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So last year: has the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show reached its sell-by date?


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In the wake of the #metoo movement, various industries and companies have been placed under scrutiny for sexism and sexualisation and exploitation of women.

As society enters a new era of greater female empowerment, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, an annual lavish parade of scantily-clad women adorned in skimpy lingerie, has been threatened.

Breaking a 23-year tradition, Australian model Shanina Shaik announced in an interview with The Daily Telegraph that this year’s show has been cancelled in order to 'work on branding and new ways to do the show.'

The Bond Street store // Image credit: geograph

This comes as no surprise, considering the intense criticism the brand has received over the last few years for sexualising women for men’s entertainment. The company has been described as having the ‘straight male consumer in mind’ as it portrays women as ‘objects of desire for the male gaze.’ The objectification of women and reduction of their personalities and bodies to their sexual capacities has been heavily resisted by a more progressive audience which encourages women to move beyond this image and be seen as more than attractive ornaments to be ogled.

The brand has also been accused of promoting unhealthy body standards and having a negative effect on women’s self-esteem. By depicting women without a ‘trace of body hair, cellulite, or stretch marks’ and marketing this as the pinnacle of beauty, women who do not fit this image are left feeling isolated and insecure that something's wrong with their bodies.

Given current concerns about body insecurities and eating disorders – nearly a million women are suffering from an eating disorder in the United Kingdom - the brand should be very careful about promoting this sort of image to vulnerable and impressionable audiences.  

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Victoria’s Secret has also been faced with increased competition from more inclusive, body-positive brands, which have enjoyed immense growth and popularity. Victoria’s Secret has been accused of promoting a very specific standard of beauty - ‘tall, thin and predominantly white, - rather than a ‘fuller picture’ of beauty and womanhood that includes trans women and plus-size models, both of whom remain noticeably absent from the show’s line-up.

On the other hand, the lingerie industry is brimming with brands that feature a wider, more diverse range of models. For example, singer Rihanna’s lingerie brand Savage X Fenty received critical acclaim for celebrating women in ‘all forms and all body types and all races and all cultures.’ Similarly, American Eagle’s lingerie brand Aerie has been renowned for its highly inclusive campaign, featuring non-photoshopped images of women with ‘disabilities, chronic illnesses, scars, stretch marks’, in wheelchairs, carrying crutches, and with insulin pumps and colostomy bags.

Modern audiences increasingly want to ‘see themselves reflected in advertising and marketing’ and through this advertising, brands can relate to larger audiences, making them more successful and profitable.

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On the other hand, some have described the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show as ‘empowering’ and a ‘celebration’ of body positivity through fashion. The glamourous and extravagant event has been highly anticipated as a form of escapist entertainment. As defended by long-time Victoria’s Secret ‘Angel’ Behati Prinsloo, ‘it’s just a show,’ and should not be politicised or over-complicated.

Ed Razek, then-Chief Marketing Officer of the brand’s parent company, L Brand, argued that Victoria’s Secret caters to a very specific audience, not ‘the whole world’ and as a result, their marketing is intended to attract these consumers.

However, in an age of greater positivity when women are being encouraged to embrace their bodies rather than aspiring to be skinnier or whiter versions of themselves, this narrow target audience grows smaller. This has had significant effect on the show’s viewership, figures with audience numbers dropping by 6.7 million between 2016 and 2018.

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Sales have also suffered a decline as people opt for ‘more natural looks and relatable beauty’ rather than the sexy, seductive image that have defined the brand. In 2017, during the height of the #metoo movement, sales tanked by US$ 600 million when compared to the year before. Women are no longer buying into the image the brand has been relentlessly pushing for decades, one which is now considered out of touch by modern audiences. 

Therefore, it is clear that, in order to allow the business to flourish, Victoria’s Secret desperately needs to rehabilitate its brand image. For example, earlier this month Victoria’s Secret announced their first transgender model, Valentina Sampaio. This seems to be a conscious decision to adapt to the current consumer market, which we will hopefully see more of in the future, albeit for more tolerant motives rather than financial ones.

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Victoria's Secret's decision to rebrand is an attempt assimilate to contemporary culture and cater to the needs of a more socially conscious audience. The question is whether they can carve a place for themselves in the lingerie market and maintain their traditionally elaborate and aspirational ‘fantasy’ whilst also adhering to current trends of greater inclusivity and relatability.  

Lead image credit: geograph

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