Victoria's Secret fashion show

The Victoria’s Secret fashion show is back and it still feels just as toxic as ever

A four year hiatus wasn’t long enough

The Victoria’s Secret fashion show is officially back – and it looks a little different after its four-year-long hiatus. What was once a pop-infused runway extravaganza is now The Victoria’s Secret World Tour— a 90-minute “part fashion event, part documentary”. Essentially, with diverse models and collaborations with respected female creatives from around the world, Victoria’s Secret are trying to show us they’ve changed.

“This is it, this is who we are,” Raul Martinez, the brand’s chief creative director said of the new Victoria’s Secret fashion show, which features a performance from Doja Cat and pieces from London designer Supriya Lele. “We haven’t forgotten our past,” he claims. “But we’re also speaking to the present. To take our platform, understand the power of that, but show up with a different narrative.”

Victoria’s Secret needed a different narrative. By 2018, bombshell models, push-up bras, thongs and gargantuan wings had lost their appeal. Viewing figures for the fashion show halved year-on-year. Critics called the event sexist and outdated. But what it’s been replaced by is arguably no better.

Victoria’s Secret icons Adriana Lima and Candice Swanepoel are returning to the runway for the 2023 show. Hailey Bieber is wearing her wings. Fashion’s favourite nepo baby Lila Moss is walking. As is Emily Ratajkowski. Julia Fox. Gigi Hadid. With the exception of fashion’s most prolific plus-sized model Paloma Elsesser, who already walks in Fashion Weeks around the world— the promo material is business as usual.

And, alarmingly, the response to any more model diversity (South Sudanese model Adut Akech, transgender DJ Honey Dijon, plus-size French singer Yseult) has been one of rage. “The models used to look like super models. Victoria’s Secret you’re going downhill,” commented one follower of the full fashion show line-up. “This has gone too far,” another wrote under Paloma’s picture. “Bring the old Victoria’s Secret beauty standards back,” added a third. “We DIDN’T wait for THIS,” one person reacted to Tess McMillan’s photo.

This is what happens when you do inclusivity seemingly as a form of brand crisis control. Unlike Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty collection, diversity isn’t baked into the recipe of Victoria’s Secret. Just like Abercrombie & Fitch – exclusivity was part of who VS were: “I don’t think we should,” was Edward Razek, the former chief marketing officer of L Brands response to including plus-sized models in their show previously.

When you promote a message of exclusion for decades, you’re inevitably going to leave a legacy of intolerance for now-included plus-sized models and diverse designers to mop up. They’re forced to grow a thick skin and accept the abuse simply because they’re finally allowed through the door.

Skepticism and disbelief is the overarching theme of The Victoria’s Secret World Tour. When the Nigerian designer Bubu Ogisi was first contacted by Victoria’s Secret to collaborate with them on the 2023 fashion show, she told the New York Times she was so skeptical she didn’t even reply to their email. It wasn’t until her friends told her the brand were legitimately trying to reach her that she messaged back.

And, really, after throwing thousands of dollars worth of budget at the problem, what is the Victoria’s Secret fashion show really left with? A stage set that looks like a knock off of Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty set up, a muddled message that the brand supports “women”, (whatever that means), and a creative vision that’s been left completely convoluted by trying to involve every female creative under the sun in order to desperately gather their endorsement. There’s a right way to evolve a brand to be inclusive and this isn’t it.

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Featured image credit via Hahn Lionel/ABACA/Shutterstock