region”
In a triumphant celebration of Filipino creativity, Michelle Dee graced the Miss Universe 2023 spotlight in a gown covered with intricate tattoo motifs, drawing inspiration from the age-old art of Filipino tattooing that traces its roots to the remote mountain landscapes of Kalinga. Crafted by renowned Filipino designer Mark Bumgarner, this masterpiece exemplified the harmonious marriage of fashion and indigenous workmanship. Through meticulously placed tattoo patterns, accentuated waistlines, and artful embellishments, Michelle’s attire transcended mere clothing—it became a living narrative, a depiction of the Philippines intricately etched onto her form, unfolding an artistic testament on the biggest stage of pageantry.
Photos and Video: MICHELLE DEE (via Instagram)