Designing for a beauty pageant

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — When it comes to winning a beauty pageant, a candidate's clothes can make all the difference.

After all, her outfits, particularly the evening gown and national costume, are in competition too.

Designer Rhett Eala said he never dreamt of designing for beauty pageants since Filipino-designed gowns were not used until very recently.

But when one of his regular models, Maxine Medina, asked him to design her gowns when she joined Binibining Pilipinas 2016, Eala willingly obliged.

"I did it because it's Maxine," he said. "I was so flattered not because I wanted to do a Binibining contest, but because it was for Maxine. I wanted her to shine. I had a feeling she'd get a crown."

Shared past

Eala said he and Medina go way back.

"When I met Maxine, she was very young," he said. "Everybody always said she had the most beautiful face. Everyone said she was for a beauty contest."

Eala said he couldn't go back to sleep the moment he found out that Medina won Binibining Pilipinas 2016.

"I think the pageant finished at 1 or 2 in the morning, so I was already asleep," he said. "My phone started ringing and then, you know, Maxine won. So I couldn't sleep at 2 in the morning. Parang I won na rin [It's like I won, too]."

Not about the design

Eala said it's totally different designing clothes for a beauty pageant.

"As a model, I wanted her to project and make my clothes look good," he said. "It's different from dressing her for a beauty pageant. It's not about my design. It's about her beauty."

Eala said coming up with the designs was a collaborative process with Medina, Binibining Pilipinas Charities Chair Stella Marquez-Araneta and beauty queen mentor Jonas Gaffud.

Eala designed 11 outfits for Medina's Miss Universe activities. Although Eala shows off a few of the dresses, he's keeping mum on the evening gown and national costume designs.

"We wanted it to be a surprise," he said. "Of course, I've been told not to reveal anything."

However, he does reveal one detail about the national costume.

"We wanted something Filipino, but not the usual Filipino," he said. "The headdress is by a jeweler and it's quite modern...Definitely there are going to be pearls."

Eala also said it will be completely different from the terno he designed for Medina for the Binibining Pilipinas 2016 pageant.

New adventure

Even after a quarter of a century in the fashion industry, Eala said pageant design is a whole new adventure for him.

"I've been in the industry for so long, so I've done almost everything," he said. "This is something new for me. It's always nice to work on something new as a designer."

But Eala said there's also a dark side to all the glitz and glamor.

"Jonas warned me about pageant fans and they're like the biggest critics of the whole thing," he said. "Actually, I've been getting a lot of comments on my Instagram account. There's a lot of people stalking me and giving me suggestions. It's a lot of pressure."

Eala said although criticism comes with the territory, he doesn't want to change his designs because of what people say.

"Siyempre [Of course], it's your own vision (in a fashion show)," he said. "This one, parang [it's like] everyone wants to have a hand in it."

Handling the intense criticism is something both Eala and Medina are learning to deal with.

"I'm proud of Maxine," he said. "She gets a lot of flak, but she's really improved a lot. She has the confidence already."