"That night when the show aired, I kept getting all these Instagram messages and emails from customers going, 'I want that dress that Melissa's wearing. I want it now, where can I get it?'," Bigeni tells Refinery29 Australia.
Admitting that he doesn't own a television, the Sydney-based designer says he was initially confused about the sudden demand but then remembered that he had sent Leong some pieces from his collection.
"Even Channel 10 was emailing me going, 'We've got customers emailing us asking where can I get that dress?'," he shares.
The dress in question was a long-sleeved maxi that's hand-painted and tie-dyed, and sells online for $290. When Bigeni noticed the popularity of the unique outfit thanks to a reality TV appearance, he made the most of the opportunity, naming that particular dress 'Melissa' and creating similar pieces in different colours that reflected his style and vision.
"I realised she's wearing that dress I let her borrow and then I was like, 'I need to make this work. This is what we all talk about — grabbing that idea and working it'," he recalls.
"I saw all of these orders just come in for this dress and that was a lightbulb moment for me — [that] this is what I need to be doing. It's all custom-done and all individually hand-painted and no one has the same paint. It's all different, and I guess it just took off from there."
Bigeni knew Leong before she wore his dress on the small screen, and he says the food critic epitomises what his brand is about — individuality, confidence and diverse representation.
"She's always been a big supporter and a she's a muse as well," Bigeni explains. "She represents my [idea of] diversity — she represents real women to me and she's very authentic."
With Leong, what you see is what you get, Bigeni adds. "She's very realistic and how you see her on TV is her in real life. She's not pretending to be someone."
Back on MasterChef Australia: Fans & Favourites this year, Leong has continued to be a TV fashion icon in her own right with her vibrant outfits and accessories. Bigeni isn't sure whether Leong will be wearing any of his creations this season, but he says she definitely has a few of his pieces in her wardrobe.
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