On Monday night, Victoria’s Secret and their game gang of angels once again proved that you can simultaneously wear the least and do the most. As in prior years, the annual fashion show was more about the lead-up than the spectacle itself, beginning when the models were announced about a month before they walked the runway. This year, our key players are a mix of veterans and newcomers. For anyone who’s still stuck in the Tyra Banks era, the 21st annual extravaganza has been infused with a new generation of “social media supermodels”—up-and-comers who know how to use but don’t actually need Snapchat filters.
First and foremost there’s Kendall Jenner, Kardashian spin-off turned surprisingly enigmatic supermodel. Despite her affiliation with a family of over-sharers, Jenner is strangely and refreshingly dull. We don’t know much about the notoriously private 21-year-old; she’s plagued by anxiety, sleep paralysis, and a pathological inability to tell an interesting anecdote about herself. Then there’s Gigi Hadid. When she’s not reflexively elbowing would-be assailants, Hadid can be found sharing a modest bowl of baked beans with her boyfriend, One Direction defector Zayn Malik. She also claims to spend her free time painting “really detailed mugs” at chain ceramics workshop Color Me Mine, which is very odd.
This dynamic duo was joined in Paris this year by Gigi’s sister, Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show virgin Bella Hadid. In one of the numerous video segments peppered throughout the show, Gigi started crying with pride over being the first set of sisters to walk the Victoria’s Secret runway. Bella Hadid’s VS debut was extra-hyped on account of the fact that she was slated to share the stage with her very recent ex-boyfriend, spell check-resistant R&B star The Weeknd. Formerly known as the most famous Hadid who isn’t Gigi, Bella’s relationship drama made her a model to watch at the Parisian spectacle.
But the Hadids weren’t the only models making headlines in the lead-up to Monday night. Every year, one angel is given the honor of sporting Victoria’s most decadent creation. For the November 30th runway show, Jasmine Tookes was selected to wear this year’s gem-laden Fantasy Bra. Officially assessed at $3 million, the emerald-and-diamond-encrusted bra boasts more than 9,000 precious gems and over 450 carats. Then there’s veteran angel Irina Shayk, who didn’t announce that she had been impregnated by Bradley Cooper until after she pulled off two lingerie looks on the Grand Palais runway. Apparently, some women really can have it all.
Actually pregnant models aside, this a demanding runway walk for anyone. Being born with the magical ability to pull off assless chaps might sound like a blessing. But the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show is as much of a testament to human cruelty as it is to genetic greatness—a Sisyphean spectacle in which starving models are forced to strut up and down a runway lugging enormous bedazzled wings on their birdlike frames. This year, Victoria’s Secret subjected these physically perfect specimens to an endurance test of six themed segments: Road Ahead, Mountain Romance, Pink Nation, Secret Angel, Dark Angel and Bright Night Angel. These chapters were interspersed with videos of the models talking about Paris, their early modeling days, their love of fine lingerie and, of course, their extremely successful exercise regimens. As suspected, lingerie models really do have to work out seven days a week— occasionally even twice a day—and always in Victoria’s Secret brand exercise apparel. And then there were all of the videos of angels prancing around Parisian landmarks. Apparently, suffering through multiple black and white montages of Paris is the price you have to pay to stare at a bunch of butts.
Before we could get to the more predictable motifs, like sexy women in trench coats and sexy women in sparkly lingerie, the “Road Ahead” portion jumpstarted the program in the worst possible way. Doubtlessly imagined as an ode to diversity and non-European aesthetics, “Road Ahead” ended up being a huge mess. Accompanied by the needlessly cruel throb of U2’s “Vertigo,” our pore-less, glowing heroines stomped down the runway in “ethnic” looks spanning continents and centuries. Apparently, after thousands of years of human civilization, this is what we’ve come up with: a hodgepodge of “indigenous” influences, “representative of an entire continent I guess” Asian silks and “I don’t even want to get into it” Africana. As the “indigenous” saying goes, you have to use every part of the cliché—which explains why the Victoria’s Secret designers taped tassels everywhere, dipped these glamazons in feathers, and even wrapped a blonde chick in a full Chinese New Year dragon. Essentially, this segment looked like someone pantsed the entire cast of Disney’s “It’s a Small World.”
The show quickly pivoted away from this wasteland of kimono fabric and boleros and into “Mountain Romance,” which was basically just slutty Sweden. Why the masterminds behind the VS fashion show felt the need to further highlight the fact that they’d just jammed together dozens of non-white cultures, we’ll never know. Amidst sweeping graphics of the Swedish Alps, Lady Gaga emerged in a cloud of smoke, dodging leggy blondes in lederhosen. In an opening video segment, we learn that Gaga “used to watch the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show when I was younger,” and that she feels “welcomed into the angel family as a unique and more rebel type of angel.”
This segment had it all: pictures of big ass mountains, Lady Gaga in an evening gown crooning “Million Reasons,” and meticulously embroidered suspenders. The angels seemed appropriately spooked by the overwhelming display, as Gaga attempted to hold hands with multiple models and walk them down the runway, all while executing flawless vocal runs. This went over about as well as it would if Lady Gaga went to your place of work and started touching you while you were trying to do your job. Distracted and confused, it became immediately clear that Victoria’s Secret angels do not take well to onstage improvisation.
Seasoned VS Fashion Show performers Bruno Mars and The Weeknd knew better than to repeatedly touch the models. The Weeknd’s rendition of “Starboy” was predictably improved by the runway presence of Bella Hadid, as the newly minted exes shared a few seconds of significant eye contact. In a body-hugging corset, Bella Hadid looked exactly how you’d want to look when running into your ex—complete with a foot-long train designed to keep them at a safe distance. Bruno Mars out-Bruno-Mars’d himself in a tuxedo, indoor sunglasses, a fur coat and heels (sorry, “elevator shoes”). Luckily, Gaga more than redeemed herself later in the show by popping on a black veiled hat and matching sequin ensemble for high energy performances of “A-Yo” and “John Wayne.” For a big finish, Gaga sprouted her own freaking wings and slammed down the runway in sky-high heels, much to a turbaned Nick Cannon’s consternation.
Other notable segments included “Pink Nation,” which looked like Rihanna ditched Puma to do a collaboration with Legs Avenue, and “Bright Night Angel.” Rounding out the show, “Bright Night Angel” showcased the aforementioned Fantasy Bra, nestled between a bunch of other sparkly offerings. This is the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show at its best: models with bodies we can’t afford wearing bras that cost more than our annual salaries. At the end of the day, we’re just here to see how many diamonds creative director Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou can hot glue onto a push-up bra.