With only two months left before the Mrs World pageant in Las Vegas, the UAE's first-ever representative Debanjali Kamstra says she has picked a designer who will create two dresses for her, including the all-important national costume.
Kamstra, who is from India but has lived in Dubai for the past 13 years, was invited by the US organisers of the global pageant in September to be the UAE representative. She will be among 72 contestants competing for the crown, which the organisation says “celebrates the uniqueness of married women”.
Mrs World 2022 is scheduled to be held in Las Vegas on January 15.
"I was looking for a designer who would understand the significance of the moment, and its importance," Kamstra tells The National.
"We finally decided to go with Filipino designer Cary Santiago. Filipinos have been doing amazing work with pageantry, whether it's on stage or designing clothes. And Cary is great with fabric manipulation and costume making."
Kamstra's national costume, which will be part of a competition, will be inspired by the falcon, the UAE's national bird, and a symbol of strength and heritage. The dresses will be revealed at the pageant.
Santiago, who has been designing for more than 25 years, says he agreed to take on the project because it was "another beautiful challenge" for him.
"I have a passion for anything that takes flight, especially birds, so I could not say no to it," he says. "The plan is for Debanjali to stand out. She is already a very beautiful and stunning lady and we just want to make sure that the dresses will accentuate her [quality of] being an empowered woman.
"She has a very lovely personality and great personal style and she is a woman of substance, so, as a designer, I want to highlight that by using and leaning towards the different hues of gold, [and also with] Dubai being the city of gold. This will be a very beautiful collaboration between the two of us."
A dress designed by Santiago and worn by the Philippines' contestant Gazini Ganados won the best national costume at the Miss Universe pageant in 2019.
"It was a very big honour for me. Debanjali saw that costume, together with all my other avian-inspired dresses from my collection at that time. That probably made her decide to contact me and I just can't wait to finish her costume," says the designer whose creations have been worn by a number of celebrities, from Beyonce to Paris Hilton and Tyra Banks.
Santiago likes to call his designs "wearable art".
"All my works are considered masterpieces with the most intricate designs. You can immediately recognise it's a Cary dress when you see one. It is always very distinct. Distinctively Cary."
A former cabin crew with Emirates airline, Kamstra is also an architect and opened her first interior design business, Veloche, in Dubai a decade ago. She has since started two more companies, one selling home interiors and the other dealing in healthy snacks and drinks. She married Christiaan Kamstra in 2012, and the couple live in Dubai with their two daughters, Victoria, 6, and Tiffany, 5.
As there has never been a Mrs UAE World before, Kamstra told The National in an earlier interview that her preparations for the contest have been entirely self-funded. The fact she's not a UAE citizen is also not an issue for the organisers, she said.
“They understand the UAE and that so many expatriates call it home. So, [that] was not an issue for them,” she said. “Also, our UAE leaders have made it very clear that everyone living here should consider this as their country and their home. That encouraged me.”