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Venezuelan Queen: Keysi Sayago "Miss Venezuela 2016"...and the Gowns--Miss Venezuela 2016 Beauty Pageant

This past Wednesday were the finals of one of the most important beauty pageants in the world: The Miss Venezuela 2016 Beauty Pageant. There were 24 contestants vying for the coveted crown which has had--as every pageant fanatic knows--SEVEN Miss Universe winners, SIX Miss Worlds, SEVEN Miss Internationals and TWO Miss Earths. The Miss Venezuela pageant and organization is known as a "Beauty Making Factory". The winner of Miss Venezuela 2016 was the gorgeous Keysi Sayago, who represented the state of "Monagas".

Bella Keysi: "Miss Venezuela 2016" Keysi Sayago--Miss Venezuela 2016 Beauty Pageant

The new "Miss Venezuela" just turned 23 (her birthday was yesterday on Thursday!) and stands 1.78 M (5' 10") and besides being beautiful and a model, she has a Degree in Mechanical Engineering (seriously, you can't make this stuff up!). Keysi is the talk of the country for having won the title--besides the fact that she has instantly become famous worldwide--but really for the fact that she is morena (tan skinned), and in terms of her look, she is very representative of what a true Venezuelan beauty should look like. The pageant is known for crowning blond or lighter haired/lighter skinned, European-types.

Crowning Moment: "Miss Venezuela 2015" Mariam Habach (right) crowns "Miss Venezuela 2016" Keysi Sayago--Miss Venezuela 2016 Beauty Pageant

Hair Bun Ladies: The Top Two (L to R) "Nueva Esparta" Diana Croce (First Runner-up) and "Miss Monagas" Keysi Sayago (eventual winner and new "Miss Venezuela)

Tropical Swim: "Miss Monagas" (and eventual "Miss Venezuela 2016") winner, Keysi Sayago competing in the Swimwear portion of the "Miss Venezuela 2016" Beauty Pageant

In the last few years, the "Miss Venezuela" Pageant has had to be scaled way, way, waaaay down. In the past it was held in a huge concert-size indoor amphitheater "El Poliedro", which could seat up to 20,000 people. The show was famous for its over-the-top "Who Cares What It Costs" productions. As a result of the severe economic crisis Venezuela has been going through, the pageant finals has ended up being televised from a TV studio (Estudio 1 of Venevision) with less than a hundred attendees (there were probably more people backstage working than as guests).  

Model Keysi: Keysi Sayago "Miss Monagas 2016", the new "Miss Venezuela 2016"

As "Miss Venezuela 2016" she will get to represent the South American nation at the "Miss Universe 2017" pageant which (this might get confusing!), will probably not take place until 2018 (!). Last year's "Miss Venezuela" Mariam Habach has not even competed at "Miss Universe" yet and will do so NEXT YEAR, on January 30th when the pageant finals take place in Manila Philippines, according to some sources. So, yes, the lovely Keysi will probably be "chilling" for another year...and a half!...until she has to prove her worth internationally at the "Miss Universe" pageant.

Now, let's get to the important stuff: THE EVENING GOWNS!!
South American Couture: Contestants vying for the title of "Miss Venezuela 2016" during the Evening Gown portion of the beauty pageant

OK, now, let's talk about the Gowns: Venezuela has always been the benchmark for pageant gowns and the leader in setting and predicting trends for the rest of the world including the US. In my new book "A Passion For Fashion" , I talk about how, as a little boy growing up in Caracas Venezuela and even afterward when my family moved to the U.S., watching the "Miss Venezuela" pageant was like THE SUPERBOWL and Paris Haute Couture Fashion Week all rolled up into one singular fabulous moment!

Jeweled Fabulous--"Miss Venezuela" contestants in their evening gowns vying for the "Miss Venezuela 2016" title

Venezuelan Pageant designers have been the most coveted, go-to source for elite pageant gowns across the world. The most recent trend in Pageant gowns recently is "more is more". Some might say that has always been a trend when it comes to pageantry, but there has been decades in which gowns were downright subdued or minimalist compared to some of the styles we are seeing today...

         No Bread? Who Cares...There's A Million Dollar Fashion Show on TV--"Miss Venezuela"                       contestants in their evening gowns vying for the "Miss Venezuela 2016" title

Well, this year at the "Miss Venezuela 2016" pageant, the contestants and their designers took this trend to a WHOLE NEW LEVEL! While the country is going through extremely dire circumstances and most people can't even purchase the necessities they need at the supermercado, there was absolutely NO sign of the countries struggles on display at the pageant. It is almost as if the viewer (Me!) time traveled back to the Venezuelan hey-days of the 1980's when the country was an oil rich mecca. Most venezolanos can't even buy toilet paper, feminine hygiene products or find Harina Pan (corn meal for Arepas) but somehow, these designers are able to buy extremely expensive silk gazar and thousands and thousands and thousands of Swarovski crystals. Each of these gowns could easily retail for $10,000+.

