Michelle Dee stands out in Mark Bumgarner gown in Miss Universe 2023 prelims
In a sea of glass beads, sequins, sheer fabric, trains, and capes, the Philippines’ Michelle Marquez Dee stood out in her shimmering emerald green gown at the preliminary competition of the 2023 Miss Universe pageant held at the Jose Adolfo Pineda Arena in San Salvador, El Salvador, on Nov. 15 (Nov. 16 in Manila).
The 28-year-old model, actress, and host received loud cheers when she appeared in the stunning piece with a mock neck, full shoulders, and strategically-placed cutouts above the bust, on the sides, and at the back created by Filipino designer Mark Bumgarner, who also dressed her up in her national competition where she earned the “Best in Evening Gown” award.
The gown’s color also represents autism awareness, a cause Dee has been involved with for years now, being a sister to two brothers in the autism spectrum. The beauty queen mentioned earlier that she is bringing herself and her personality in her wardrobe choice for the competition.
Dee’s mother, 1979 Miss International Melanie Marquez, and cousin, 2017 Reina Hispanoamericana Teresita Ssen “Winwyn” Marqiez, also wore green when they won in their respective international competitions.
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Bumgarner said in a social media post: “For the preliminary, the emerald green color was inspired by Melanie Marquez, Michelle’s mom, when she won Miss International in 1979. The evening gown is fully encrusted with 3 shades of emerald green Swarovski crystals, and contrasted black crystals to give it a different dimension under the light. I wanted it to look like the skin of a green viper–a symbol of power, transformation, and wisdom.”
For the swimsuit competition that came before the gown segment, Dee opted for a fiery red, one-piece number with a halter neck, deep plunge, and low back from Rubin Singer, the American designer who provided the swimwear for this year’s competition. Filipino footwear designer Jojo Bragais, meanwhile, returns for a third year as the official shoe provider and debuted a new design worn by all the delegates.
Dee made a bold move for a Filipino delegate in the Miss Universe pageant and introduced herself as the representative from “Filipinas,” the Spanish name for the Philippines. Spanish is the dominant language in the host country.
The preliminary competition is crucial for all the 84 delegates competing in the pageant. Scores from the event, combined with those derived from the closed-door interview round, will help determine who will advance to the semifinal round. The lucky ladies will be announced at the final competition show in the same venue on Nov. 18 (Nov. 19 in Manila).
Helping the Miss Universe Organization (MUO) choose the next queen is a group of accomplished women who comprised the selection committee for the preliminary competition. Among them are 1977 Miss Universe Janelle “Penny” Commissiong and 2016 Miss Universe Iris Mittenaere.
Joining them are Puerto Rican model Giselle Blondet, American crisis manager Denise White, Filipijo-American physician Connie Mariano who became a White House doctor, and Halima Aden, the first model to wear a hijab and burkini for the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue.
Two delegates opted to parade in a burkini in the swimsuit segment, Lujane Yacoub from Bahrain and Pakistan’s first-ever delegate Erica Robin. Both ladies were fielded by Filipino marketing practitioner and magazine publisher Josh Yugen, the Miss Universe Franchise owner and national director for the two countries and Egypt.
Hosting the show were El Salvadoran model Vanessa Velasquez and reigning Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel, who stunned in her bejeweled gown created by Filipino designer Rian Fernandez, who also made her competition gowns in the 2022 pageant.
Several delegates were also spotted wearing Filipino-designed gowns on stage, among them are Yacoub who wore Carla Fuentes, Robin and Egypt’s Mohra Tantawy in Furne Amato, and Malta’s Ella Portelli in Louis Pangilinan.
This year’s competition has welcomed the first mothers on the international stage since opening the doors to married women and those who have given birth—South American delegates Camila Avella from Colombia and Michelle Cohn from Guatemala.
Two transgender women from Europe have also graced the international stage this year—Rikkie Valerie Kolle from the Netherlands and Marina Machete from Portugal.
Mouawad, the pageant’s crown provider, also announced the 10 “silver finalists” of the “Voice for Change” program it initiated with CI Talks. Dee, who topped the program’s online poll, is among the 10 ladies. Joining her are Angola’s Ana Coimbra, Brazil’s Maria Brechane, Chile’s Celeste Viel, Lebanon’s Maya Aboul Hosn, Puerto Rico’s Karla Guilfu, Singapore’s Priyanka Annuncia, South Africa’s Bryoni Govender, Ukraine’s Angelina Usanova, and Zimbabwe’s Brooke Bruk-Jackson.
Three “gold winners” of the Voice for Change initiative will be announced during the coronation show on Nov. 18 (Nov. 19 in Manila) in the same venue, where the new Miss Universe titleholder will also be crowned.
Dee is attempting to score a fifth victory for the Philippines after Gloria Diaz (1969), Margie Moran (1973), Pia Wurtzbach (2015), and Catriona Gray (2018).