Curious, inquisitive, and a definite old soul, Miss International Philippines Mariel De Leon captures our hearts with her classic beauty and her easygoing smile. Sweet as pie, Mariel takes us through her journey through Binibining Pilipinas and dials us in with her obvious passion for the arts. Reincarnated through the renaissance era, Mariel shares her life before the crown and proves how self-love and a strong advocacy is all you need to be a queen in your own right.
Tell us what it’s like winning the Miss International Philippines title in this year’s Binibining Pilipinas.
It’s surreal. And of course, it’s an exciting journey to represent the country.
Any nervousness knowing you’re representing the whole Philippines?
I try not to dwell on my nerves, since being nervous messes with your head. You won’t be able to perform well.
What did you feel when they announced your name once you won the title?
Even before the pageant started, I felt like it wasn’t really finals night. It went by so quickly and it was honestly very chill. When I was called on stage and given the crown, I was thinking “I’m a queen now.”
How would you describe your Binibining Pilipinas journey?
It was tough but I conditioned myself emotionally from the beginning. I didn’t pressure myself so much and I just tried to surround myself with positivity through my friends and family.
Did you have to physically condition yourself before the pageant?
I worked out a bit to keep myself toned but at the end I just came in the competition as I am now.
What would be an instant pick-me-up for you during off days?
On stressful training days, I’d just go home and cuddle with my dogs [laughs]. My 2 dogs Daisy and Cuddles are my ultimate stress-relievers.
Before the crown, what was life like for Mariel De Leon?
I was at a plateau, I didn’t really know what direction my life was going. I was doing a bit of acting and singing. But it didn’t give me a sense of fulfillment. I still felt lost.
What made you pursue beauty pageants?
I was thinking to myself, what is it that I can do? I’ve joined pageants before when I was 19 but I didn’t think I was mature enough for it, I was a baby [laugh]. Pageantry kept popping up, especially after Pia Wurtzbach won so I decided to try again.
You’re such a natural in front of the camera. Where do you get your confidence?
I only loved the camera recently when I learned to love myself. Then I became more confident and self-assured.
Do you have an advocacy you are pushing for now that you’re a titleholder?
Yes I do. My advocacy is to bring back appreciation for history, classical music, and theatre – everything with the arts. These are for everyone even the less-fortunate.
Would you say you’re the same person who joined prior to the competition?
Not at all. What surprised me I guess is now I’m stronger and wiser. Before, I wasn’t really exposed to certain things. Growing up I was a sheltered kid and I’m a homebody too [laughs]. During Binibining Pilipinas I was exposed to more people both in social media and in real life.
What would a normal day be like for you before Binibini Pilipinas?
I’d just go to school and come home right after. I had strict parents growing up [laughs] but they’re more relaxed now!
Would you have any style icons growing up?
Brigitte Bardot and Eva Green. I really love fashion from the past and they just have that classic, elegant look.
Has your personal style changed ever since Binibini Pilipinas?
Yes, I’ve always loved just wearing neutrals like black, gray, and white. Now I like experimenting more on what looks good on my body type.
Any favorite pieces that caught your eye from the shoot?
I love the dainty ruffled top from H&M. It’s feminine and simple at the same time. H&M is a usual stop for me whenever I shop.
What do you usually shop for from H&M?
I shop for a lot of basics, especially loose-cropped tops and hoodies. I’m not really into pants, so I’m really happy with the shorts I find there.
So many young girls look up to you now. Would you say you have a good support system going about your Ms. International journey?
Yes of course. I call them my De Lions [laughs] – it’s a wordplay on my last name De Leon. Getting their love and support is overwhelming but I love my little lions.
What would you like to tell the De Lions or girls who are aspiring to be like you one day?
For the girls who want to join pageants, I’d just tell them to go through the journey knowing yourself first and being secure with just that. Going through Binibini is tough and it will really take a toll on you in one point. Be sure to be ready and mature for that type of stress. Work your way up from small pageants then work your way up.
Words: Louise Sicat | Art Direction: Deiniel Cuvin | Photographer: Erwin Canlas | Creative Direction: Rain Dagala | Styling: Patricia Melliza | Makeup: Lei Ponce of Makeup Forever | Hair: Renz Pangilinan | Location and Special Thanks to Moss Manila Home