Gown Gals: "Miss Venezuela 2016" Top 5 in their Evening Gowns--Miss Venezuela 2016 Beauty Pageant

I have no idea if these very talented designers get a nice budget for making these gowns (they should!) and in addition get paid for their design and work (they should--Part Two!) but the creations are incredible--for good or "Uh Oh" as some would argue. NO ONE in Venezuela can afford one of these gowns (that class of the population has left the country, for the most part--they're either in Miami, Houston, or Madrid) so doing this for "promotion" and "press" isn't going to help them or catapult them into worldwide business success. Maybe they can get orders from US-based pageant gals! But I give them a bow for making what looks like, very well-done designs.

OK, now that I got that out of the way, time to discuss my Top Favorites. First, I want to talk about the Winner Keysi Sayago "Miss Monagas" and her gown. It was one of my favorites!

Miss Monagas 2016 Keysi Sayago: I loved this gown ensemble worn by the eventual winner, Keysi Sayago "Miss Monagas". The ivory silk crepe gown was designed by Hugo Espina and it had a hi-lo short sleeve cape. It was heavily--and beautifully--embroidered with silver sequins throughout. The only thing I didn't like were the gloves. Those were a little "Mumsy" and slightly dated. Thank goodness, she took them off after the evening gown portion.
Score: 9.5/10

The hi-lo cape by the way, reminded me of one of my NIKOLAKI gowns that I designed:
NIKOLAKI Spring 2015 Collection

Besides "Miss Monagas" gown, here are my Top 10 Favorite Gowns of the "Miss Venezuela 2016" Beauty Pageant----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Photos courtesy of

Miss Sucre 2016 Victoria Gonzalez: This gown design by Venezuelan designer Alejandro Fajardo was probably the most impacting, chic, Haute Couture-like gown of the night. At least in my eyes. I loved this design. Yes, it was very Zuhair Murad but, it was still very impacting and perfect for the contestant. The fit was amazing and the silver Baroque-like sequins over the ziberline base was EVERYTHING. I could have done without the belt but even with that...It was still FAB:
Score: 9.8/10

Miss Bolivar 2016 Melanie Bermudez: Melanie was all things sexy in this Alejandro Fajardo designed gown featuring a heavily beaded and jeweled silver, gold and copper torso and white georgette skirt. The super high side slit showed off her fabulous legs and wasn't hoochie at all. I also LOVED that she didn't wear the same tacky UBER HIGH platform heels many of the other contestants wore. Instead she wore these very Runway perfect gold "Gladiator" style strappy heels. Muy Bien!
Score: 9.8/10

Miss Miranda 2016 Rosangelica Piscitelli: Rosangelica was one of the favorites to win the crown. She surprisingly ended up getting Fourth Runner-up but did get the "Miss Elegance" and "Miss Photogenic" titles. In terms of her gown, she was very on-trend with this caped design by Venezuelan designer Hugo Espina. The blush/nude gown featured lots of gold, silver and copper sequin applique work. It reminded me of the Ralph & Russo Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2015 in the photo above. That one is just a gorgeous golden lace over silk gazar. But neveretheless, there were strong similarities.
Score: 9.6/10

Miss Yaracuy 2016 Reneta Bello: There were A LOT of over-the-top late 80's/early 90's style gowns at this year's "Miss Venezuela 2016". I had a difficult time fighting my inner urge to say "Oh Dear! That is SOOOO 90's and over-the-top tacky-licious and "wait, that's kind of fab!". In this case, I went with the latter. This gown was designed by Nidal Nouaihed and featured a one shoulder sweetheart bustline, blue sequined and white tulle column gown, and a blue cascade ruffled back overskirt. It TOTALLY brought me back to the Guy Meliet days of the "Miss Venezuela" pageant when I was growing up and for that, I give Nouaihed points.
Score: 9.5/10 

Miss Nueva Esparta 2016 Dina Croce: Diana almost got the top crown. She wore this blush/nude colored gown from Venezuelan designer Douglas Tapia. This was another one of those very 90's-like gowns featuring the sequined column gown under a voluminous silk gazar overskirt. Yes, it looked very 1994, somehow still hinted at 2016 with its very fitted gown, plunging neckline and illusion/nude coloring. I liked this. Would I have wished that it wasn't sooooo plunging and that she didn't wear her hair so bouffant "Pageant Betty"? Probably. But, it was a nice impacting gown.
Score: 9.4/10

