When Victoria’s Secret announced in August 2021 that it would rebrand after years of declining sales and cultural credibility, that it would become a champion of female empowerment, replacing its group of supermodel angels with the VS Collective, ten women of great achievement. as well as different ages and body types: the news was received, in general (and understandably), with raised eyebrows.
The former home of highly kitsch male fantasy would become… the new Betty Friedan? It was hard to imagine.
Well now a new advertising campaign which “celebrates today’s Victoria’s Secret,” as a spokeswoman put it, is here, promising “we’ve changed” and “we see you” and featuring women of different skin colours, ages, shapes and abilities, looking super comfortable in bras and panties simple silk.
And guess what? A group of people don’t like the new look either, and they decided Twitter to complain.
It is too “utilitarian”. No one wants such boring underwear. The message it is sending, one observer said, is that inclusion is not glamorous. Bring back the wings, but put them on everyone!
Bring back the wings? Really?
It’s been just over two years since Leslie H. Wexner, the founder of L Brands and the man who built Victoria’s Secret into a behemoth, stepped down as the company’s chairman and CEO after his ties to Jeffrey Epstein were revealed. . Just two and a half years since Victoria’s Secret canceled its famous thong-girl fashion show in the wake of the #MeToo movement.
And yet, it seems like a massive psychological event has occurred and half the world has forgotten the conversation about why VS, as it is now known, needed to change in the first place.
I forgot that strutting around in stilettos, bikini bottoms, and a push-up bra with a balloon skirt attached to the butt (like the models did in a runway show) wasn’t really anyone’s dream outfit. I forgot that the wings could weigh up to 30 pounds and made grown women look like mischievous putti. That those silly outfits were part of what created a culture where the men in power (including the men in power at Victoria’s Secret) saw the young women around them as playthings to do as they pleased.
That bringing back those outfits in an inclusive way is just advocating for the reification of equal opportunity, and there’s nothing glamorous about that.
For anyone who needs help remembering, there’s “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons,” a three-part documentary from director Matt Tyrnauer streaming on Hulu just in time for the new campaign. It looks at how the company went from the mythical Victoria, a well-bred Brit with a bit of a sultry side, to angels emerging from a spaceship in silver aviator jackets with laser guns and matching lingerie sets.
Although the documentary doesn’t really answer the questions it raises, which have to do with Mr. Epstein, Mr. Wexner, and what exactly their relationship was (mostly the talking heads are essentially saying, “Who knows? ” and raise their eyebrows significantly), effectively tracks the brand’s progression. How it went from a tasteful catalog company to an acceptable soft-core entertainment vehicle to what it is now.
How he went from being a psychological stalking horse to all of our complicated feelings and frustrations about what exactly “sexy” means, and how he breaks a mold and mindset that’s been centuries in the making. That is why, in the end, the rebranding has struck a nerve.
The truth is that there is no single answer and certainly no single brand with the answer to what is sexy because that depends on each individual. However, the dominant images of lingerie remain binary and extreme. It’s thongs and naughty maids on Jessica Rabbit bodies or comfortable cotton undies in neutral tones on many bodies. Victoria’s Secret, the old version, or Dove and Aerie.
(To be fair, a lot of people find simplicity and comfort sexy. As Megan Rapinoe, the soccer player and activist who is a member of the VS collective, told The New York Times why she agreed to join: “I think functionality is probably the sexiest thing we could ever do. Sometimes just cool is also sexy.”)
In fact, the brands that are often presented as alternatives, Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty and Kim Kardashian’s Skims, fit into these two categories quite well, stylistically speaking. The former is quite the tease maximum in its game, the latter mostly wabi-sabi minimal (even if you Skims, with its new swimwear ads featuring a recently divorced Mrs. Kardashian as a California Stepford camp wife). , seems to be getting closer to something more cinematic). territory).
And because those lines have famous founders, who are famous for their sexiness, they are treated as if they were other. The theory seems to be that since the money she earns empowers a woman who publicly owns her own sexuality, that power trickles down to the consumers she serves.
Maybe. Or maybe the real takeaway from all of this is that no one person, brand, size, or shape can tell what’s sexy, and that should be seen as a good thing.
That sexy at the end has to do with feeling comfortable in your skin, more than in a single garment. That there are as many definitions of the term as there are people in the world. And that real empowerment doesn’t come in a bra and panty set. It comes out of that.