• Ardika Pradnya

Bombshells and Backlashes: Victoria’s Real Secret

Updated: May 6, 2020

What is Sexy? Victoria’s Secret asked, and they might no longer know the answer. It was reported that the lingerie giant’s iconic fashion show might say goodbye to television once and for all. Is this truly the end of an era? The end of the television special that we know today?

Every year, Victoria’s Secret staged a globally-televised fashion show, featuring strikingly gorgeous models famous enough to be called only by their first names, strutting in their underwear, selling a certain fantasy. It is billed as the greatest fashion show in the world and beyond, it is a spectacle. It has departed from a private ballroom event inside New York’s The Plaza Hotel to a TV special with musical artists performing side-to-side with beautiful models and their skimpy couture getup.

As a person who enjoys fashion, a musical performance, elaborate costume and fierce models stomping the glittery runway, i LOVED the idea of this show. But i myself have been noticing how it evolves and lately, and quite honestly think that it has lost its spunk. All the over-the-top audience waving from the models seems to make sense back then when big personalities such as Tyra Banks, Heidi Klum, or Adriana Lima were there. When it is forced, though, it seems cringey and desperate, along with adding musical performance on every segment, turning what supposed to be a fashion show into Coachella.

gigi hadid victoria's secret

[Gigi Hadid walking the 2016 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show]

Victoria’s Secret has a pretty humble beginning (if you want to call it humble). Founded in 1977 by Roy Raymond, who had a hard time buying lingerie for his wife at the department store, he had this idea of lingerie stores that are men-friendly (not sure if that’s a good thing, but later on we’ll find out), which led to the VS brand that we know today, opening more than 1000 stores worldwide. However, the brand has gone above and beyond to sell lingerie. It has been very much associated to an annual fashion show, expanded the brand exposure to a global level. I am definitely not a lingerie customer, but i’ve been tuning in to the show since 2005.

Fair enough. For more than a decade, there are some elements from the show that pretty much revolutionized what branding truly is in the world of fashion and entertainment. In 1999 It was the first ever fashion show to be streamed live online, and literally broke the internet before Kim Kardashian’s ass. There are certainly elements inside the show the public can’t ignore.

Million Dollar Faces

Even since the beginning, Victoria’s Secret has featured models who are pretty much on top of their game, or at least on the way to. Stephanie Seymour, Victoria Webb and Rebecca Romijn (yes! Who knew?!) were among the top names who walked on their first show.

[Stephanie Seymour in 1998 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show]

[Naomi Campbell in the 2005 fashion show]

Since then, high-fashion supermodels who ruled the 90s such as Naomi Campbell, Claudia Schiffer, Helena Christensen, and Eva Herzigova joined in, followed with next generations of top models such as Tyra Banks and Gisele Bundchen.

Victoria’s Secret was also responsible on turning models into household names. Brazilian bombshell such as Adriana Lima and Alessandra Ambrosio are among some of the most bankable names in the modelling industry and their image has been pretty much associated with the brand. German model Heidi Klum even stated that high-fashion industry never really accepted her, yet Victoria’s Secret opened their door and we all know who Heidi is today.

And then there are the Angels..

Called after the Angels collection back in the 90s modeled by Tyra Banks and Helena Christensen, among a few, a group of models who take on a bigger role as spokesperson of the brand are appointed as Angels such as Gisele Bundchen, Miranda Kerr and Stella Maxwell.

On its heyday, the Angels contract is among some of the most lucrative deals for models, with Millions of dollars on the paper for models like Tyra and Miranda. Gisele Bundchen was the highest-paid model in the world when she was there for few years running. However, rumour has it that the number shrunk to 6 figures for today’s Angels. Perhaps, being an Angel is just to boost popularity at this point, or a prestige that the models could add to their resume, even though i am not sure that they’re really need that.

[Adriana Lima, one of the most iconic Victoria's Secret models]

Shine Bright Like a Fantasy Bra

Apparently only Victoria’s Secret who can truly make your bra to shine bright like a diamond..with actual diamonds. As a show needs a show-stopping piece, Victoria’s Secret presents a special lingerie piece every year designed exclusively for them, incorporating precious stones crafted by noted jeweler, resulting in at least a million dollar price tag.

