Some notable things happened during the first weekend in December: Beyoncé and Jay-Z headlined the Global Citizen Festival in South Africa; Versace showed its pre-Fall collection in New York City; and in India, Priyanka Chopra married Nick Jonas in a multi-day ceremony that may have actually outdone friend Meghan Markle’s royal nuptials.
And yet, there was one event that didn’t quite cause the frenzy it intended: The broadcast of the 2018 Victoria’s Secret show came and went with little fanfare—and fewer viewers than ever. In fact, USA Today reported that the 3.27 million viewers who did tune in to see 60 of the world’s most notable models strut their stuff in lingerie (including a retiring Adriana Lima) represented half of the audience the show garnered just two years ago. This came on top of continuing declining sales, the exit of a CEO, and a network change for the one-time lingerie juggernaut.
When coupled with controversial statements from the brand’s top creative exec and show executive producer, Ed Razek, as the show was taped in November, many within (and outside of) the industry have wondered aloud: Has Victoria’s Secret finally outlived its relevance?
Impressively, the runway show has gotten more racially diverse in the past several years, even embracing natural hair textures amongst its black models. But as Razek indelicately confirmed, as many luxury labels have evolved enough to include bodies outside of the supermodel prototype in their runway presentations, the legacy brand best known for its incessant catalogs and ubiquitous mall presence has remained reluctant to showcase anyone above a size 2 (4, maybe), let alone trans models who are now finding success on other catwalks.
“If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show, we have,” Razek infamously told Vogue. “We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world. We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t. ... It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.”
If ratings and sales are any indication, interest is also waning in the fantasy Victoria’s Secret is selling, despite Razek calling the brand lingerie consumers’ “first love” and this year’s show its “most ambitious”yet. In fact, after hiring for this year’s show a young roster of musicians who have been staples on pretty much every recent awards show lineup, one performer made sure to publicly disassociate herself from the brand ahead of the broadcast.
“I have adored the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show since I was young,” singer-songwriter Halsey wrote on Instagram. “However, after I filmed the performance, some comments were made regarding the show that I simply cannot ignore. As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have no tolerance for a lack of inclusivity. Especially not one motivated by stereotype.” She then directed her followers to an organization in service of LGBTQ+ youth, saying “complete and total acceptance is the only “fantasy” that I support.”
We agree—and also have no tolerance for refusal to innovate, which was made searingly clear by the Washington Post’s Robin Givhan, who likened the VS models to “show ponies” and “dusty showgirls,” the condition of the company a “death spiral,” and called the show “a snooze,” “a shrug,” “dull,” “stultifying,” “lifeless,” and “too boring to even argue about.” (That last part was actually in the title of her review.)
I guess that explains why we simply forgot to watch, altogether. Sad, since we kicked off the Glow Up with a review of last year’s show.
“No matter how many pairs of wings, crescent moons and multicolored parachutes are on the runway, Victoria’s Secret is still selling bras and panties. And they are a mess,” Givhan wrote. (And for the record: plus, trans and differently-abled women wear bras and panties, too.)
Ouch. I think that might be the sound of wings being clipped.