Miss World 2018: a Top Model competition special review
The Top Model Challenge Review - by Albin Beart for Global Beauties
For all the rivalries and differences of opinion that exist across the world of pageant fans, one thing everyone can agree on is that there is no substitute for a night of old fashioned glamour and beauty. Girls + Gowns = Glory! Indeed as the Miss World contest becomes more of a personality driven contest, it has left many fans desperate for more of a traditional pageant focus on beauty and presentation. With Beach Beauty a thing of the past, it is Top Model that is the one remaining bastion of old fashioned glamour and excitement in the contest! And although MW has always maintained that it is Beauty With a Purpose that is the most important fast track, the strong nexus between the winner of the Top Model Fast Track and the eventual winner of Miss World tells a different story (Manushi Chillar is in fact, the first Miss World winner who also won BWP!). So of course, all eyes were on Sanya last night as the 118 contestants converged on the beautiful Sanya Ocean Sonic Banling Hotspring Resort to strut the runway and claim the first golden ticket to the Miss World finale and enter the short list of favorites for the crown.
Now a little bit of history. Even though "Top Model" or some version of it (Best Designer Dress) has existed since 2004, it really took form as a fast track event with special privileges only in 2007, when it was won by Zhang Zi Lin. When Ksenia Sukhinova repeated Zi Lin's trajectory to the crown by also winning Top Model, it took on an aura of it's own. But in the years that followed, especially as the Challenge system replaced fast tracks, the value of Top Model in the eyes of contestants and fans declined somewhat - indeed, since Ksenia's win, only Megan Young and Mireia Lalaguna have taken home both the Top Model and Miss World titles, and several, including Stephanie Del Valle and Manushi Chillar have not even placed in the top group.
But in a contest like Miss World, full of twists and turns and a somewhat inscrutable path to the crown, Top Model is a reassuring touch of the familiar. And the Designer Dress Award, originally instigated to encourage emerging designers from across the world on the world stage, adds an element of diversity to the gowns that few other pageants have. All of that was in spectacular display last night in a beautiful floodlit runway that looked like it could have been part of any fashion capital! The girls paraded first in their evening gowns, followed by glamorous cocktail dresses. Following a cut to the top 32, the finalists each paraded in a collection of dresses from fashion house 1421.
Although it was a stunning event, we are at a bit of a loss to really explain many of the results last night. Not that we disagree per se, but the choices of both the semifinalists for Top Model and the five shortlisted gowns were an odd mix of completely intelligible and head scratching choices. For example, I absolutely adored South Africa's gown. Sleek, modern but with a very unique and distinctive touch of a very traditional Xhosa element, it was a standout creation. So was Miss China's gown, a captivating mix of a traditional Chinese and modern European silhouette, it stood out, and Miss China's smooth walk made a gown that could just as easily been classified as bizarre seem incredibly fashion forward. Thailand was another interesting and expected choice - the motifs hand painted by young adults with autism at a school that Nicolene teaches, elevated a simple white gown, creating a unique piece that cleverly combined both beauty and purpose. Bravo! But I was personally a bit puzzled by the inclusion of Malaysia and Portugal in that group. Perhaps up close the work on the gowns were remarkable but from where we sat, they were pretty but unremarkable, indeed: they were pretty unremarkable gowns. And there were so many more interesting choices - India's molded red gown was a stunner, as were Austria's figure hugging emerald and silver sheath, Puerto Rico's riff on a pantsuit, Senegal's vibrant piece that took us all momentarily to another continent and Rwanda's folded white crystal gown evoking Ralph and Russo. Even among the more conventional choices, Ireland's mermaid gown with the silver fascinator, Egypt's translucent dream of a gown, Australia's gossamer silver white ballgown or Vietnam's classic white, body hugging off-shoulder gown were all better choices, in my opinion.
A few gowns left us scratching our heads entirely. Philippines crimson and pink gown was ill fitting and finished off with a strange pair of pins in her hair will take us all a few years to explain. For a country that has given us gowns we still drool over like Valerie Weigman's buttercup yellow ball gown or even Laura Lehman's goregous pink gown in last year's finale, this one was a doozy and did not do the vibrant Katja any favors. Ditto Slovakia. I was really expecting her to shine but that hot mess of a feathered gown would bring down even the most accomplished runway star. Nepal's gown was a trickier one to call. The gown itself was gorgeous, especially the back, but I have never in my life seen one less well suited to walking.
