Caitlin Tyson thought Miss Cayman Islands should look like a goddess of the sea.
Preparing for the Dec. 17 Miss Universe pageant, Ms. Tyson, who was crowned Miss Cayman in August, needed a national costume, one of the contest’s requirements. The costume must reflect something about the culture or character of the contestant’s country. In past years, outfits have been made to reflect various Cayman themes, such as fire coral, an orchid and, most recently, a green parrot.
Cayman-based designer Kenzie Rose said Ms. Tyson plucked a lyric from the national song as the inspiration for this year’s theme: “O sea of palest em’rald/Merging to darkest blue.”
The result is a glittering illuminated tulle and sequined gown studded with 10,000 Swarovski crystals and emblems made from plastic recycled on Cayman.
“I do believe that Caitlin’s vision came through,” said Latrese Haylock, deputy director of Miss Cayman Islands Universe. “Kenzie just sat down and drew it and brought it to life.”
Ms. Haylock makes it sound simple. Ms. Rose, 31, who has been designing clothing since she was 15 and has been doing national pageant work for the past three years, said it took nearly 100 hours of cutting and sewing over five weeks – she teaches gymnastics during the day – to complete the piece.
“It’s definitely the most technically difficult thing I’ve ever had to do,” Ms. Rose said. “I think there are 200 feet of LED lights” sewn into the gown.
The floor-length bustled skirt illuminates to reveal black crystal stingrays under the fabric. The effect, Ms. Rose said, makes it appear that the rays are swimming in bioluminescent water. The bodice of the gown is shimmering layers of crystals and large sequins.
The dress also has an ecological element. Blue stars on the bodice and the Cayman Crest, stingrays, turtles and thatch palm leaves in the matching tiara were made locally on a 3-D printer from recycled plastic by J.R. Cameron.
Ms. Rose said she got into making pageant costumes when a friend, Monyque Brooks, was named Miss Cayman in 2016.
“She saw a costume I did for Batabano,” she said, and asked her to design her national costume. “A lot of pageant girls have been reaching out ever since.”
Last year, she made a national costume for Miss BVI, who had resigned herself to dropping out of international competition after Hurricane Irma destroyed much of the island and displaced thousands of residents.
Officials said $800 of material went into this year’s gown for Miss Cayman.
Ms. Haylock said the government provides the pageant with funding for its budget each year. The funds also go toward recruitment, training for the participants and the pageant itself.
She said she and other pageant officials are pleased with this year’s costume, not only for the way it represents Cayman, but because Miss Cayman is satisfied with it.
“Once the queen’s happy,” she said, “we’re all happy.”
Check caymancompass.com online on Saturday to see video featuring Miss Cayman’s dress.