The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows makes a bounce-back: the story of a fantasy sold to society

By Zsófia Benyi

3, 2, 1 and go: no one truly knew what happened at the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Shows backstage. A shimmering ray of goddess angels cascading down the runway made this brand parallel the American dream, to perfection, to the ideal, selling us silky chiffon fantasies. The ‘Fashion Vigilantes’, known as Gen Z powered by social media, stood skeptical in front of the living magazine covers with swaying hips and slim figures barely covered sashaying down the runway in lilliputian lingerie. They criticized the brand for setting unrealistic standards, their sparse diversity, and provoking eating disorders. Some mortified victims, like Jax, sang their destroyed teenage years into songs calling out ex-C.E.O. Leslie Wexner, closely tied to late convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, to be “Cashin’ in on body issues // Sellin’ skin and bones with big boobs.”

The company sold society a dream that still to this day defines women. Did you ever read the words: the guy looked like a living Abercrombie campaign in some romance novel? Leslie Wexner, who reigned L Brands to become a multi-billion company, including retailers like Victoria’s Secret, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Bath & Body Works, created not only the dream girl you wanted to be in high school (glossy hair and lips, and a body to die for) but also fabricated the football-playing, white frat boy you fell for in college. Do you think this is the only way a billionaire’s brand crept into your life? The millennium birthed the Angels onto the scene (ever heard of Gisele Bündchen, Adriana Lima, Heidi Clum?), the fashion show spectacular became the yearly affair bringing Rihanna, Bruno Mars, Taylor Swift, and Justin Bieber, to name a few, on the stage, and high-budget campaigns directed by the likes of Michael Bay sold billions of lingerie till suddenly in 2016 sales started slacking. Matt Tyrnauer, who not only made the famous documentary, “Valentino: The Last Emperor”, but also one about VS, “Victoria’s Secret: Angels and Demons,” says: the brand became about “using sex to sell things you don’t need” (forget comfort, maternity, shapewear) turning women into objects, (for the world and to match Mr. Abercrombie, the dream man) all of which came with the cost. In 2018 the shows got cancelled, and the Angels and Wexner retired. Two years later, the ex-C.E.O. reported on selling a majority stake in Victoria’s Secret for $525 million to a private equity firm. Rebranding, aka damage control, has begun, and you decide if you are happy or sad: Victoria’s Secret is not leaving you.

1, 2, 3, and it’s showtime. (Again.) The annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is coming back.

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