Like a college freshman who just took an Intro to Gender Studies class, executives at Victoria’s Secret have finally learned about feminism. And they’re dying to let us know all about it.
The lingerie company, for decades synonymous with its busty “Angels” wearing gravity-defying push-up bras, has responded to years of compounding scandals with a marketing mea culpa. They are very sorry for all that “fantasy” talk, and for selling women underwear the way men wish to see it, all bombshell and softcore.
They’ve ditched chief exec Les Wexner, infamous for his close personal and business relationship with Jeffrey Epstein. Ed Razek, the marketing officer who deemed trans models not worthy of taking part in the “fantasy” that was the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, has also parted ways with the brand.
Just forget about all that, please. Victoria’s Secret has changed. Now they will put activists in underwear. And a lot of money rides upon us believing this is sufficiently empowering.
As The New York Times reports, Victoria’s Secret has embarked on “the most extreme brand turnaround in recent memory.” There are seven new ambassadors, dubbed the VS Collective, most of whom are non-models.
They are soccer star Megan Rapinoe, freestyle skier Eileen Gu, size-inclusive model Paloma Elsesser, the actress Priyanka Chopra Jones, model and South Sudanese refugee Adut Akech, media personality Amanda de Cadenet, and Brazilian model Valentina Sampaio, who was the first trans woman tapped to work for the brand in 2019. Save for de Cadenet, who is 49, these women are all under 40.
Victoria’s Secret announced its new collective on Instagram with black-and-white portraiture that screamed “serious.” The graphics resembled all those rightfully-parodied pronouncements of corporate values that popped up on every company’s social media pages in the wake of the George Floyd protests last year.
There was some predictable backlash from gross men online who yelled about how Rapinoe, with her lavender hair and rock-hard abs, was not “sexy” enough for the brand. That’s all noise and nonsense. Most of us will find these women a welcome addition to the VS team.
Others wondered why this cast could not work alongside the previous Angels. Why silo the “empowering” models? Sure, the Heidi Klums and Alessandra Ambrosios all walked with figures that represented a type of patriarchal oppression, but that was hardly their fault. If inclusion is the goal, that means allowing these new activists to take part in the so-called fantasy.
There is no need to “redefine” sexy; by creating a whole new squad separate from the Angels, VS unwittingly segregates the type of women it aims to promote. Smart and sexy can live side by side.
A runway is not inherently oppressive. Chromat, the swimwear brand known for its raucous NYFW shows, has always featured LGBT, disabled, and all kinds of bodies strutting down catwalks. Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie line has also tapped a truly inclusive lineup of models who are allowed their bombshell moments.
The brand, it should be noted, is still led by a man. That would be Martin Waters, the former head of International Business. Still, Waters gamely told the Times, “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”
Save for one man, the new board of directors will be all women, though Victoria’s Secret did not respond when The Daily Beast asked about this group’s demographics.
The company also did not respond when asked how VS will actively support, give money, or fund women’s and LGBTQ organizations. A brand worth $5 billion is certainly able to spend that money in more meaningful ways than mere advertising. (A podcast is also in the works, according to the Times.)
Elsesser, one of the new ambassadors, told the Times that she “saw part of her role as lobbying for Victoria’s Secret to increase its sizing to XXXXXL,” up from XXL in nightwear and 42G in bras. So now customers wait for the brand to respond, hopefully with new sizes.
Victoria’s Secret has not held a fashion show since 2018; according to executives, it will return next year. If the brand respects the intelligence of its customers (and as feminists, they should), maybe more will be done by then. If not, this ambitious, and expensive, rebranding was all just pandering—and much too little, too late.