FROM a traditional-looking sarong kebaya to a Merlion-inspired glitzy gown complete with scales, the Miss Singapore Universe national costume is hoping to make a bigger splash on stage in this year's Miss Universe Pageant.
And the idea has gone down swimmingly with this year's Miss Singapore Universe winner, Shenise Wong.
The 26-year-old Forex trader told the New Paper: 'Instead of the typical sarong kebaya-sari-cheongsan mixed together, this year is very different.'
She considers it a brilliant idea and added: 'I'm very honoured to wear something so outstanding on stage.'
However Ms Wong did have initial reservations when she first heard her garment was going to be Merlion-inspired.
She said: 'I was thinking, 'Am I gonna be wearing this big thing on my head that looks like the Merlion was put on me?' But I'm relieved because it's like a mermaid sort of dress.'
Mr Daryl Pang, business and promotions director of Derrol Stepenny Promotions, which has held the rights to the Miss Singapore Universe franchise since 2000, said the use of the Merlion has been a long time coming.
He said: 'We've always used multi-cultural or flower themes, but we've decided to make it fresh and stunning this time.'
Mr Pang decided to work with 18-year-old designer Muhammed Hafiz Tahir again after they collaborated last year on Miss Singapore Universe 2007 Jessica Tan's national costume.
Muhammed Hafiz, who is studying fashion design at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts said: 'The Merlion is symbolic of and unique to Singapore'.
The white and silver gown has textured 'scales' made of PVC leather and dangling plastic crystals.
And to complete the ensemble - an organza fishtail train and a matching shimmery collar piece that is supposed to spread out behind Shenise's head like a large fin.
To top up the look, several scallop shells adorn her mohawk-styled hair.
Bracing for criticisms
After receiving harsh criticism for Jessica's national costume last year, Muhammed Hafiz is prepared for more this time round.
And the critics are not holding back.
Fashion stylist Karen Ng thought the dress 'looks awful' and is 'antiquated', not representative at all 'of Singapore as a modern, chic country'.
'It could've been an avant garde, high-fashion look that's very Galliano but this is far from couture.'
'It looks like a normal pretty dress made out of scales with a fish-tail ... It reminds me more of a beautiful fish or mermaid than the Merlion, as there is no resemblance.'
Ms Ng's parting words: 'Whether or not the dress is suitable for the national costume parade will depend on how Shenise wears it and sells it to the rest of the world.'
However, there were a few who sang some praises.
Fashion show choreographer David Boey found the dress 'quite nice' and a 'vast improvement' to last year's 'badly-made dress'.
'At least it doesnt make you go 'ewww' or want to hide under a rock ad be embarassed to be Singaporean,' he said.
Louis Ler from Amor Meus boutique who designed Miss Singapore Universe 2005 Cheryl Tay's orchid-detailed national costume also liked the Merlion idea.
The Miss Universe Pageant grand finals will take place in Vietnam next month.