Now on to the results of Top Model. Going into the contest, most eyes were on Miss France, whose sister is a runway model, and a trio of statuesque Africans - Misses Senegal, Nigeria (the defending Top Model champ) and Tanzania, whose frames are exceptionally well suited to the task at hand. I also had an eye on Miss Slovakia, one of my pre-contest favorites, Miss Croatia, whose beauty cannot be denied, but desperately needed this contest to make a mark. From the American continent, it felt like another do or die moment for Miss Mexico, who previously won Mexico's Next Top Model beating out former Miss World finalist Mariana Berumen, but has been somewhat lost in the mix in Sanya and Miss Chile, another fan favorite, who in spite of the love surrounding her still remains a largely unknown quantity.
Of the 118 finalists, who each paraded in their evening gowns (where they were judged for the Designer Dress Award), and then in a cocktail dress, 32 lucky young women were chosen as finalists. China PR, Barbados, Australia, Brazil, Belarus, Chile, France, Croatia, Germany, Greece, Guadeloupe, Italy, Korea, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Nigeria, Panama, Philippines, Russia, Poland, Serbia, Spain, South Africa Thailand, Sri Lanka, Vietnam, Turkey, Belgium and Senegal.
We were a bit surprised to see girls like Italy who was really quite stiff in her evening gown, Nepal who did everything short of fall (but soldiered on bravely) in her evening gown, Philippines and Belgium who were both very old fashioned and pageanty in their presentation make the cut. Now, I don't mean to riff on these girls, who are all lovely, and deserve credit for the job they did, but nothing about them screamed Top Model to me last night. On the other hand, girls who were really quite commanding like Colombia, India, Sierra Leone and Austria who did everything right and looked stunning were inexplicably left out. Pre-contest favorites like Tanzania and Uganda were unsurprising in their inclusion. Tanzania seemed nervous and stiff on the runway, and Uganda, who actually walked in New York fashion week this year was surprisingly uncomfortable in her heels.
We can only chalk it up to personal taste and what is inherently a subjective process!
In the end, the only real surprise in the top 5 was South Africa, who shone when it mattered last night with a dazzling smile and a smooth walk. Korea, who was one of our pre-arrival favorites but had somewhat faded re-emerged when it mattered and her slender and tall frame carried her to a well deserved fourth spot. Senegal was third, and I dare say very little separated her from the winner - Aissattou has a look that would not be out of place on the runways of Paris and Milan! The home girl, China was in second place and while surprising to some, there was no denying her strong walk and presence on the runway and the pre-arrival favorite, Maeva Couke of France cemented her position as a favorite and now, as a semifinalist with the Top Model trophy. Maeva looked like a dream last night - her styling was impeccable, her walk fluid and her presence without peer. It was a well deserved victory and the news media in France are already celebrating her win - unprecedented for a beauty contest!
Now, what do we make of all this? Given that the jury consisted of many staples of the Miss World Organization and jury panels - stage director Donna Darby, music director Mike Dixon, hair and makeup maestro Andrew Minarik, NSR CEO David Lee, MWO Chairperson Julia Morley, it is tempting to simply roll over and place the crown on France's head. But maybe we shouldn't be in such a hurry. Top Model winners have missed the cut entirely - as happened in 2014 (although MW had the Challenge system back then and the reinstatement of the Fast Track system in 2016 once again guarantees the winner of Top Model a place in the top 30) and the Miss World crown has been won more often without the Top Model title than with. Similarly, all is not lost for the girls who didn't place. The contest always finds a way to buck tradition and defy fan expectations, so why not once again? As we noted in an earlier editorial, this is an exceptionally even contest, and there is still a lot to see, including the all important Beauty With a Purpose contest and the Head to Head challenge, where girls like India, Indonesia, Trinidad & Tobago, Tanzania and many others will start to shine. Although the organization is constantly evaluating the contestants, they will give every girl a fair chance and the most important part of the contest are the interviews with the jury panel where everything can change. All we can say conclusively at this stage is that Miss France IS a girl to keep an eye on, as is the home girl, Miss China. I don't think China is going to win - Pei Rui is no Zhang Zi Lin or Yu Wen Xia who stood out the second they entered the contest with their striking beauty, but a strong placement a la Tang Xiao (2010) is not out of the question. Now the pressure is on them, and how they handle it is another test of the fitness of a candidate to be Miss World!