Despite 1.6 billion people tuning into its annual fashion show in 2017, Victoria's Secret can't deny the tide is turning against the US lingerie giant and its epic runway extravaganza. Instead of women planning viewing parties and conversations over whose abdominals they'd prefer, petitions were signed with thousands vowing to boycott the show until the brand changes with the times and casts a more inclusive line-up of models.
Instead of ignoring the critics, on Thursday night at Pier 94 on New York’s Upper West Side, Victoria's Secret addressed them head on, enlisting some of its most well-known faces - Adriana Lima, Candice Swanepoel, Behati Prinsloo, Romee Strijd, Sara Sampaio and Taylor Hill - to talk about how empowered, powerful and successful they feel on the runway, which has been home to the world's biggest supermodels over the years.
“It’s difficult being a woman, and other women understand that,” one said, noting the show is made for women, not men (70% of viewers in 2017 were women), while others talked about the sisterhood there is within the models and how the show is the “Super Bowl for supermodels,” a comparison which makes sense when you think about how hard those walking work on their fitness in the lead-up.
It dropped statistics: US $35 million has been raised for not-for-profits and 190 countries tuned in to watch last year. Of course, viewers don't equally equate to sales and in July, the brand, which is reportedly worth $US7 billion, recorded a 1 per cent decline with a drop in demand for bras and its activewear line, Victoria’s Secret Pink, but growth in its line of beauty products, according to Forbes. Despite online shopping increasingly becoming consumers chosen way to shop, Victoria's Secret is still rapidly expanding its brick and mortar offering, opening its first store in Melbourne’s Chadstone Shopping Centre later this month.
While no plus-size or transgender models were cast in the 2018 show, something Victoria's Secret will likely need to change if they want to keep up with the likes of Rihanna's Fenty x Savage, there is a case for Victoria’s Secret as a brand that empowers women. Sure, it might be behind when it comes to body diversity (as are most of the world's biggest fashion brands), but it's leaps and bounds ahead of the masses when it comes to being racially diverse: 2015 saw model Maria Borges wear her natural hair in an afro instead of extensions; in 2016 a record number of Chinese models were cast; in 2017 close to 50% of the models who walked were black, Asian or Hispanic; and this year, Winnie Harlow was the first model with vitiligo to be cast in the show.
Unlike most fashion shows, Victoria's Secret routinely uses models over the age of 25. Lima, who retired of her own accord from the brand this year, is 37, the same age as Alessandra Ambrosio, who opted to depart last year. It also pays to note, that models are paid very well - modelling is one of the very few careers in which women earn significantly more than men - and many of the world's most famous supermodels have used the platform Victoria's Secret lends as a launch-pad for their own lucrative business empires.
Though this year's designer collaboration with Mary Katrantzou and the brand's push towards their activewear range did see models more covered than in previous years, critics' other issue with the show is that the models are predominantly scantily clad in lingerie. However, given that Victoria's Secret is at heart a lingerie label, it would make little to no sense to see models wearing anything else.
This year especially, models have been using the hype surrounding the show to bring awareness to important causes: Gigi Hadid wore a Prabal Gurung Rock the Vote T-shirt to her final fittings, before posting times the polls are open to Instagram and encouraging her followers to vote. Elsa Hosk spoke backstage not only about wearing this year's Fantasy Bra, but about why she donates a portion of her fees to Fair Girls, a charity helping to stop human sex trafficking.
As for the show, American R&B and soul singer Leela James was the first to take to the stage, singing The Greatest Showman’s title track 'This Is Me' with an all-female, all black, choir as Angel Taylor Hill opened the segment wearing red wings and a tartan, pleated mini. The show-stopping looks were reserved for Rita Ora's 'Let You Love Me', as rain fell from the ceiling - so much so that Whitney Port had to swap seats with another guest to avoid the downpour.
The PINK section was where 18-year-old Australian Alannah Walton made her debut, alongside New Zealand part-Maori model Maia Cotton.
Hours before taking to the runway Adriana Lima announced the show would be her last with Victoria's Secret, after 20 years and 18 runways with the brand. A tribute to Lima played on the big screen to a Hannah Grace cover of 'Praise You', showing footage from her long career with the brand, before the crowd stood in unison and cheered as the "greatest Angel of all time" walked the runway with tears in her eyes.
The front row was filled with famous faces, including Kris Jenner, who broke the strict no phones rule to film every time her daughter, Kendall Jenner, took to the runway and The Weeknd, who sat beside Bella Hadid's mother, Yolanda Hadid, stood to clap whenever his girlfriend took her turn. Dylan Sprouse stood with his hand over his heart as Barbara Palvin walked and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine was notably the loudest audience member, cheering wildly every time his wife, Behati Prinsloo, made an appearance.
The official after-party kicked off as soon as the show ended with models briefly popping backstage to change into their pink carpet outfits and retouch hair and makeup. Performers Shawn Mendes and Rita Ora mingled with audience members, as friends and family members, who went to the earlier 4pm show, arrived at the venue. The dance floor quickly kicked off, but it wasn't long before models and Angels were headed to their private after, after party at Avenue, a trendy Manhattan club, which was strictly closed to the public for the night.
Inside Avenue, Bella Hadid and The Weeknd kissed in a corner, while sister Gigi Hadid mingled with fellow models. Candice Swanepoel, Shanina Shaik, Romee Strijd, Jasmine Tookes, Sara Sampaio, Martha Hunt, Josephine Skriver, Taylor Hill, Georgia Fowler, Devon Windsor, Barbara Palvin, Dylan Sprouse, Lais Ribeiro, Halsey, Shawn Mendes and Rita Ora were among those hitting the dance floor, as bottles of champagne and tequila lined the tables.
Perhaps next year, Victoria's Secret will expand their runway to include models of every size and gender to match their already racially inclusive cast of models. It would be a smart move and one that would allow conversation to go back to the talented performers, extravagant costumes, beautiful and charismatic models and incredible show they put on.