Interestingly enough, the price tag too, has shrunk over the years. The most expensive one, from the year 2000 was available for $15 million, while the latest one, the 2018 fantasy bra that was not even made from earth-mined diamonds, was listed for (only) $1 million. Still very expensive, but the difference is staggering, and perhaps it is a sign of the company’s struggle? Anyway, before we think “who would buy that shit anyway?”, one particular Fantasy Bra in 1997 actually landed itself a buyer.

[Gisele Bundchen modeled Victoria's Secret's priciest lingerie, at $15 Million, it broke the Guiness World Records as the most expensive lingerie piece ever made]

[Elsa Hosk wearing the 2018 Fantasy Bra, made from lab-grown diamonds, costs $1 Million]

Feast for The Eyes, Music to Our Ears

Musical stars have been an added sugar to the fashion show. From Taylor Swift, Rihanna, Justin Timberlake, Lady Gaga, to Nicki Minaj have all secured a spot on the VS runway. Who can also forget that the Spice Girls once reunited on a Victoria’s Secret show!

However, musical artists used to blend in perfectly with the production of the fashion show. In the recent years, to me it feels like every show relies on the artists to hype the show up. Perhaps there weren’t enough models with superstar qualities like it used to?

[The Spice Girls reunited in 2007 and performed on the show]

[Ed Sheeran at the 2014 Victoria's Secret Fashion Show]

[Justin Timberlake performed "SexyBack" in 2006 as models walked by]

Rihanna at the 2012 Victoria's Secret fashion show runway

[Rihanna at the 2012 Victoria's Secret fashion show runway]

Flight of the Angels

The idea of taking the show beyond the American borders actually came to life in 1999, when the brand took over Cannes Film Festival. French supermodel Laetitia Casta even made a runway appearance and closed the show in that year.

Traditionally, the show is to be held in New York City, but to shake things up, the Angels have flown to Miami, London, Paris, and even Shanghai.

[The Angels went to Paris for the 2016 show]

[The Angels took over Shanghai in 2016]

[French top model Laetitia Casta at the 2000 show in Cannes, France]

The Wings!

You can’t be an angel without your wings! Ever since its first appearance in the 1996, the Angel wings have been reinvented to all kinds of shapes and sizes. If Alessandra Ambrosio had to carry a 40 pound crystal-encrusted pair of wings in 2011, it seems like Angels literally have weight on their shoulders!

[Heidi Klum carried a ribbon-shaped wings in 2008]

[Alessandra Ambrosio and her 40 pound wings, the heaviest piece ever created for the show and took over 7 months to make]

[Heidi Klum and snowflake shaped wings in 2007]

Moments and Mishaps

Victoria’s Secret show has no short of unforgettable moments, while some contributed to the wow factors of the show, some remains in the history of the show for being meme-worthy.

The nature of the show as being pre-taped also proven helpful to prevent undesirable scandals to air. This happened with Gisele Bundchen in 2002 when a group of PETA activists crashed the runway and showing protests towards the Supermodels’ stance on wearing fur. Another controversy occurred in 2012 when Karlie Kloss walked the runway in a native American headdress, painting the brand as racially insensitive.

[Top Models of early 2000s; Gisele Bundchen, Karoline Kurkova, Alessandra Ambrosio, Raquel Zimmerman, Bianca Balti, Ana Beatriz-Barros, and Doutzen Kroes opened the 2005 show by appearing from inside of a giant giftbox, dressed as sexy Santa helpers]

[Tyra Banks improvised a Flamenco dance in the beginning of a session in the 2002 show]

[Seal performed a duet with her then-wife Heidi Klum on the 2007 show]

[Ariana Grande's priceless expression when almost got hit by Elsa Hosk's wings during a taping of the 2014 show went viral on the internet]

[PETA activists jumped on the runway as Gisele Bundchen walked in 2002]

When the Wings Begin to Crack

Even though every year the show always present a repetitive pitch to the audience, such as “It is the biggest show in the world!” or “How can we make it bigger next year?”, numbers on the retail show started to catch up and reflects that Victoria’s Secret might have lost its spark.