Miss Lara 2016 Hielimar Elizabeth Sargo de Marchi: When she first came out in this Nidal Nouaihed design, she had this gunmetal colored satin gathered overskirt and I was not a fan. She then quickly removed it (Thank Goodness) to reveal this stunning column-style crystal sequined gown  with long sleeves and a mock turtleneck. This is is a gown a "Miss Venezuela" should wear at the next "Miss Universe"; it's simple, classic, yet impacting and stage fabulous.
Score: 9.7/10 (without the overskirt)

Miss Barinas 2016 Jelaning Betania Fragas Gonzalez:  First off, I absolutely loved the deep violet color of this Honicer Sandoval and Julio Mora designed gown. The style was very early 90's with a hint of  Gionni Straccia 2000's with the neckline jeweled sequined work. Jelaning looked beautiful and almost serene with all that fuss of a gown. Personally, I would have removed all the cascading volants in the back and just left it alone without it. But leave it to these Venezuelan designers to always go with the "More is More" design mantra...

She reminded me of Marelisa Gibson "Miss Venezuela 2009"(top photo) and Carolina Izsak "Miss Venezuela 1991" (lower photo). Overall, I give her and her gown...
Score: 9.3/10

Miss Tachira 2016 Betania Rojas Rincon: "Miss Tachira's" gown was designed by Dheymid Galaviz and was "Oriental"-inspired containing 10,000+ crystals and pearls. The gown was impacting, fit her well and looked beautiful against her olive complexion and dark hair. The mixture of sequin applique and the fabric was very on-trend with what's happening in pageant gowns. But, once again, these "Miss Venezuela" designers take that trend and add some major "design and crystal Botox" to them!
Score: 9.4/10

Miss Zulia 2016 Raymar Lisett Valbuena Cardozo: OK, I know this might be a bit of a controversial one, in terms of placing her as one of my "Top 10 Best" list here, mainly because it is A LOT of gown. Even by Mucho standards, it's still MUCHISIMO! This Top of a Wedding Cake Couture creation was designed by Nidal Nouaihed, who seems to be really going back to the heydays of "Miss Venezuela" and the Guy Meliet/Angel Sanchez time when the pageant showcased some over-the-top Haute Couture designs making the pageant a must-see fashion show of the year. This design almost made me nostalgic for those times (especially since back then, one could find bread and tampons in the supermarket, Thank You very much!). Even though it is Super Muchee, it's made marvelously, one cannot deny it makes an impression and well, I get the cascading overskirt for stage drama, but I would definitely remove that if this gown were ever to see the "Miss World" or "Miss Universe" stage.
Score: 9.0/10

Miss Amazonas 2016 Anjuly Claret De Gouveia Rodriguez: This last one in my "Bueno" group could also be controversial. Mainly because when "Miss Amazonas" first walked out, she looked as if a BIG PINK FEATHERED BIRD (or ancient Dinosaur!)n had SWALLOWED HER:

Ayyyyy Dios Mio!!!!--"Miss Amazonas" makes her entrance during the "Miss Venezuela 2016" Evening Gown portion

But, thank goodness, she took it off:
Many on the internet where making fun of the feathered-coat entrance, suggesting some of these "Miss Venezuela" contestant and their designers are taking too many Fashion Drugs!  Anyhow, she thankfully removed that feathered mess (someone should just dump it in the trash behind the Venevision studios!) and revealed what I thought was a stunning sequined column gown. The Alejandro Fajardo design featured small cap sleeves, plunging neckline and center front slit. I appreciated the simple clean line and well, all the sequin work was RIDICULOUS! The Chanel Haute Couture petite mains back in Paris should take a flight to Caracas and give whoever hand-sewed these on, a job back in Paris. The gown was very impacting, to put it lightly.
Score (DEFINITELY without the feathered cape!): 9.5/10....With the Cape: 2.0/10

Top Six Uh Oh-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Miss Vargas 2016 Paola Antonella Massalo Escalona: At first, I was intrigued by this Alejandro Fajardo "mermaid"-shaped design. The gown was done in off-white silk gazar and featured hand-painted floral detail with sequins strewn on top of the bottom section. The top section had a geometrically shaped neckline, scooped sleeves and the back (I wish i had a photo of that!) scooped all the way down to 1/4" away from her bootie (yikes!). When she turned around to show that, I was like "Oh No!". To be frank, while I am sure close up, all that bottom sequin and hand painted work was amazing, it looked like a crime scene on camera. I wish they would have started higher and had it more delicately ombre down to the bottom. Finally, the entire time I was looking at the gown, I kept thinking "I've seen this before!"...well...

