There’s no denying the world class caliber of Filipino talent. Our local designers, in particular, are notable favorites of a number of international personalities around the world—be it for awards season, a film premiere, or a wedding. That said, nothing arguably showcases the works of Filipino designers more than the pageant scene, both locally and globally. We remember back in 2018 when a total of 12 Miss Universe candidates proudly donned Pinoy-crafted evening gowns for the competition’s preliminaries.
Which is why it comes as no surprise to hear yet another local name making noise in the recently concluded Miss Universe Japan. During the pageant’s coronation night last August 22 at the Yamano Beauty College in Tokyo, the competition’s finalists all reportedly wore evening gowns by Filipino designer Joel Escober, who designed an entire collection for the event. “I made 13 to 15 pieces. As an eveningwear designer, I stuck to my aesthetic: soft, feminine, and elegant with a little fierce direction," Joel tells Preview.
This included the night’s eventual winner and now Miss Universe Japan 2019 Ako Kamo. Kamo took home the crown in a black one-sleeved sheer number embellished with feather appliqués.
Aside from the contestants that night, Joel also dressed former Miss Universe Japan 2008 Hiroko Mima, a.k.a. the pageant’s current National Director, seen below wearing a smile with Kamo.
Of course, Joel rightfully couldn’t help but gush about the momentous achievement on his Instagram. “It was really inspiring to see Filipino creations appreciated in the international arena. We are so inspired to be part of your dreams, beautiful ladies... All glory to God,” his post reads.
Joel’s no stranger to dressing up the country’s bets though, as this isn’t the first time a Japanese pageant contender has worn his design for the competition. Miss Japan Yuumi Kato also happened to don Joel Escober couture, wearing a delicate petal blush ballgown, for the Miss Universe prelims just last year.
Below, Joel talks to Preview about his experience designing his collection for Miss Universe Japan 2019.
1. How did you end up designing the evening gowns for Miss Universe Japan?
"Last summer of 2018, Luis Carlo San Juan, the Creative Consultant for Miss Universe Japan, called me to ask if I had a few pieces that he could see or use for Miss Japan, for an editorial. The National Director of Miss Universe Japan, Hiroko Mima, saw the pieces and appreciated the gowns. She called me to do the evening gowns for them, to be used by Yuumi Kato last year.
"This June 2019, Luis called me again. They had a meeting with Hiroko, and asked me if I was willing to do the collection for the finalists of Miss Universe Japan 2019. They wanted me to do it, and with excitement and overwhelming joy, I said yes! I felt they trusted and respected me and my aesthetic, or principles as fashion designer."
2. Could you describe the collection you made? How many pieces did you make and how did you decide on the inspiration and design direction for each?
“I made 13 to 15 pieces. As an evening-wear designer, I stuck to my aesthetic: soft, feminine, and elegant with a little fierce direction. Through my years in fashion I learned to complement the personality or strength of every client. I did research [on] the candidates, and checked their Instagram accounts and Facebook pages, so I would know the colors and silhouettes that would work in proportion to each of them.”
3. How long did the whole process take, from the time you were contacted for this project to the time of the actual event?
“[It took] two months. With the help of my angels, my team in the atelier, we were able to finish them. All of them were excited too because my staff were also thrilled to showcase Filipino artistry in the international arena. Feeling namin lahat, with all the high standards and integrity of the Japanese people, nakapasa kami. Nakaka-proud as a Pinoy. Before me, all the eveningwear nila for the girls were from other big European brands, kaya nakakataba ng puso.”
4. Did you get to meet and fit with the contestants who wore your gowns?
"We got their measurements and checked their features like their hair and face shape, so I could make the right color and silhouette for each girl. Very exciting gawin. It’s really important to have a positive outlook, and to have faith that it will blend with their personality. I didn't meet the girls. We sent the gowns to Luis, but I asked for a good team to alter and do the fitting once the gowns arrived in Japan."
5. What did you learn or take away from this experience?
"I learned to be more grateful to God. I never realized that a simple designer like me would be trusted to fulfill the beauty queen dreams of these Japanese women. Also, knowing my purpose in life as an eveningwear designer, I know that God gave me this talent to create beautiful gowns so that other people may be blessed and feel beautiful. I have now embraced this talent with greater purpose. Lastly, I’m so proud of Filipino artistry. We are really gifted people who use our talents to tell great stories in life, in all fields."
Miss Japan Ako Kamo is set to compete in the 68th Miss Universe against the Philippines' own Gazini Ganados and other pageant hopefuls on December 19, 2019. The venue has yet to be announced.