Miss Universe S'pore's "moon-and-stars" national costume draws flak
Forget national icons like the Merlion and the Vanda Miss Joaquim orchid.
The national costume for this year's Miss Universe Singapore representative does away with the culture-centric look of previous years.
Miss Rathi Menon, 24, wore a glitzy, star-covered gold bodysuit, matching thigh-high boots and had a giant crescent and stars at her back at the Miss Universe National Costume Show, held in the US city of Miami on Wednesday (US time), ahead of the finals which will be held tomorrow (US time).
It will be shown on Monday at 6pm on Star World (StarHub Ch 501).
Miss Rathi's get-up was designed by Spanish-Venezuelan celebrity designer Alejandro Fajardo, 48, who has created outfits for US singer Jennifer Lopez.
He is also designing the gowns for the pageant's female host Natalie Morales and reigning Miss Universe Gabriela Isler at the finals.
Aside from the national costume parade, the preliminary round, which was on the same day, had swimsuit and evening gown segments. Eighty-seven other delegates strutted their stuff on stage.
Ms Penelope Pang, director of Miss Universe Singapore organiser Derrol Stepenny Promotions, said the decision to take a radical approach to the costume was a bid to "change things up".
The 45-year-old, who describes the outfit as "Beyonce meets Victoria's Secret", said: "We left the concept and designs to designers in the past years and they always came up with the same each year - orchids, Merlion or Peranakan themes, which all failed on the international stage.
"I wanted this to be different from the norm."
Added Ms Pang, who is in Miami as Miss Rathi's chaperone:"The (international) audiences do not understand the past costumes. They are there to see a costume show, so the costume needs to be spectacular, 'silly', loud and entertaining. I knew I was taking a risk... but I hope our country sees and accepts this new adaptation."
Singapore's 50th birthday this year played a role in the inspiration for the costume, with the stars and crescent reflecting the national flag.
"We wanted to feature a modern Singapore, a city developed through 50 golden years into one of the world's leading business and fashion hubs," said Ms Pang.
The concept for the costume was a collaboration between Fajardo and Miss Rathi's stylists, Ines Ligron and Claudia Zuleta, who had brought Fajardo on board.
Said Ms Pang: "I already knew who Alejandro was and I'm a big fan of his gown and costume designs in the international scene, so there was no hesitation."
Miss Rathi's national costume may have been markedly different from its predecessors, but it still failed to win approval from many observers.
Some netizens were upset that the costume was created by a foreigner. Others slammed it for failing to represent Singapore.
Facebook user Nur Liyana said: "Is this Venezuela designer Singapore-based? Is he exposed to our multicultural backgrounds? That costume does not reflect Singapore."
Another user, Nusrat Abdul Rashid, said it was more fitting as "Beyonce or Lady Gaga's concert show outfit".
But some were impressed, like Facebook user Manbir Chyle Lalwani, who said: "I think it's very contemporary and reflective of modern Singapore... Be supportive of our best delegate yet."
Local fashion designers The New Paper spoke to were also divided in their opinions.
"I think it's a lot more modern and sophisticated compared to past costumes," said Ms Jo Soh, 38, who is behind the label hansel.
But couturier Frederick Lee, 45, said it failed to "capture the country's spirit and culture".
"It's a Victoria's Secret costume. I look forward to the designs every year, as it's a chance to showcase our culture in an outfit and leave a lasting impressing. This is a big let-down...if I were her, I wouldn't have the pride to wear it," he said.
Edgy fashion label Depression's Andrew Loh, 40, said: "When I first looked at it, I thought it was representative of Brazil, and not Singapore. I was shocked.
"It's interesting, but I felt that it was trying too hard to be different and outstanding... more like Christmas, no?"
Designer Hayden Ng, 49, said: "As a costume, it works; it's aesthetically interesting. But as a costume that represents Singapore, it's a question mark. The significance is not strong and it is not local enough."
