Victoria’s Secret has been an iconic global titan virtually since its launch in 1977. Since its debut, at The Plaza Hotel in 1995, the brands’ highly publicised annual shows have also become an institution in itself; an extravaganza of implausible underwear, celebrity guests and performers including Rihanna, Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift. But, as with many institutions, Victoria’s Secret has not been without its more problematic elements.
Accusations of sexism, objectification and promoting narrow and unrealistic body ideals have been gathering force over the past decade and this image certainly hasn’t been helped by comments such as Razek’s that “we market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world’ in response to a question about Victoria’s Secret’s lack of plus-size offering.
It would be all too easy to dismiss Victoria’s Secret and its legendary show as outdated and celebrate its demise but that would be as narrow minded as many accuse the brand of being.
One woman’s idea of empowerment is different to another’s and who are we to judge someone for what makes them feel bold, confident and happy? For many of the Angels who are chosen to take to the catwalk, it is the realisation of a lifelong dream and culmination of years spent working towards it.
Discussing her experience of wearing the coveted Fantasy Bra, Jas Tookes tells of how “when (she) stepped on the runway (her) biggest thought was “don’t cry” because it was such a special moment.”
This is a sentiment echoed by Lais Ribiero who said how she told herself “enjoy the moment, you deserve it. You worked so hard for this… Go out there and get it because it’s your time to shine.”
For Muslim model Shanina Shaik, participating in the Victoria’s Secret show had a particular significance. As she explained to Grazia backstage after the 2018 show in New York, “I’m showing women all over the Middle East that I’m supporting them, because I have an Arab background and we’ve been told that we can’t do a lot of things, so I’m standing up for the women in the Middle East.”
As you can see, none of these intelligent, accomplished women felt anything but empowered and celebrated by Victoria’s Secret, not to mention rightfully proud of their accomplishment. That’s not to say however that the brand shouldn’t listen to the women who want to buy their products; hear their concerns and complaints and evolve to meet the values of today.
It’s fantastic that participating in the Victoria’s Secret show was so uplifting for the likes of Lais and Shanina. However, watching it evidently hasn’t been for the non-supermodel majority who, in the US, are on average a size 14.
Increasingly, and thankfully, the past couple of years have seen something of a sea change in terms of representation. Even including the notoriously problematic underwear industry. Brands such as FENTY x Savage and Aerie by American Eagle are putting women of all shapes, sizes, ages and races at the forefront of their catwalk shows and campaigns. Muslim model Halima Aden became the first women ever to appear in Sports Illustrated in a hijab and burkini this summer.
It appears that Victoria’s Secret has taken note of these welcome changes with Leslie Wexner, CEO of the brands’ parent company, announcing that they would be reimagining everything from the show to the women represented in ad campaigns to the stores themselves.
As Wexler explained, “we have been taking a fresh look at every aspect of our business” in the past few months, and noted that the brand “must evolve and change to grow.”
So what will the future look like for Victoria’s Secret? Will they look to the likes of FENTY x Savage for inspiration? And will the show relaunch with a more diverse cast?
With the relaunch planned for 8 August in America, Grazia will make sure that you’re the first to know.