The Miss Universe pageant is hardly a simple event. Over the past 69 years since its establishment in 1952, the competition has evolved dramatically into the exciting cultural phenomenon it is today. On May 16, audiences from 74 nations will be tuning in to watch their respective candidates battle for the coveted Miss Universe 2020 crown, and you can bet that everyone is looking forward to the evening gown portion.
Beauty, advocacy, poise, and intelligence are all canon in the pageant world, but fashion has to be one of the most thrilling aspects. A candidate's gown is crucial–it has the power to propel her forward into the competition, and can be a vessel, a campaign driver, a discussion point, and a symbol. The fact is, a gown is alive long before it debuts on the Miss Universe stage, and lives on after a titleholder relinquishes her crown. Ateliers worldwide toil for months on handbeaded gowns commissioned by candidates; and, of course, the best (and worst) gowns keep pageant fans abuzz for years.
As we wait to behold the couture offerings of next week's pageant, here's a gallery of ten of the most memorable gowns worn by Miss Universe winners from the past twenty years.
1. Lara Dutta, 2000
The second Miss India to be awarded the crown, Q&A legend Lara Dutta wore a red one-shoulder trumpet gown by Sangeeta Chopra. Videos of the evening showed that the gown is backless, which adds to its overall elegance. Thanks to this gown and Lara's fierce eloquence, she remains one of the top scorers in the history of the competition.
2. Zuleyka Rivera, 2006
Hailed as one of the most iconic gowns in Miss Universe history, the Carlos Alberto gown worn by Miss Puerto Rico Zuleyka Rivera was made almost entirely out of metal. Its nude lining and lack of pouf make it look comparatively lightweight, but it reportedly weighed 14 kilograms, and contributed to Zuleyka fainting after her coronation.
3. Riyo Mori, 2007
Bedazzled sweetheart gowns are ubiquitous in pageants, which is why Miss Japan Riyo Mori's unconventional coronation look was so memorable. She wore a folkloric kimono-like gown with violet and red stripes, and a playful paisley print at the bottom. Interestingly, this piece was part of Frida Giannini's 2007 Spring-Summer collection for Gucci. Kerry Ann Wells, who won Miss Universe in 1972, wore a similar long-sleeved printed gown.
4. Dayana Mendoza, 2008
You don't come across a lot of bright yellow on the Miss Universe stage, and Miss Venezuela Dayana Torres proves that we definitely need to see more of it. In contrast to her steely eyes and smoky makeup, this gown by Gionni Straccia is sunny and cheerful. Her performance in the evening gown portion was one to remember, too, as she managed to give the gown a sultry and powerful aura.
5. Ximena Navarrete, 2010
It's hard to forget this flowy red Sherri Hill gown worn by Miss Mexico Ximena Navarrete. Similar to Lara Dutta's gown, it's a sultry one-shoulder, but differs in that it features a bejeweled sash and belt. With her dark hair and dramatic drop earrings, Ximena looked stunning.
6. Leila Lopes, 2011
Festive, regal, yet youthful, this gown by Alexadre Dutra made Miss Angola Leila Lopes look like a goddess. The designer certainly did not hold back: The frock is embellished with ostrich feathers, layers of lace, and intricate beadwork.
7. Pia Wurtzbach, 2015
Blue is a rare choice, which makes this striking Albert Andrada creation worn by Miss Philippines Pia Wurtzbach so memorable. It truly brought out the bronze tone of her skin. Geometric patterns on the back and voluminous ruffles on the tail made this dress stand out.
8. Iris Mittenaere, 2016
This handmade Hoang Hai gown worn by Miss France Iris Mittenaere reportedly took months of intensive labor to complete. It certainly paid off–the end product would undoubtedly befit royals. Iris simply epitomized opulence.
9. Catriona Gray, 2018
Arguably one of the most–if not the most–beloved gowns in all of Miss Universe history, here is Miss Philippines Catriona Gray's Mayon gown by Mak Tumang. It's a daring creation with an extreme slit, curvy cutouts, and a fiery motif. This was made with digitally printed fabric overlaid with countless Swarovski crystals that were attached by hand.
10. Zozibini Tunzi, 2019
Last but not the least, we have this African-inspired gown by Biji La Maison, worn by Miss South Africa Zozibini Tunzi. The ethereal blue and and gold gradient was inspired by the sands and seas of South Africa. The symbolism and grandeur of the gown fully befitted Zozi's beauty and spirit.
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