Reportedly, between 2016 to 2018 it has lost its market share from 33% to 24% and are planning to shut 53 stores and counting. Its teenage-focused brand Pink even faced a decrease in sales, not to mention some parents are vocalizing their concern over the brand’s oversexualized ads. Does it mean that we are tired of Victoria’s Secret’s vision of Sexy?

Well, perhaps it is simply out of touch with today’s reality. The brand’s televised show, which was built during the era of porno-chic where fashion and luxury brands are using glamour as a part of the communication approach, might no longer fit with today’s “woke” society.

Yes, it’s not a new story that the #MeToo have shifted the way brands and society communicate, and the history of Victoria’s Secret as a lingerie brand built by the eyes of men certainly does not help leverage the brand image for today.

[Plus-size model Tabria Majors recreated some images from Victoria's Secret campaign, stating the reason that such campaign would never happen in real life]

The public also seems to have a problem with the kind of beauty standard that the brand shows, losing their appetite of classical skinny sex machine that Victoria’s Secret always champion as its muse. The lack of curvy models and inclusivity by not calculating trans models also caused the brand to be judged as irrelevant.

The comment made by Ed Razek (that man you see on every behind-the-scenes videos on Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, who seems to have the last say on everything), the Chief Marketing Officer of the lingerie giant, raised more eyebrows, as he stated the brand does not need to jump into the trans and plus size bandwagon as the show supposed to be a “fantasy”. I’m not even sure whose ‘fantasy’ he was referring to.

[YouTube personality and influencer Gigi Georgous, publicly known as a Trans woman slammed Victoria's Secret and Ed Razek for his statement]

The company’s further attempt for the sake of ticking the diversity box made it even worse. In 2019, they announced the recruitment of Barbara Palvin and Alexina Graham. Problem is, Barbara made quite a buzz by being introduced as the brand’s first plus-size model (she is slightly curvier than other Angels but homegirl does not represent ‘curvy’ AT ALL, she’s a size 8!), while Alexina will be the brand’s first redhead Angel. Groundbreaking. This is even quite laughable.

No wonder that the brand had to give up the crown to more inclusive brands like Aerie.

Other than me, apparently people no longer care about its fashion show either. Their rating has been on decline since 2013 and their latest 2018 show has its lowest rating.

But why is that? Well, other than the brand’s negative press, i do think people no longer care about this kind of entertainment like how it used to. Take fashion show itself, for example, it used to have some kind of mystery and exclusivity. No one had access to watch an important fashion show before, unless they are a part of the fashion industry. Today, everybody has access to fashion shows streamed in real-time on their screen.

[Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, the hottest names in modeling today with millions of social media followers]

The idea of the show itself also gets old. Superstar models used to truly turn heads and lure people in to watch whatever they do, and Victoria’s Secret allowed the public to watch these stunning women do their thing. However, the popular models that we see on the VS runway today has a different kind of audience. Kendall Jenner, The Hadid sisters, and some of most recent Angels used Instagram as their stage. Their audience do not need a TV show to see them in action anymore.

As the brand is reconsidering to discontinue the TV special, perhaps now is the perfect time to truly reflect, and consider all options before really moving forward. Victoria’s Secret, no matter what, is still an institution and there’s so much to exploit.

[Reality TV stars The Kardashian-Jenners sisters dressed up as Victoria's Secret models for Halloween]

Perhaps they could do a Netflix special instead? A documentary about the brand, the shows, or the iconic Fantasy Bras. They could also bring back past Angels to reunite, talk about behind-the-scene stories, and perhaps do a photoshoot together. I know i will definitely tune in for that! One thing that is sure is that Victoria’s Secret must explore various tools outside of the traditional media in order to connect with the public. I’m not saying they haven’t, but clearly something more needs to be done.

Whatever the path they take, they should seriously evaluate their brand and evolve with time. If the senior execs still refuse to really modernize the brand, then perhaps it’s time to take them down. Addressing the lack of diversity is ultra important at this point, and if Victoria’s Secret can truly come up with the right formula, it would be revolutionary for them and they might win back the hearts (and pockets!) of the people.

Because if they ask today “What is sexy?” the answer could be many things, but we all know what ISN’T; being out of touch.

#victoriassecret #supermodels #tyrabanks #heidiklum #adrianalima #gigihadid #giselebundchen

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