Michelle Dee soars in plane-inspired outfit in Miss Universe 2023 costume show
Updated 2:35 p.m.
SAN SALVADOR, El Salvador — It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s the Philippines!
As in the previous competitions, birds, beasts, foliage and flowers once again dominated the stage of the 2023 Miss Universe national costume show in El Salvador on Nov. 16 (Nov. 17 in Manila). But Filipino queen Michelle Marquez Dee soared in her airplane-inspired number.
Strutting as a sergeant, Dee wore an air force outfit adorned with native “solihiya” patterns as she took center stage on Thursday night during the much-awaited National Costumes presentation at the 72nd Miss Universe competition in San Salvador.
In front of judges and live viewers at the José Adolfo Pineda Arena here, Dee struck a pose, pranced around and made a salute. The judges examined her corset, matched with a pilot-inspired beret, representing patriotism and bravery.
This appeared to be an ode to her military training as she donned a pilot’s hat, and a plane’s fuselage attached to her chest. She finished her Air Force reservist training while preparing for the Miss Universe pageant.
She pulled strings midway through her presentation to release flaps on the wings that showed even more Filipino cultural details at the back of the costume — the colors of the country’s flag and iconic murals spanned over her shoulders, with the country’s tourism slogan “Love the Philippines” prominently displayed at the center.
Designer Michael Barassi, who also made Dee’s costume in the Miss Universe Philippines pageant, used woven rattan to create a structured bodice, accentuated by cascading gold tassels on the shoulders, back and skirt. The same material was also used for the captain’s hat.
View this post on Instagram
‘Strength and resilience’
Nick Teplitz, executive producer of Miss Universe organization, co-hosted this year’s National Costumes Show.
“Her (Dee) costume embodies her own strength and resiliency. It’s so meaningful and, at the same time, unique. I am glad that Michelle chose ‘significance’ over sequins and feathers,” said Anne Santos, a Filipino student in California who traveled to San Salvador for the competition.
Dee’s costume is a byproduct of collaboration between Dee and Barassi.
In reality, Dee, 28, went through military training prior to the Miss Universe pageant and she earned a Certificate of Attendance for participating in a number of military training sessions. Despite Dee’s busy schedule preparing for the Miss Universe Pageant, she completed the Philippine Air Force’s Basic Citizen Military Training (BCMT).
“We know that Michelle is very hands-on on everything. So, I am expecting her to give something very creative, very elaborated — with a lot of attention to detail,” said Luis Portelles, a popular Miss Universe content creator, a few hours before the National Costumes show started.
The winner of Best in National Costume will be announced during the coronation night on Saturday, November 18.
While the National Costume Show is part of the pageant, it doesn’t count towards candidates’ overall scores. The show, which usually lasts for an hour — the shortest of the pageant’s main events, including preliminary competition and coronation — is an opportunity for contestants to pay tribute to their respective countries.
The Miss Universe has still opened an online poll to determine the fan favorites. The winner will be announced on the final competition show.
The National Costume rounds were only introduced in 1960. But because it has become a crowd-favorite over the years, it later became a pageant staple.
Two Filipino competitors have already received the Best in National Costume award, Charlene Gonzales in 1994 and Gazini Ganados in 2019.
Several ladies opted for more traditional pieces, some with flirty frocks and others with indigenous attires. Spain’s Athenea Perez showed up in a white flamenco dress with voluminous yellow ruffles, while Thailand’s Anntonia Porsild presented a water goddess costume with intricate Thai patterns.
Many others chose to present over-the-top costumes with tall headpieces, large props and loads of feathers. Trinidad and Tobago’s Faith Gillezeau even walked on stilts in her red bird costume.
Fan favorite Jane Garrett from Nepal, who challenged pageant standards with her full figure, continued to make a statement by being political in her costume choice. The 23-year-old nurse showed up with a headpiece depicting smoke and bombs, and released a dove, the universal symbol of peace, before exiting the stage.
Dee will try to score the Philippines’ fifth victory in the Miss Universe pageant, after Gloria Diaz (1969), Margie Moran (1973), Pia Wurtzbach (2015) and Catriona Gray (2018).