Victoria may have a secret, but now she doesn’t have a fashion show. On November 21 it was officially announced that after 23 years, lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret is cancelling its annual fashion show. According to Fortune, L Brands—the company that owns VS—said the decision was part of a move to “evolve the messaging of [the company].” While CFO Stuart Burgdoerfer said the brand will continue to communicate with customers via social media and other campaigns, it’ll be “nothing similar in magnitude to the fashion show.”
And, you guys, I am so proud of all of us. Because, TBQH, it’s the consumers that did this. We’ve been pretty unhappy with the brand for years: Between their blatant cultural appropriation and narrow conceptions of what a woman should look like, they were becoming increasingly irrelevant in a post-Savage x Fenty world. While the company denied that the cancellation is related to declining sales, the fact remains that company sales have been on the decline since at least 2016, according to Fortune; with a 7% dip in the latest quarter. And you can’t argue with facts, bb! This feels like one of the first few instances where outspokenness and outcry led to actual tangible change against the big dogs. And I for one am thrilled—and I’m not alone. Here’s what this cancellation means for the intimates industry—and VS—moving forward.
The cancellation has been a long-time coming
What's the German word for "Delighted that it finally happened by effing gobsmacked that it took until this, the year of our Lord 2019, for the Victoria's Secret fashion show stupidity to be cancelled"?
— Shannon Proudfoot (@sproudfoot) November 22, 2019
Victoria’s Secret and its annual show have long been called out for a lack of inclusivity and diversity on the runway. While the brand has made small strides in racial inclusivity over the years—with models of colour making up almost 50% of the cast for 2017’s Shanghai show, according to Glamour the lingerie brand has had a tougher time coming into the 21st century when it comes to body diversity. Which is seriously frustrating, considering the majority of the population does *not* look like an angel (and we’re not talking about the wings). For the 2018 show, Hungarian model (and GF to Dylan Sprouse) Barbara Palvin was named one of the show’s newest angels; and with a *slightly* curvier frame than the brand’s usual selections, Palvin was heralded on social media as the show’s first plus size model.
…She is a size 4.
If that already wasn’t horrid enough, in 2018 the brand’s chief marketing officer Ed Razek retired from his role after making super problematic comments about plus-size and transgender models to Vogue, telling the publication: “It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special.” In the same interview, he also inferred that the use of pregnant models in Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty show was “pandering.”
For Mary Young, the founder of ethically-made Canadian lingerie company Mary Young, it was this comment by Razek that really put VS on the map—not in a good way. “That is such a narrow view or narrow concept of what beauty or sexy is,” Young says of Razek’s comments on what sells.
These comments, combined with the introduction and success of inclusive and diverse brands like Aerie and Savage x Fenty by Rihanna, have made it glaringly obvious just how deept in the Dark Ages VS is, and made the cancellation of the show not super surprising for both. Even VS models themselves have spoken out in support of other brands. Speaking at the Vogue Fashion Festival in Paris on November 15, Bella Hadid threw some covert shade at the brand, telling the audience that walking in Rihanna’s 2018 and 2019 shows was “the first time on a runway that I felt really sexy,” and that taking part in other lingerie shows (*ahem* Victoria’s Secret *ahem*), “I never felt powerful on a runway.”
cancelling the aerie and
fashion show savage x fenty pic.twitter.com/h51oOb4cIZ
— katie bresnahan (@bresnahan_katie) November 22, 2019
“Those brands [Aerie and Savage x Fenty] are killing it [when it comes to accessibility and inclusivity],” says Shivani Persad, a Toronto- and New York-based model and co-host of More Than Model podcast. “Meanwhile, Victoria’s Secret wants us to give them a pat on the back for using Barbara Palvin and Rachel Hilbert; and those girls are a size 4, maybe a 6.”
It’s a sign that things are changing
And that kind of close-mindedness really doesn’t fly anymore.
If anything, Victoria’s Secret cancelling its model horse-and-pony show is evidence that whatever bubble-gum pink, bedazzled stuff the company is putting out, people aren’t buying anymore. “I think it symbolizes that people are belief-driven buyers,” Persad says of the consumer change. “People are conscious consumers—especially Gen Z—they’re like, ‘if you don’t represent me, I’m going to go support a brand that does cause now I have the power to do that.'”
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This is a shift that Young has seen firsthand since starting her brand in 2014, when Mary Young was one of a few retailers specifically launched with inclusivity in mind—in both the sizes available and those who modelled them in campaigns. “Now I would have to say that the majority of brands are realizing that it’s past due to include that type of conversation on inclusivity.” And it’s now starting to influence the bigger brands, too. “And I think it’s really starting to become a widespread topic that we see in fashion,” Young says.
“[Victoria’s Secret] probably thought they were invincible for awhile there,” Persad says. “And I think it goes to show that it doesn’t matter how popular your brand is, you can easily be taken down.”
And if VS wants to stay in it they’ll have to change, too
So what does this cancellation mean for Victoria’s Secret as a whole? Burgdoerfer said the cancellation came as a move to expand the company’s messaging. But after 40 years of selling sexy through only one lens, can they actually pivot? Persad isn’t so sure. “I don’t know if they understand what it actually means to [change their brand], to be quite honest with you. They sold their whole brand on the fact that ‘this is what sexy is,’ [so] we’re not just talking about changing marketing and advertising, in their case we’re talking about changing the ethos of their brand.” And, that ethos is pretty darn specific. “That’s what happens when you don’t have a timeless concept,” Persad says. “People are going say, ‘It’s not cool for you to tell people this is what their body should look like and that you don’t have all these sizes; people are going to say ‘that’s not cool.'”
And while other companies like Abercrombie and Fitch have rebranded successfully after scandal, Persad is skeptical that a VS rebrand would be enough for her to consider buying their bras—or modelling for them if the opportunity presented itself. “It would have to be a damn good re-brand for me to give a shit,” she says.
“I think what they will start doing is potentially buying smaller brands and bringing those brands into their channels,” Young says of VS’s next steps. These brands are the ones that could foster more inclusive convos and work on a sustainable approach to design–something Young points out the brand currently doesn’t touch on. “I think from a business standpoint, the smartest decision for them is to start better understanding who the consumer is and grow in those areas and fill that gap that they are clearly not paying attention to.”
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“It’s so important to make sure that everyone is represented in such a diverse culture,” Young says. “And in order to truly represent who you’re trying to sell to and connect with the consumer, you need to make sure that you’re talking to each of those consumers and making them feel valued and respected during not only the transaction, but just the conversation of providing them something more than just a product, but also a brand that supports them and who they are.”