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Michelle Dee pays tribute to Apo Whang-Od in Miss Universe 2023 evening gown

Michelle Dee wearing her Apo Whang-Od inspired gown in Miss Universe 2023.

Michelle Dee. Image: Doc Marlon via Instagram/@michelledee

In a bold move to set herself apart from the usual nude illusion, glass beads, and sparkly gowns, Michelle Dee pranced on the Miss Universe 2023 stage in a black evening gown inspired by indigenous tattoo art as a tribute to renowned mambabatok Apo Whang-Od.

Dee, having made the cut to the Top 10 of the competition, walked on the pageant stage at the Gimnasio Nacional Jose Adolfo Pineda in San Salvador, El Salvador on Saturday, Nov. 18 (Nov. 19 in the Philippines), wearing a black, long sleeved gown with a heavily beaded top with a tattoo pattern apparently making a reference to the face of a viper.

The gown is created by Mark Bumargner, whom Dee referred to as the “designer of [her dreams].” The designer was also the visionary behind the latter’s evening gown during the global tilt’s preliminary competition and her national pageant.

“A tribute to a legendary Filipina who has become an icon, preserving the rich cultural heritage of indigenous tattoo art.” Dee said on Instagram. “She has achieved global recognition and symbolizes timeless beauty, coinciding with Miss Universe lifting its age restrictions, championing inclusivity and challenging age stereotypes.”

“A true icon and the last of her kind, a symbol of bravery, beauty, and inclusivity… Whang Od,” she continued.


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A post shared by MMD (@michelledee)


The crossover stunner also described her eye-catching gown as a celebration to the country’s oldest mambabatok, saying every stitch of her ensemble is “crafted passionately and proudly dedicated to our country.”


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A post shared by MMD (@michelledee)


Bumgarner’s assistant designer Brandon Chan, meanwhile, took to his X (formerly Twitter) page on Sunday, Nov. 19, to say that seeing Dee showcase the gown on the pageant stage is “worth all the [tiredness] and stress.”

“From the pattern of beads and fittings. Halos iyakan namin (We almost cried). Thank you Sir Mark Bumgarner for this opportunity,” he said.

“Never ko na imagine that one day magiging part ako ng Team na gagawa ng gown for our MU representative (I never imagined that I’ll one day be part of the team making the gown for our Miss Universe representative),” he further added.


On the other hand, Bumganer said in a separate post that working with Dee is “one of the highlights of [his] career.”

“We love you @michelledee. Every stitch, every beadwork was made with love and pride, for you and our country. We may have not advanced, but working with you has been one of the highlights of my career. We wanted to show the world how vibrant our culture is, and I think we did,” he said.


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A post shared by MARK BUMGARNER (@markbumgarner)


Dee ended her Miss Universe 2023 journey at the Top 10 after bringing back the Philippines to its semi-final finish in the global tilt.

During the pageant, she was one of the pageant’s “Voice for Change” Gold awardees with Angola’s Ana Bárbara Coimbra and Puerto Rico’s Karla Guilfu and the Spirit of Carnival award.


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TAGS: gown, Michelle Dee, Miss Universe
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