Nov 20, 2023 04:20 AM EST
Miss Universe Philippines Michelle Dee paid homage to a Filipina legend with her tattoo-inspired black evening gown during the Miss Universe 2023 coronation night over the weekend.
The gown was a heartfelt tribute to Apo Whang-Od, a 106-year-old indigenous tattoo artist and cultural icon from the Philippines renowned for preserving the traditional art of hand-tapped tattooing.
Miss Philippines Michelle Marquez walks onstage during the 72nd Miss Universe Competition at Gimnasio Nacional José Adolfo Pineda on November 18, 2023 in San Salvador, El Salvador.
“A tribute to a legendary Filipina who has become an icon, preserving the rich cultural heritage of indigenous tattoo art,” Dee wrote on an Instagram post Saturday. “She has achieved global recognition and symbolizes timeless beauty, coinciding with Miss Universe lifting its age restrictions, championing inclusivity and challenging age stereotypes.”
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, ONCE AGAIN, MICHELLE MARQUEZ DEE, YOUR MISS PHILIPPINES 2023! 👏👏👏
— GMA Network (@gmanetwork) November 19, 2023
“A true icon and the last of her kind, a symbol of bravery, beauty, and inclusivity…Whang Od,” Dee continued. “This evening gown draws inspiration from the icon, with every stitch crafted passionately and proudly dedicated to our country.”
Whang-Od, known as the last and oldest “mambabatok” in the Philippines, has honed her skills in the intricate art of “batok,” or hand-tapping tattoos on skin using thorns and bamboo sticks , since the age of 15. The ancient practice dates back a thousand years.
The iconic Filipina, born Maria Oggay, resides in the village of Buscalan in Tinglayan, Kalinga province, and is part of the Butbut people of the broader Kalinga ethnic group.
Her influence and significance were highlighted further when she graced the cover of Vogue Philippines in April, solidifying her status as a symbol of cultural preservation and resilience.
Dee’s Miss Universe 2023 evening gown was crafted by Mark Bumgarner, an internationally acclaimed designer hailing from the Philippines.
In an Instagram post, Bumgarner shared a behind-the-scenes video that captured the creation process of the gown inspired by Whang-Od.
“The moment [I] told Michelle about the idea, she instantly said YES. The message resonated with her: a legendary Filipina whose art symbolizes bravery, beauty, and identity, and whom has become a symbol of timeless beauty being the oldest woman to grace the beauty issue of a magazine,” the fashion designer captioned the video.
Bumgarner elaborated on the extensive and meticulous process behind crafting Dee’s evening gown, emphasizing his goal to make it look like the pageant candidate’s “second skin.”
“As if it was tattooed on her when worn at the same time making her look powerful like a warrior,” he wrote.
Many social media users expressed their admiration for the gown and the inspiration behind it on X, formerly Twitter.
— rye (@vaurnie) November 19, 2023
WHEN MICHELLE DEE SAID SHE WILL ALWAYS INCLUDE THE PHILIPPINES IN HER MISS UNIVERSE JOURNEY, SHE MEANT THAT. LOOK AT HER GOWN, PAYING HOMAGE TO APO WHANG OD. tears 😭🇵🇭#MissUniverse2023#MichelleDEE#ForDEEUniverse#MissUniverse
— Mareng Morissette 💙✨ (@itsmorislays) November 19, 2023
Dee made it to the top 10 of the Miss Universe 2023 pageant’s finals night in El Salvador Saturday but didn’t secure a place in the top five.
Nicaragua’s Sheynnis Palacios took home the Miss Universe 2023 title.