Image Credit: Samantha Marx
After eighteen years, the end of the annual Victoria’s Secret fashion show has been announced. It is an end of an era for the company, as they close the book on the show in an attempt to begin some much needed rebranding. In all honesty, the news was music to my ears.
This cancellation should not come as a surprise. Over the last year, the company has had more than its fair share of controversy to deal with. In an interview with Vogue Runway, chief marketing officer, Ed Razek made comments that the company has been unable to escape from. Razek told Vogue’s Nicole Phelps that trans women should not, he believed, appear in the show. The show was a “fantasy”. A “42-minute entrainment special” unlike any other in the industry. For Razek, the idea that a trans woman could be cast a one of their angels, a dream-like woman that the models portray, is incomprehensible. His answers in the interview gave the impression that to be trans and to be viewed as sexy are, in his eyes, incompatible. Not only is this degrading and offensive, but a vast miscalculation of where the market and society are heading.
Plus size women were also subject to the same disregard from Razek. When discussing the shifting needs of society that the company may have to face, he quipped that they could not be all things to all people. I appreciate that it may difficult for businesses to accommodate everyone when creating products. Yet, plus size woman are just as worthy of consideration by mainstream retailers when it comes to designing collections. Plus size women aren’t some obscure subset of society, nor a niche market. They are equal members of a consumer audience that should not be subject to degrading comments from such a high profile representative of the company. And yes, Razek, much like the women strutting down the Victoria’s Secret catwalk, they are also sexy. Ironically, he was very quick to highlight how toxic social media can be when it comes to fat-shaming, as he expressed his outrage after their model, Sara Sampaio, was called too fat. It seems you can only be granted his compassion at a certain size.
When describing the show, the use of the word fantasy is dangerous. For years, the connotations with this term have placed models on a pedestal. As images of the show reach newsfeeds, they become shared and retweeted with captions calling them ‘angels’ and ‘goals’. Now, I am in no way saying that they didn’t look fantastic, as they often did. In sexually empowering women previously disregarded by Victoria’s Secret, we should not neglect to include those women who aren't trans or plus size. However, perhaps the fantasy of Victoria’s Secret should be looked at in another way and understood for the myth it really portrays. Walking down the company’s runway is what some women look like, not what all women should look like.
A week after this interview went to print the CEO, Jan Singer, resigned after just two years with the company. She may have stated flagging sales as a determining factor, but it’s hard to imagine that the comments did not play a part. Ever since the interview, the company’s sales figures have been flailing. In Forbes, Peter Horst reported that in 2018 the company’s market share dropped to 24%, after consistently sitting around the 32% mark since 2013. Across North America, 53 stores have also been closed, and despite maintaining their number 1 status in the industry, many experts are questioning if the reign is coming to an end. Victoria’s Secret needs to acknowledge the influence they have over their audience, which has been calculated at 70% female. While others with such a reach have used platforms to spread positive messages, Victoria’s Secret is yet to evolve which has proved to their detriment.
The cancellation should be taken as a positive sign that society is heading in the right direction. I am constantly grateful that young girls can now grow up seeing people such as Lizzo, Charli Howard and Jameela Jamil on social media. Figures who challenge the previously accepted, and at times ridiculous, beauty standards of society. The Victoria’s Secret fashion show has had eighteen years in the limelight to show us what they believe sexy looks like. However, this has been a tall order when there is no objective image of sexy; there never can be. It’s a feeling. The colloquial phrase tells us that beauty comes in all shapes and sizes, as does sex appeal. The reality is that what it means to be sexy has never changed, instead, society’s perception of it has. Victoria’s secret has learnt this the hard way, and it’s about time.