EXCLUSIVE: Team RAIN x EM On Rabiya Mateo As A New-Generation Queen—Here’s What To Expect

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She will not fit the template of how you expect beauty queens should look like,” says team RAIN X EM.

Related: Miss Universe PH Style Radar: Rabiya Mateo Wears The Ultimate Filipina Power Suit

Miss Universe is underway and there’s been buzz going around our candidate Rabiya Mateo and the new looks she’s been strutting in. Cue in team RAIN x EM, lead by famed celebrity stylists Rain Dagala and Em Millan, who is responsible for this fashion-forward approach. The duo is no stranger to the spotlight when it comes to their work, acing the fashion game repeatedly with Maymay Entrata, Bianca Gonzalez-Intal, and Jolina Magdangal-Escueta. Miss Universe, however, is a first for them. “We never really had this kind of project. We handled queens but not in terms of competing,” Millan says. Another first: they are also the first outside collaborators styling for Miss Universe.

Photo from MEGA archives

Claiming The Stakes

There’s no denying that the pageant world in our country is high-stakes. The nation’s eyes are constantly on our candidate, and thanks to social media, every move and every look is documented. The streets also go quiet on coronation night as people pray that Steve Harvey would announce our country’s name (and correctly I may add). “Every Filipino has a stake because it is their representative but at the end of the day, we just have to manage those inputs,” Millan says as she explains the difference between the two worlds of styling.

Admittedly or not, Filipinos can overwhelm with their comments, fueled with the desire to win. Trust that these veterans know what they are doing. “We are equipped with technical know-how and skills. Bago nga kami sa panigin ng tao but we’ve been in the industry for almost 12 years,” Dagala says. With Dagala’s years of experience in fashion publishing, Millan as a former marketing executive-entrepreneur, and their work togetheir as corporate brand managers have given them their edge, and ultimately, the elevated appeal of Mateo’s Miss Universe looks.

New-Generation Queen 

In the last five or six years, the Philippines has been a favorite during the competition, with many of them collecting wins in numerous categories on route to winning the title. However, team RAIN x EM is a firm believer that there’s no “one look” for a winning Miss Universe. “Rabiya is different, and the succeeding queen will be as well,” Dagala says. Despite the pressure that they have to take on, along with MUPh and Mateo, they are unafraid to challenge the norm of beauty queens. “As pageants evolve into a more meaningful stage, we are presenting new ideas for people to grow and to be educated about how far we could push things.”

There’s more to a beauty queen than just gowns and walks. Millan explains that for past candidates, they had to deal with expectations on how they were expected to look and often had to source for themselves. This is one of the reasons why Mateo is more than willing to have a styling team work with her. “She trusted us and we value that, because it gives us enough elbow room to really push the fashion envelope,” she says. More than just making her look good, team RAIN x EM was determined to have a connection with our queen. With shoots canceled and meetings kept to a minimum due to COVID-19 safety precautions, they were thankful Mateo came as a blank canvas.

“She was honest enough to say what she likes and doesn’t like as well as the organization,” they share. Because of their collaborative effort, we are witnessing a modern queen form right in front of our eyes.

Moving Forward

Rabiya Mateo was undoubtedly a dark horse in Miss Universe Philippines. As she continues to compete for the final crown, scrutiny doesn’t go away. Many baseless criticisms regarding her sense of style were spewed out. Admittedly, there was room for improvement but it doesn’t justify what people did. So when team RAIN x EM came into the picture, they made a statement with an all-white ensemble by Mark Bumgarner to signal a clean slate: “She’s working on it and a team is behind her.”

