Amidst a recent PR disaster, the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show underwhelmed (yet again) with viewer ratings tumbling to almost a quarter (3.3m) of the show’s initial pull (12.4m in 2001). Though recent controversy regarding the show’s inclusivity (or lack thereof) can be blamed for this fall from grace, Victoria’s Secret is also simply not as fashionable as it used to be. Are the collections timeless? Perhaps. Are they vulnerable to being upstaged? Definitely.
Of course, the VSFS isn’t meant to sell us their lingerie – the styles haven’t changed in decades. As director Ed Razek stated – to considerable backlash – in a Vogue interview, they’re selling us the fantasy that we too can parade in diamond-encrusted lingerie wearing 60lb angel wings to a crowd of adoring fans and not break a sweat. 60 of the world’s top size zeros make their way down the pink carpet and fashion’s most famous runway to music’s biggest performers, against a backdrop costing £9 million. It is an exercise in extravagance: the opulent Swarovski outfit and the (literal) million-dollar Fantasy Bra have become benchmarks of luxury, while the exclusivity of angel wings have been reserved only for fashion’s most elite.
However, this year’s offering was by all standards a poor imitation of its early glory days. It’s still the same old fantasy, oozing sex appeal and ethereal parade it was at its conception – boring by contemporary standards. Its fall in standards is visible in the performers making an appearance; the Show has previously pulled in huge names (think Taylor Swift, The Weeknd, Rihanna) and this year curiously featured smaller acts like Bebe Rexha and Leela James. In the past decade, the pre-teen sub-group PINK has taken a larger spotlight, marking the decline of the brand’s luxurious appeal, and the core group of Angels has shifted from living icons – Tyra Banks, Gisele Bundchen, Heidi Klum – to a younger and more celebrity-inspired crowd, such as the induction of Taylor Hill and the focus on Kendall Jenner (who certainly wasn’t there for her walking technique) and the Hadid sisters.
Nobody can deny that the brand has suffered a year of heavy criticism: Razek’s explanation that the show doesn’t feature plus-size or transgender models because it is supposed to be “a fantasy” induced an international boycott of both the brand – plummeting sales – and the show – plummeting viewer ratings.
There’s also an increasing stigma around the intensive training models for the Show endure – their ragged attempts to flood social media with #TrainLikeAnANGEL flop when you realise that not everyone can afford to pay $3,000 for 12 gym sessions. It’s also unlikely that on a student diet (and budget), we can stop eating solids and avoid carbohydrates for three days just to avoid bloating. We’re increasingly suspicious of photos of Victoria’s Secret models with 13” pizzas post-show, and both Elsa Hosk and Bella Hadid were forced to respond to Instagram comments that they looked worryingly thin around this year’s spectacle. Just last week, VSFS 2018 model Kelly Gale proudly videoed herself in a burger chain working out and eating a pear, commenting “not gonna pretend that I eat here guys cause I don’t”. We’re increasingly conscious of the extremity that they are pushed to – not as models, but as athletes – and though VS executives insist it’s a healthy competition the models drive amongst themselves, recent criticism of airbrushing and holding such a high standard of perfection have led consumers to look elsewhere.
Maybe it’s worth noting at this point that Victoria’s Secret is still the USA’s top lingerie brand – it’s a global household name which will take more than this to topple. Honestly, Victoria’s Secret could have continued with its stale styles and dated Fashion Show tradition, but it’s been threatened by the rise of American Eagle’s Aerie and, noticeably this year, Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty. The former has Iskra Lawrence doing campus tours to promote the #AerieREAL campaign celebrating diverse representation – a far cry from the somewhat noticeable blonde bombshell cliché overused by VS (nobody can tell me that Angels Candice and Elsa aren’t almost identical).
VS also seems increasingly outdated by more modern brands – Aerie undeniably has the edge on social media, while Rihanna’s Savage X fashion show was live-streamed on Youtube and hailed as the star of New York Fashion Week with its celebratory roster of diverse women, including Slick Woods who was nine months pregnant. Razek made a hilariously smug comment along the lines that Victoria’s Secret made pregnancy fashion first, with at least five models having walked while expecting. An impressive feat, of course, but you have to acknowledge the visible difference – Woods’ bump was impossible to miss (she claims to have suffered contractions DURING the show, giving birth later that night). The VS girls, on the other hand, were hardly showing with nobody beyond four months, and using elaborate cover ups at the slightest sign of a swell.
Ultimately, the brand’s resistance to change left room for new businesses to come in and dominate the field, and a celebrity business like Rihanna’s was never going to flop – the showmanship and diversity of her NYFW show are just added bonuses. Where Victoria’s Secret remains steadfast is with their younger group (look inside any secondary school class to see that PINK water bottles and bags are the new generation’s answer to our Abercrombie and Jack Wills). PINK stores are popping up far more than its older sister sub-brand. Victoria’s Secret stopped its swimwear range to opt for an expansion of its increasingly popular sport wear, so maybe this is the kind of change we’ll see as they put more effort into PINK.
For now, it’s nice to see the brand sweat – like Razek insists with his models, maybe a little competition will be healthy, and encourage the brand to modernise its ranges and, more importantly, its branding.