Inspired by prayers, the Maureen shoe by Jojo Bragais helped delegates make a winning impression at the 71st Miss Univese Competition.
With criss-crossed leather straps that resemble hands clasped in prayer, the Maureen shoe by Jojo Bragais took to the stage at the recently concluded 71st Miss Universe pageant. Modeled by delegates from 84 countries, it complemented the shimmery cocktail dresses of the preliminaries. It appeared again, rendered in nude tones as the ladies strutted in colorful swimwear, and likewise accompanied the evening gowns of some of the delegates.
The Filipino designer’s beginnings are far removed from that stage in New Orleans. Bragais pivoted into design from nursing, and spent years honing his artistic craft. “I understand that feeling of dreaming and working hard for something we truly want,” he tells Vogue Philippines. “I want to incorporate that feeling for the shoes, and inspire others to keep dreaming because one day their prayers will be answered.”
Being an official sponsor of the Miss Universe pageant is one such manifested aspiration. This is the Bragais’ second time after being tapped in 2020. “I feel really blessed and honored to be [part] of something this big…Each time seeing my work on [a] big stage such as Miss Universe, a part of me is still in disbelief,” he says. “The product development takes time to perfect and when you see them looking amazing on these women [from] around the world, it makes me want to do more. That sense of pride that it’s a Filipino made shoe gives me a different sense of fulfillment.”
And while most designers would focus mainly on the looks, Bragais cares just as much about how his creations are engineered. “Beauty queens dress and walk a certain way. They move a certain way, and train hard for [their] pasarela,” he explains, “so for me, comfort and support in [my] designs are two of my priorities. The shoes actually carry the weight of the person, and if it is [uncomfortable], you can’t be your best and you won’t be able to deliver the performance the show demands.”
This nuanced understanding of what the competition demands translates to sky-high heels with great balance, rubber outsoles best for a slippery stage, and added stabilizers to make sure the heels don’t fly off even if the candidate keeps twirling.
His preternatural ability for these high-heeled wonders is something the local pageant community has long taken notice of, with one his first supporters being Stella Marquez Araneta of Binibining Pilipinas. After seeing his heels on a candidate early on in his career in 2014 and being delighted by his work, Araneta had then asked Bragais to become their official shoe provider. “They jumpstarted my career, so I have utang na loob to this organization,” he shares. On top of this, Bragais has also partnered with the Miss Universe Philippines and Miss World Philippines organizations.
It makes sense that beauty queens are also Bragais’ chosen muses. The Maureen shoe, for example, was actually named after his friend, Miss Globe 2021 Maureen Montagne, the designer’s friend. Miss Universe 2015 Pia Wurtzbach and Jehza Huelar, have likewise inspired Bragais paris of their own.
Backstage at the recent Miss Universe competition, the designer was clearly ecstatic, especially as he was working on his ad campaign before coronation night. Shot by Filipino photographer Dion Trinidad, the brand’s “Walk this Way” campaign represents how a candidate’s pasarela was also a metaphor for some of the important things a delegate stood for. “Her story, her dreams, her advocacy, and the things she learned that can inspire others as she competes to become the next Miss Universe,” shares the designer.
Among the eight ladies the team worked with, there was of course Philippine delegate Celeste Cortesi, who was placed in silver heels and a slinky metallic gown. The designer had also tapped R’Bonney and Miss Universe first runner-up Amanda Dudamel of Venezuela.
“Talking to her for even a short period of time, you will feel her honesty, her confidence, and how she is true to her advocacy,” Bragais says of working with Gabriel. “It is so empowering that I am inspired to design a shoe named after her.”
From his workshop in Binangonan, Rizal, the designer had devoted 2022 to expanding his aesthetic beyond pageantry. He plans to ventures to other types of footwear for women, releasing men’s shoes, and working on a line of bags and leather goods.