Tragedy struck Mexico’s representative at this year’s Miss Universe competition in New Orleans when her intricately designed national folkloric costume disappeared from backstage.
According to Mexican media personality Maxine Woodside, 25-year-old Melissa Flores returned to her dressing room after the National Costume showcase Monday night to find that her traditional Mexican outfit — an alebrije-inspired gown named “Colors of Mexico, Guardian Alebrije” — had vanished.
Valued by its designer at over one million pesos ($50,000) and incorporating aspects of Mexico’s vibrant culture, the dress took four months and 13 artisans to construct. Its disappearance has sparked outrage.
The Missing Costume
Dubbed “a mystical heroine with a deeply Mexican heart” by creator Ángel Rámez, the now-missing costume fused influences from the alebrije folk art tradition and Huichol beadwork.
Its central winged deer and owl motifs represented safety and security, according to Rámez. The ensemble’s brightly-colored panels and meticulous bead embellishments embodied “the characteristic colors of Mexico,” the designer said previously.
An Ongoing Investigation
Local authorities have opened an investigation into the incident. The Miss Universe Organization called the alleged theft “deeply unfortunate,” reassuring the public that security at the event was extremely tight.
Pageant representatives also noted that all contestants were thoroughly searched upon exiting the venue each night. They promised to assist the police fully in uncovering what transpired.
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Melissa Speaks Out
In an emotional Instagram post, Melissa Flores acknowledged she was devastated by the financial and cultural loss but would not let it dampen her Miss Universe experience entirely.
“This costume represented the talent of so many artisans and such an important part of Mexican culture,” she wrote. “I hope we can reconnect with [its] essence and learn from this difficult situation.”
Could It Have Been Prevented?
Pageant pundits argue that formal protocols like securely tagging each costume could have forestalled any criminal acts. Others suggest Melissa bears some responsibility for not safeguarding the priceless outfit more vigilantly herself.
Costume designer Rámez disagrees, insisting it was the pageant’s duty to protect Melissa’s property while she focused on competing.
A Wider Problem?
Some commentators view this incident as symptomatic of deeper issues around exploiting marginalized cultures for profit and spectacle. Without proper consent and protections, they argue, indigenous art can be appropriated or even stolen by those with power and means.
While the missing costume has sparked dialogue on access, equity, and preservation, Melissa Flores also hopes “an act of love” may restore her iconic dress, be it the thief or community efforts to recreate it.