FilAm Miss Universe R’Bonney Gabriel raring for Manila visit

FILIPINO AMERICAN R'Bonney Gabriel of Texas is Miss Universe

By Claire Morales True, Managing Editor
NEW ORLEANS/SAN FRANCISCO – Filipino American beauty queen R’Bonney Gabriel of the United States won the Miss Universe crown during the pageant final ceremonies at the Morial Convention Center in New Orleans, Louisiana, besting beauty queens from 49 countries.
Gabriel, 28, a fashion designer and model who was Miss Texas when she won Miss USA title, was a proud FilAm as she wore dresses partly designed by Filipinos. She acknowledged her Filipino heritage in her first conference after she was crowned, and immediately expressed she was raring to visit the Philippines, the country of her father who was in the crowd with his American wife when Gabriel won the title.
Aside from winning Miss Universe, R’Bonney was also the first Filipino-American to win Miss USA and reportedly the oldest winner of the two titles at 28.
Gabriel’s winning the title put to rest protests made by some candidates in the Miss USA pageant who claimed that organizers were reportedly bias in her favor.
Gabriel, whose father Remigio Bonzon Gabriel was born in Manila and migrated to the US at 25, was supposed to visit the Philippines last December to launch a Miss Universe-supported project but her trip had to be postponed due to the Miss USA controversy. Gabriel’s mother Dana Walker hails from Beaumont, Texas.
Gabriel was proclaimed “the most beautiful woman” in the Universe during the 71st edition of the pageant in New Orleans January 14 in US (January 15 in the Philippines).

She succeeds Harnaaz Sandhu of India, and is the first to wear the “Force for Good” crown made by Mouawad in partnership with the Miss Universe Organization under its new owner, Anne Jakrajutatip.

During the first round of question-and-answer portion of the pageant, Gabriel was asked what change she’d like to see in Miss Universe and why.

She answered: “For me, I would like to see an age increase, because I am 28 years old and that is the oldest age to compete. I think it’s a beautiful thing. My favorite quote is ‘If not now, then when?’ As a woman, I believe that age does not define us. It’s not tomorrow, it’s yesterday but it’s now. The time is now that you can go after what you want.”

In the final Q&A, all the Top 3 contestants were asked how they would work to demonstrate that the Miss Universe is an empowering and progressive organization should they win the competition.

“Well, I would use it to be a transformational leader. As a very passionate designer, I’ve been sewing for 13 years, I use fashion as a force for good. In my industry, I’m cutting down on pollution through recycled materials when I make my clothing. I teach sewing classes to women who survived from human trafficking and domestic violence and I say that because it is so important to invest in others, invest in our community and use your unique talent to make a difference. We all have something special and when we plant those seeds to other people in our life, we transform them and we use that as a vehicle for change,” she said.
Gabriel is the fourth Asian American and first Fil-Am to be named Miss USA, while Miss USA 1962 Macel Wilson, who is said to have grandparents from the Philippines, is considered the first Asian Pacific American Islander to win the crown.

The 2022 Miss USA pageant featured two other Pinays: Suzanne Perez of Miss New Mexico and Miss Hawaii Kiana Yamut.

R’Bonney said in interviews prior to the pageant that she loved fashion as early as she was only 15. She graduated from the University of North Texas with a bachelor’s degree in fashion design in 2018.

She is a fashion designer, model, and currently, the CEO of her own sustainable clothing line, R’Bonney Nola.
R’Bonney collaborated with Filipino fashion designers for her gorgeous outfits during the Miss Universe pageant.
R’Bonney is the lead sewing instructor at Magpies & Peacocks, a Houston-based non-profit design house that is known for their commitment to sustainability and community impact. She teaches sewing classes to women who were victims of human trafficking and domestic violence.

Her evening gown during the preliminaries and the coronation night were created by Rian Fernandez, while her national costume was made by Patrick Isorena.

Gabriel’s first and second runners-up are Amanda Dudamel of Venezuela and Andreína Martínez of Dominican Republic, respectively.

While the proud Filipino American beauty was victorious, the Philippines’ representative, Filipino-Italian Celeste Cortesi, ended her Miss Universe quest early on, as she fell to land in the Top 16, the first time the Philippines missed a semi-final placement in the Miss Universe since the stint of Venus Raj in 2010.
The Miss Universe Philippines Organization, however, was still all praises for Cortesi after her early exit in the pageant.
“You inspired us with your beauty, grace, and perseverance. Thank you for giving an amazing performance for the country, @celeste_cortesi!” the organization said on Instagram.
During the preliminaries, Celeste turned heads with her shimmering baby blue evening gown with a thigh-high slit. She also showcased her fit figure in a pink bikini with an inspiring cape.
For her national costume, Celeste channeled her inner superhero as she dressed as Darna, the iconic character from Mars Ravelo’s comic series.

Cortesi was aiming for the Philippines’ fifth Miss Universe crown after Catriona Gray (2018), Pia Wurtzbach (2015), Margie Moran (1973), and Gloria Diaz (1969).

Born to an Italian father and Filipina mother, she first represented the Philippines in Miss Earth in 2018, where she placed in the Top 8. (