Lalaban Para Sa Bayan

Styling is not an easy task. It entails late-night calls, back and forth trips with boxes of clothes in hand, along with building relationships with veteran and upcoming designers. The current pandemic amplified the challenges. Designers struggled to send their pieces and materials were scarce, with some designers having to tear down completed gowns for fabric. Nonetheless, in the face of all this adversity, the Filipino talent in the fashion industry remained strong and ready to rise above for the country. “We have showcased Filipino textiles and materials. But this year, a buy-in with the entire team, we are showcasing the Filipino talent,” Millan proudly says. Giving equal shots to everyone, Mateo initiated the call for designers to submit sketches that the whole team can consider, work or improve on.

The result? Over a hundred designers from all over the country submitted their designs. “It was a call to unite Filipino designers everywhere. Not just the ones that Rain and I knew or in the network of the organization and Rabiya,” Millan says. “It’s imprinted in us to discover new talents and extend the same support and guidance to those people, the same way those who helped us before when we were starting,” Dagala explains further. Through a systematic and creative exchange process, the whole Miss Universe team was able to filter down the core pieces that arrived here in Manila. “Di lang siya palakasan when it comes to relationships. There really is a standard that we are trying to follow because even the simplest outfit will speak to you if may pinaglalaban.”

Up to the finals, they said to expect a diverse pool of Filipino talent represented through the looks. From veterans to fresh grads, to designers from La Union to the small towns of Pangasinan. “The regal imagery of a queen will still be there, but it will be outside what you expect beauty queens should look like,” Millan reveals.

The Lookbook

We may not be the first country to do this, giving credits to Thailand in 2015, but because of the background of both stylists, we are the first to have it editorialized. “We wanted to give the designers the appreciation and spotlight we think they deserve. Kami ni Em we are only the bridge,” Dagala says and discloses that if it weren’t for the pandemic, it would’ve been raised to a bigger scale. They also asked helped from @neatobsessions on Instagram to show designers and the public that the fashion for Rabiya is handled well.

I also asked them the stories behind our queen’s first two looks and their answer was that they researched and collaborated with designers for an elevated new look—no rhymes or symbolisms needed. For Look 001, they learned that most queens wear suits for their pre-departure, mostly with the terno silhouette, so naturally they did the opposite. They came up with the initial idea of a cropped, embellished barong that’s been proven to go well with Mateo’s proportions. Dagala then waited for a designer to propose a similar idea to theirs and it came from a fresh graduate from Davao, Chino Christopherson.

Another obstacle they had to face was that they didn’t have any fittings for the looks, so when the pieces from designers arrived, not all seamlessly fit. Dagala asked Christopherson if he was willing to collaborate with couturier Marc Rancy. The newbie was more than grateful, as it was also an opportunity to be mentored by an expert. “They agreed to add the attachment to the sleeves, a purposefully popped collar, and the ruffles to the pants that elongated her body. A reason why we should trust the people who studied fashion to execute that for us,” says team RAIN x EM. For Look 002, their only request was for a terno suit with backless details. More importantly, Dagala told Marlon Tuazon that he could, “step out of the beauty queen template, [and] do more fashion.” 

Trust The Process

Because they can’t divulge in any specific looks that are yet to come out, their parting message is simple—keep an open mind. 

“We demand to move forward and that is what we’re doing. There is a plan crafted by experts, beauty queen makers who have success in pageantry history, and as spectators, we should enjoy and respect how this plan unveils. Lastly, let us not forget that at the core of pageants is it to celebrate beauty. Don’t compare Rabiya to others because she’s different and her fashion is part of a bigger plan. She’s ready to win it. Wag natin siya paunahan.”

Rain Dagala
Photo from MEGA archives

“There is no formula or template for the winner. While people may have a stake in it because she is representing our country, not even one spectator has pinned down the formula to winning Miss Universe. Beauty is also relative. Don’t shoot down something because it doesn’t conform with your standard of beauty. There’s one representative and it doesn’t have to divisive, it has to be uniting.”

Em Millan

In support of Rabiya Matteo, MEGA has launched “Miss Universe Style Radar”, a daily series that will decode each of her looks. Check-in with us daily for the latest details on our queen’s fashion.