Filipino-Made Dress Bags Best National Costume Award at Miss Universe 2021

After last year’s Miss Universe dress debacle, it seems that Filipino designers are finally getting their deserved spotlight.

Read: The Rise and Fall of Miss Universe Winners: Controversies, Platforms & Everything In Between

In this year’s Miss Universe pageant, Miss Nigeria’s Maristella Okpala stunned in the national costume portion and came out on top of eighty other candidates, taking home the award for Best National Costume. The head-turning piece was designed by Filipino fashion student Kenny Gasper.

On Instagram, Okpala shared photos with a lengthy post explaining the origins and meaning of her costume. “This beautiful creation is inspired by a famous traditional masquerade of the southeastern tribe of Nigeria called ‘Mmanwa,'” she wrote. “It is made of African Beed’s, stones, crafts.”

The 28-year old went on to say that the “female masquerade costume” was designed for ceremonial and festive purposes, made specifically to recognize the strength of women. It features a large 3ft. tribal mask, a cape, and the face of Mmanwa on both items. Mmanwa, according to the beauty queen, fought “tirelessly” against child mutilation and child slavery; the colorful patterns and embellishments are apparently meant to “invoke ancestral spirits.”

“I picked this particular costume because I see a self reflection of my cause in this Mmanwa who protects children and women against any form of abuse,” Okpala explained. “Finally this costume pays attention to the strong will of women in attaining what ever height they want to attain, no matter the challenges faced while reaching their desired goals.”

In a Facebook post, Gasper shared his shock and happiness at the news of his costume winning the award.

“Thank you Lord! Hindi pa rin ako makapaniwala talaga,” he wrote. “Umiiyak ako kanina habang kayakap si mama…Thank you sa lahat ng mga bumati!”

(Thank you Lord! I still cannot believe it. I cried earlier while hugging my mother…Thank you to all who congratulated me!)

This instance was Gasper’s second time creating for the Miss Universe stage, with his first being in 2020 when he crafted Miss Universe Cameroon’s Kossinda Angeles her “lioness” national costume. 

Art Daniella Sison

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