This year, after a week of cultural programs and tours in and around the hosting city of Tokyo, Miss Philippines- Bea Rose Santiago took the crown as the 53rd Miss International. Marking the fifth title for Philippines, Asia's beauty pageant powerhouse is now only one victory behind the reigning Venezuela.
Santiago’s congenial picturesque smiles, the laid-back confidence, the gorgeous beauty queen-like orange national costume and the glittering red one-shouldered evening gown were all too convincing of Santiago’s deserving coronation.
Yet, what made her title irrefutable was the captivating 30 seconds speech she delivered during the grand finals. To the common question given out to the five finalists, “What will you do if you become Miss International?” Santiago spoke of the devastating Typhoon Yolanda that hit her country just last month.
"I would like to thank all the nations that helped my country. In our darkest hours, you have opened my eyes and my heart in how important it is if we all just support each other. If I become Miss International, I will uphold international camaraderie to sustain the spirit for sympathy and to continually share the message of hope. I believe that whatever calamity may come to us, as long as we have each other, there will be hope. Thank you."
There is no doubt that Miss International 2013 perfectly beholds the canonic beauty queen quality. All the while, the Pageant interestingly introduces a different side of the contestants that cannot be revealed in the conventionally featured swimwears and the elegantly poised evening gowns. The "other face" and varying sensibilities that the beauty queens possess are given the limelight at the National Costume Section, where the delegates consciously choose how to express the “nationality or regionality” they wish to convey.
Most striking was Miss South Sudan. As the very first representative from the new born country which just gained independence in 2011, Miss Ayak Abiel shined brightly with a charming genuine aura, unaffected by the prototypical make-up, hairstyles, and fashion that inundate beauty contests. Especially eye-catching was at the Press Presentation as she stood tall and proud in bare feet. In the boldly colored, loosely beaded necklace-like corset called Alual together combined with a fur skirt, Abiel's natural smile radiated with joy and expressed the fun she was having in her ethnic costume.
Surrounded by colorful, frilly costumes, Miss Iceland- Sigrun Eva Armannsdottir also caught eyes with a simple black ankle-length dress adorned with delicate silver ornaments and chains on the bodice.
“This silver chain is clasped in a very special way. If I don’t fasten it right, I’d be scolded by my countrymen,” she told us. “The vest and the hat (sported for the Press Conference) is 90 years old and was my great-great-grandmother’s formal wear.”
In contrast to the elegant and simple rearrangement of family tradition, Miss Japan- Yukiko Takahashi modeled a flamboyant stage-costume-ish kimono dress designed by Kansai Yamamoto paired with shoes by Masaya Kushino, who handles designs for Lady Gaga.
After reading a book by the world famous avant-garde designer/ stage producer, and being "moved by his lifestyle and his passionate words, I wrote him a three page letter asking him to create my national costume. It took effort to persuade him, but in the end, he even let me participate in his London fashion show,” reflects Takahashi of her invaluable experience with her national costume.
Using an Edo Period dyeing technique called tsutsugaki, “the fortune bringing cloths with blessing indigo” were used for celebrations, such as weddings and birth of a newborn. “The charm lies in its modest usage of hues and bold expressions. This costume features the aesthetics of the Japanese people.”
Free of universal standards and paradigms, national costumes embody choices, creativities, and personal stories. Whether the motif be the country’s flag or symbolic cultural heritage, a certain ethnic wear or regional natural environment, and whether the design be chic and modern or faithfully traditional, the diversity promotes deeper understanding of the participant’s individuality and the country/ region which the girls represent.
Note: Miss International Beauty Pageant was founded in 1960 and is one of the Big Four international beauty pageants alongside Miss World (1951), Miss Universe (1952), and Miss Earth (2001). The Miss International does not restrict beauty to physical appearances but lays particular focus on promoting world peace, goodwill, and understanding. Delegates from countries and regions around the world gather and serve as Ambassadors of Peace and Beauty.