Ok – I confess it. I’m an underwear fanatic. I recently realised the extent of my problem when I estimated my total lingerie expenditure over the course of my undergraduate degree. I won’t repeat the figure here in case anyone official concludes that the Oxford Opportunity Bursary is too generous. My sister’s horrified expression said it all. Determined to change then, it was only in the name of good journalism that I headed off to Bond Street, slightly bedraggled after a day of interning, on opening day at Victoria’s Secret flagship London store.
Disappointingly there was no sight of Victoria’s Secret ‘angels’ in the flesh – though Miranda et al. were omnipresent, strutting their stuff on catwalk shows displayed on monitors in the windows or covering the walls, legs literally two storeys high in the central atrium. Instead the shop was filled with beefy security guards, rushed sales assistants and flocks of excited teenage girls. Spread over four storeys arranged around a spiral staircase (black marble, mirrored banisters) the building resembles a nightclub, though display areas are well lit compared to Abercrombie or Hollister stores. The merchandise is bright, glitzy and christened with names such as ‘Gorgeous’, ‘Incredible’ or ‘Truly Perfect’. It was a lot to live up to, but I knew the proof of good underwear was in the fit so grabbed a style, assumed an air of general ignorance regarding bra sizing (annoyingly VS’s labels are all in American sizes) and placed myself entirely at the mercy of the staff.
It was soon clear that this was not to be a premium shopping experience. If you ask for a fitting an assistant pulls out a tape measure right there in the shop and measures up gingerly over layers of clothing without asking about the type of bra you’re already wearing. Used to the more hands on (and private) approach at Bravissimo I was slightly bemused, but still more so when the employee estimated my size not only three cup sizes different from the changing room assistant I dealt with later, but four cup sizes from the well-fitting bra I had on. Things only got worse. In the fitting rooms, I was told it wasn’t that the bra’s cups were too small, but that I had ‘too much tissue’. The cubicle doors declared ‘Very sexy!’ and ‘Stunning!’ with imperative force but I was starting to feel the opposite.
To be fair to the staff, however, after trying on an incredible range of sizes, it seems that Victoria’s Secret bras aren’t really designed to fit. The idea seems to be that the bra itself is filled mainly with gel and padding, so your breasts get squeezed together, vamping up the cleavage, and spill over the top of the £50 piece of polyester. This may work well on smaller sizes but seems a sure route to bouncing, back pain and the occasional ‘nip-slip’ on C cups and above (the store stocks up to DDD in some styles).
I could have excused all this though had the designs been beautiful enough to merit being bought as occasion pieces – the sort of thing you wear on Valentine’s Day, not when picking up the groceries. But the whole thing just didn’t do it for me. Half the joy of underwear is in its structural qualities – feeling cinched, clamped and buckled up. Not only did the underwear fail to do this but it was all more 500 shades of pink, than 50 Shades of Grey. The combination of the cutesy with the claims to overt sexuality scrawled over the walls made me question the customer demographic. It sits more easily with the cast of TOWIE and Juicy Couture, than amongst the high end stores on Bond Street. The bottom floor is designed for tweenage girls with too much pocket money, snapping up dance and lounge wear, along with ‘mesh back panties’ and neon bras (the ‘age-appropriate’ PINK range).
Victoria’s Secret isn’t about good clothes – it’s about good marketing. Calling a bra sexy doesn’t make it so, and the essence of feminine sensuality is not diamantes. The shop’s worth a visit to admire the catwalk pieces in display cases, but I think I’ll keep saving for Agent Provocateur.