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Victoria's Secret revives its annual show, promising a new and more inclusive focus

Gone are the tall, lean and perfectly toned Victoria's Secret Angels, replaced by a collective of models from various backgrounds

Published: May 13, 2023 09:00:00 AM IST
Updated: May 13, 2023 01:12:18 AM IST

Victoria's Secret revives its annual show, promising a new and more inclusive focusThe annual Victoria's Secret fashion show will make a comeback this fall, in a completely reinvented format. Image: Photography Courtesy of Victoria Secret

Four years after canceling its legendary Victoria's Secret Fashion Show, tainted by various controversies, the famous lingerie brand has announced the return of its annual runway showcase with a new format, billed as more inclusive, more artistic, and based on a vision of beauty that's more rooted in reality. Gone are the tall, lean and perfectly toned Angels, replaced by a collective of models from various backgrounds. They will be starring in a fashion extravaganza broadcast live this fall, in an attempt to win over an audience that's split between excitement and skepticism.

For over 20 years, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show energized the world of fashion, and more particularly lingerie, before being brought down by the many controversies that tainted the image of the brand. The final edition, held in 2018, before the show was permanently canceled, saw its audience drop to 3.2 million viewers, compared to more than nine million four years earlier. The cause? A series of controversies, a lack -- it not total absence—of inclusivity in the show's cast, and one notable competitor that was way ahead on the diversity front—Savage x Fenty, Rihanna's brand, having just launched in 2018.

The demise of a once legendary show

First held in 1995, the Victoria's Secret Fashion Show soon found a following through its grandiose nature, but also through its tall, lean and perfectly toned models, including Naomi Campbell, Heidi Klum, Gisele Bündchen, Alessandra Ambrosio, Adriana Lima, Cindy Bruna, Gigi and Bella Hadid, and Kendall Jenner, to name just a few. A cast that held much appeal, at least at first, but which ended up being viewed in a dimmer light, as promoting an ideal of beauty far removed from reality, not to mention an outdated, objectified view of women. Despite heightened societal awareness, driven by various movements including body positivity, the Victoria's Secret brand kept on course, and eventually attracted the scorn of an audience that turned instead to the more diverse bodies, sizes and cuts of the new brand founded by Rihanna. This proved a first notable setback for the lingerie behemoth, which then found itself at the center of various controversies.

Also read: Why did we fall for the angels?

Back in 2018, the brand's image suffered as a result of comments deemed offensive, made by its then-marketing director Ed Razek during an interview with Vogue US. The executive criticized the idea of using plus-size or transgender models—comments that contributed to tarnishing the image of the brand. A few months later, the arrest of Jeffrey Epstein, accused of multiple sexual assaults, put Victoria's Secret in the spotlight because of the financier's close ties with Leslie Wexner, the boss of Limited Brands, then parent company of Victoria's Secret. This proved a major blow for the lingerie giant, which was forced to reassess. But the brand didn't give up, even in the midst of the turmoil, and has opted for a total reboot. This has involved refreshing the individuals at the helm of the brand, for example, as well as casting models more in tune with reality, and introducing more diverse collections, despite the mistrust and criticism of an audience that's not proved particularly receptive to these sudden changes.

The dawn of a new era?

Victoria's Secret has been rethinking things for several years now. For most people, this began with the replacement of the iconic Angels by women from all walks of life—artists, athletes, activists, models—with all kinds of body shapes, and of all origins, not to mention the recruitment in 2019 of the brand's first transgender model, Valentina Sampaio. The brand's collective of ambassadors has since welcomed Megan Rapinoe, Paloma Elsesser and Sofía Jirau, reflecting its willingness to respond to the demands of consumers, all while restoring its image. The same goes for the brand's collections, which are now more inclusive, with maternity and mastectomy bras, for example, but also available in a much wider range of cuts and sizes.

The new Victoria's Secret Fashion Show concept will be the culmination of this radical program of change, and will determine whether the brand has truly succeeded in renewing its image. The Victoria's Secret World Tour will take the form of a feature-length film that will showcase the behind-the-scenes stories of the VS20, "a group of 20 innovative global creatives who will conceive four fashion curations from the vibrant cities of Bogota, Lagos, London and Tokyo." The overall aim is now "to champion women’s voices, perspectives and experiences," in total opposition to the image of objectified women once embodied by the Victoria's Secret Angels, who took to the runway, wings fixed on their backs, in skimpy clothing to present the brand's ultra-sexy collections.

Also read: Victoria's Secret swaps angels for female empowerment. Will women buy it?

"This film is the ultimate expression of the Victoria’s Secret brand transformation. It will be driven by fashion, glamour and entertainment with a nod to beloved iconography from the past but in a bold, redefined way. We are so honored to offer our platform and have it explored through the lens and artistry of global creatives who celebrate the individuality of women’s stories and perspectives," said EVP and Head Creative Director at Victoria’s Secret, Raúl Martinez, in a statement.

This documentary, which will be broadcast worldwide, will be accompanied by a live fashion event this fall, the brand says. News of the show's return hasn't been welcomed unanimously on Instagram, where the brand has shared news about the new concept. While some users are pleased with the return of the annual parade, others question the real motivations of this change. A handful of users even say they miss the 'real' Angels who made the brand's fame, before contributing to its demise.

Also read: Second Epstein investigation begins at Victoria's Secret, but what's changed?

In March, when Victoria's Secret teased the return of its show, the singer Lizzo made her opinion clear on Twitter: "This is a win for inclusivity for inclusivity’s sake. But if brands start doing this only because they’ve received backlash, then what happens when the ‘trends’ change again? Do the CEOs of these companies value true inclusivity? Or do they just value money?" All that remains is to wait and see what's in store from this revamped show so that people can make up their own minds on the matter.

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