Mr Ng has created outfits for Miss Universe Singapore, including the national costume in 2011. The regal red silk number inspired by the Peranakan wedding gown was reportedly ranked among the top 30 costumes for the pageant that year.
The criticism over the costume did not affect Ms Rathi, who had also donned an elaborate red evening gown designed by Fajardo.
"I was looking forward to the national costume part. I know it's a change, but I hope Singapore will be able to see that this represents our Golden Jubilee and Singapore as a modern city. It all boils down to how each country pulled off her costume and I am happy and confident that I did. I think I did well," she said.
When asked about her chances after the national costume and preliminary round, Miss Rathi remained positive.
"I felt very proud of myself. I was a bit nervous, but definitely more excited. I feel like I stand an equal chance as the other contestants," she said.
WHAT SOME SAY ABOUT THE OUTFIT
"I think it's very contemporary and reflective of modern Singapore..."
- Facebook user Manbir Chyle Lalwani
"I think it's a lot more modern and sophisticated compared to past costumes."
- Ms Jo Soh, who is behind the label hansel
"When I first looked at it, I thought it was representative of Brazil and not Singapore. I was shocked. It's interesting, but I felt that it was trying too hard to be different and oustanding... more like Christmas, no?"
- Edgy fashion label Depression's Andrew Loh
Miss S'pore 'feels like a superstar'
FRIENDLY: Miss Rathi Menon (above left) with other Miss Universe pageant contestants. - PHOTO: AFP
FRIENDLY: Miss Rathi Menon (above left) with other Miss Universe pageant contestants. - PHOTO: INSTAGRAM/RATHI MENON
With 88 beautiful women from across the globe vying for the coveted Miss Universe title, a heated competition is to be expected.
But forget cat fights, backstabbing and strained ties.
Miss Universe Singapore Rathi Menonsaid it has been a friendly affair so far among her fellow contestants.
In fact, they are often generous with advice and are always willing to help their fellow contestants.
The 1.73m-tall beauty recalled her experiences getting ready backstage for the preliminary round, which took place on Wednesday.
"When I was practising the catwalk, Miss South Africa, Miss Spain and Miss Serbia told me things like, 'Smile more, I love that smile of yours,'" said Miss Rathi, 24.
"Miss Slovak Republic helped me with my pose. She gives valuable advice because she has been modelling for years and runs a modelling agency."
Miss Rathi, a pharmaceutical technician at Mount Pleasant Vet Centre, arrived in Miami on New Year's Day to settle in before the rehearsals and other pageant activities kicked in.
The tight security around the contestants was something she had to get used to.
"We're split into groups and there is high security at all times. I truly feel like a superstar and am enjoying the attention and limelight," she said.
While in Miami, she shares a hotel room with Miss Ukraine Diana Harkusha, 20, whom she describes as bubbly, cheerful and neat.
Miss Rathi said the biggest challenge of sharing a living space with a fellow contestant is skirting around their luggage - at least eight in total - as they make their way around the room getting ready for the day.
"This has definitely tested my organisation skills. I'm usually quite neat, but this is harder because you have to remember what is in which luggage because of the limited space and time you have to get ready. Miss Ukraine is a lot better at it than I am," she said.
Apart from the competition experience, she singled out a highlight of the trip - a prized selfie with US mogul and Miss Universe Organization co-owner Donald Trump at a golf event.
"He is so cool, friendly and nice. He came to see us during a friendly golf competition among the girls. When I posted that photo, everyone back in Singapore went crazy," she recalled.
With the finals happening tomorrow (US time), Miss Rathi can hardly contain her excitement.
She cites Miss Venezuela, Miss USA and Miss Philippines as her favourites, adding that the Asian competition this year is strong.
Her hopes for tomorrow (US time)?
"I'm happy to be on stage, and I think I stand a good chance. Of course, I'm hoping for the best, but I will be happy with the final decision," she said.