Miss Universe Contestants Shattered the Pageant Dress Stereotype

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Miss Universe contestant Iris Mittenaere, right, of France is crowned the 2017 winner by former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines during the Miss Universe pageant at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on Jan. 30, 2017. (Photo: AFP)
Miss Universe contestant Iris Mittenaere, right, of France is crowned the 2017 winner by former Miss Universe Pia Wurtzbach of the Philippines during the Miss Universe pageant at the Mall of Asia Arena in Manila on Jan. 30, 2017. (Photo: AFP)

Steve Harvey’s Miss Universe gaffe stole the show during the 2016 Miss Universe competition. Yet for this year’s scandal-free event, the gowns (and, of course, the women wearing them) were a focal point of the night — which was good news for Marquis Bias, the stylist for the Miss Universe Organization.

So what made this year’s pageant fashion, which is typically overlooked, different than in the past? Contestants shifting away from wearing typical “pageant” looks (think voluminous tulle skirts with jewel-encrusted bodices in bright colors) and opting for more typical red carpet ready stunners.

Bias, who is a fan of the trend, says that the change is being brought on by the participants themselves and that IMG, which bought the organization in late 2015, has also been a proponent of the shift.

“Of course there’s still girls that are tried and true pageant girls, and their gowns are very of that inspiration, but I feel that a lot of the girls that are more successful in the evening gown competition are girls that choose gowns that could easily be seen on any red carpet,” Bias tells Yahoo Style.

Case in point: the dresses worn by the competition’s top nine finalists, especially those of Miss Kenya, Miss Thailand, and Miss Haiti. Of course, no one’s fashion was more emblematic of this trend than that of the crowned winner herself, Miss France, Iris Mittenaere.

The dental surgery student, whose honesty during the Q&A section made her a shoo-in for the crown, dressed in a gold couture gown that reportedly took five months to make for the evening gown portion of the night. Yet, Bias admits that he “was just very excited to have a Miss France because it’s been 64 years, if I’m not mistaken, since Europe has had a winner.”

As a function of his role, Bias works with the crowned Miss Teen USA, Miss USA, and Miss Universe throughout their respective reigns. “We often have Latin winners, which is wonderful; we’ve had several winners from Asia; we’ve had quite a few American winners; we’ve had some African winners as well; but we haven’t had a European winner in quite some time.”

Miss Universe 2016, Pia Wurtzbach, who’s from the Philippines where the competition took place and also collaborated with Bias, crowned her successor in a blue custom-designed Michael Cinco couture gown.

“She really just honestly left it up to him,” Bias said of the full-skirted design. “She has admired him for years and she was very adamant about having him create her final walk gown. She really just said that she wanted a strapless ball gown and left the rest up to him.”

The royal blue piece, which was one of three Cinco designs Wurtzbach wore for the weekend-long competition, was a stunner. Not only was it important in that Cinco is also Filipino, but the color was actually significant to Wurtzbach’s tenure too.

“She was crowned in a blue gown as well, and since then the color has been coined as Pia Blue,” Bias explains. “Throughout her reign she’s worn this same color blue a lot at pivotal moments in her career. She wore Pia blue when she was interviewed by Steve Harvey; she wore blue when she did her homecoming in the Philippines, and she really wanted that full circle moment in her reign of having the same Pia blue for her final walk gown.”

However, Cinco wasn’t the only designer who dressed the pageant queen for the weekend; there was also industry mainstay Sherri Hill.

“Ever since I was a kid growing up and watching pageants, you really weren’t anything if you weren’t wearing Sherri Hill,” Bias explains. “She’s of course been a sponsor at Miss Universe for many, many years and we’re so blessed to have her.” Wurtzbach wore multiple designs from the company while the Texas based-brand also created Miss USA’s preliminary and evening wear gowns.

And as for what the stylist is looking forward to throughout Miittenaere’s tenure? ”I’m excited for those French designers,” he confessed.

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