Stephane Rolland Haute Couture Spring/Summer 2012--Yep! That's it! It's a little crazy how similar the Alejandro Fajardo gown is to this one above from Paris Couturier Stephane Rolland. Really spooky. Even with the feathers at the bottom, I still like the Rolland one more. But seriously, I wonder if Osmel Sousa (the "Miss Venezuela" pageant director showed this photo to Fajardo and said "I want this!" Anyhow...
Score (of "Miss Vargas" gown): 7.7/10

Miss Falcon 2016 Tulia Rosa Maria Aleman Ferrer: This white silk crepe column gown was designed by Venezuelan designer Valentina Cedeno. It featured a very interesting geometric neckline mimicking almost a skyline of sorts. I appreciated the complexity of the neckline design (trying to get those squared off perfectly is a sewing/construction NIGHTMARE!) but because of how low it was cut in the torso, I was afraid of boobie (or nipple) spillage the entire time. This gown can be saved if they just extend those neckline rectangles just a little bit higher. But overall, it was more "Uh Oh" than "Oh wow!" to me.
Score: 8.0/10

Miss Carabobo 2016 Frinddy Bocaranda: Oh Frinddy! What Mardi Gras carnival float are you riding in with this get-up??!! This emerald green colored gown featured jeweled sequins down the front, an iridescent overlay, nude illusion bodice and naturally, if that wasn't enough, there was a tiered back overskirt. This was a Ticky-Tacky, Figure Skating Costume Meets Carnival Hot Mess.
Score: 5.5/10 

Miss Cojedes 2016 Sarahim Sariht Davila Hernandez: This silk gazar and georgette gown was designed by Luis Perdomo. The "Valentino red" colored gown featured matching red plumage on the neckline. This wasn't a bad gown by any means; it was clean, elegant in it's own way. But it was just rather dated and Mother-of-the-Bride. If I saw this gown at a runway show in 1998, I would have "Ooooh'ed" and "Ahhh'ed", it is after all, very vintage Valentino looking. But in 2016, it was slightly "mature".
Score: 8.0/10

Miss Potuguesa 2016 Viviana Valente Rueda: OK, what is with all the feathers at this year's "Miss Venezuela" evening gown competition?? This design--worn by "Miss Portuguesa" took the "Feather Cake" among all the other feathered concoctions. The red silk ziberline gown was designed by Honicer Sandoval and--besides the feathers--featured red and silver crystals throughout and a key-hole neckline. If the feathers at the bottom weren't enough, she had a feather shawl! And then she topped it all off with gaudy makeup, a "Pageant Betty" bouffant hair and over-the-top earrings. She looked like a cabaret dancer at Folies Bergere. Très Tacky.
Score: 6.5/10

Finally...speaking of Mardi Gras and Folies Bergere...
Miss Distrito Capital Yanett Margarita Diaz Dib: There were A LOT of Too Mucheee gowns at this year's "Miss Venezuela" and one could argue that maybe lots of them were a mess (I kinda liked some of them!), but this one I just couldn't even begin to explain. The design was by Venezuelan couturier Raenrra and featured a pink and silver sequined column gown with heavily appliqued bodice and then, a very over-the-top multi-multi-MULTI ruffled and tiered back overskirt. That overskirt alone could be used as a major flotation device. And I can only imagine the hours upon hours of work to sew that (Ayyy Dios Mio!). The gown itself wasn't so bad (OK, it was Showgirl tacky!), but in combination with the overskirt...she looked like a Drag Queen on a float in Rio in 1995. Really Too Mucheee.
Score: 5.8/10

If there was anything nice to say, it's that the color and "essence" kind of reminded me of this:
Irene Saez Conde "Miss Universe 1981"

Final Thoughts: I was really struck--as I said in the beginning of this post--by the over-the-top "More Is More" feeling that permeated into almost each and every evening gown at this year's "Miss Venezuela". The pageant has always been known for its gowns and being on the so-called cutting edge of Pageant Fashion but this year--especially with the dire economic situation in Venezuela--it almost seemed like an "F You!" to anyone expecting to see a more low-rent downsized gown parade.

But at the same time, there was a definite disconnect to what is really happening outside of those Venevision studios and I wonder if anyone in the country may have felt offended at the ostentatious display of super expensive fabrics, sequins, over-the-top-ness of those gowns. Or, maybe this is what the population needed, for just one night at least: A show of "Who cares what's happening outside, let's just pretend like it's 1985!!!".  Also, I hope it can show a glimmer of hope and fabulousness to little boys and girls who love fashion and maybe want to be fashion designers ("Miss Venezuela" definitely inspired me!). And with that I bid...

Congratulations to the new "Miss Venezuela 2016" Keysi Sayago and her court of beautiful women. She now has over a year to prepare and to figure out what gown to wear for the "Miss Universe" whenever that will happen in 2018. Hopefully by then, Venezuela will be in a much better economic situation, for which all its people deserve.

                            *****Felicitaciones Keysi Sayago "Miss Venezuela 2016"*****

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