Victoria’s Secret announced a rebrand in 2021 after years of failing to keep up with these more body-positive times.
It came after the brand cancelled its famed fashion show two years previously. It was thought to be the end of the Angels era — the bedazzled multi-million-dollar Fantasy bras were to be retired and the wings hung up.
In an attempt to shake off its less-than-saintly rep — and rescue its falling sales figures — seven women were named as new faces of the brand and touted for their talent and achievements, rather than their bodies. Actor Priyanka Chopra and inclusivity activist and model Paloma Elsesser were notably among them.
Last night, on the eve of New York Fashion Week, a celebration of what’s been billed as a reimagining of the VS show, now called its World Tour, took place.
The World Tour will premiere on Amazon Prime later this month, as a film that is part footage from this week’s fashion event — headlined by a performance from singer Doja Cat — and part documentary footage of the ‘Tour’ which took place in Barcelona. It will feature some of the aforementioned seven new faces in custom designs by members of the brand’s new ‘VS20’ — a group of female creatives from its top markets: London, Tokyo, Lagos, and Bogota.
The press release promised the film would highlight “women’s voices, perspectives and experiences”, saying it will “centre on emerging global trailblazers from a range of artistic disciplines, creating on their own terms”.
It sounds intriguing and somewhat of a departure from the brand’s former (male) fantasy shows, but going by the pink carpet at the Hammerstein Ballroom where the celebration event took place, it’s all feeling more familiar than fresh.
Former Angels, new faces, and plenty of friends of the brand attended (boding well for the attendance at NYFW events in general). While some of the stars took a more traditional black-tie approach to dressing, such as Gigi Hadid, who wore a sunshine-yellow asymmetric midi dress with slicked-back hair and black pumps, and Brooke Shields, who had a ’70s moment in dark-denim suiting and aviators, some of the looks felt more like the VS fashion of yore.
Lace corsets and slips, satin minis, bejewelled bodycon, and PVC bras aplenty were seen on everyone from seasoned Angels, Adriana Lima (who is returning as one of the headline faces for 2023), and Candice Swanepoel, to nepo babies like heiress Ivy Getty, and celebrity children Iris Law and Lila Moss (the joint headliners of the World Tour).
The newly minted models also had a familiar accessory on their backs as they arrived at the venue: wings. While they were less feathered and fanciful, more gilded and gothic, the emblem seems to have made a less-than-covert comeback. In a series of Instagram posts teasing the show, the starring models were called ‘winged women’ instead of Angels. Same same, but different.
The outfits for the film, which have been debuted on the brand’s social to its 75 million followers, were designed by four international talents from the VS20, including Jenny Fax from Tokyo and Lagos’s Bubu Ogisi and, as a result, they do have more fashion edge.
Moss wears a deconstructed wedding outfit by Fax, Campbell is seen in a chainmail mini from Ogisi, and Adwoa Aboah brought her high-fashion kudos to a Space age bodysuit by London designer Supriya Lele. However, it seems these ‘custom’ outfits won’t be available to the public — instead, they’re all part of the show — a show that appears to be nothing more than a 2023-ified version of the pre-2019 fashion events, with the addition of a roster of talent more in step with a younger audience’s following lists.
Ok, the added body diversity means the campaign doesn’t advocate the crazy diets that were previously such a problematic part of what it took to be a catwalk Angel, but the level of fanfare in declaring a rebirth of the VS show feels unwarranted.
Indeed, one follower of the brand said it best when they commented on the teaser for the brand’s film. “I think it’s funny that y’all decided to change the entire format of the show and the entire marketing strategy to include a more diverse cast, when you could’ve just maintained the old one, with all its glitter, glamour, and wings, and made space for those models there. [L]ike genuinely all you had to do is cast more kinds of women to walk the runway and everyone would’ve been happy. [I]nstead we got this weird rebrand nobody asked for and what [seems] to be a [Savage x Fenty] rip off.”
The commenter refers to a fact that many people on social pointed out: the teaser for the World Tour film looks similar in aesthetic to the Savage x Fenty 2019 adverts of models on a stage filled with arched windows. It’s a much-used backdrop, but given Rihanna’s brand is such close competition in terms of celebrity kudos and price points, it naturally raised eyebrows.
Competitors like Rihanna’s label have succeeded firmly in giving women what they want and in redefining sexy through a female lens, leading them to take a large slice of VS’s sales pie. So can the World Tour rescue the brand, and will the full feature film prove it really has turned a corner, despite recycling its former celestial-themed tropes? We’ll have to see when it goes live on September 26. Eighteen million people watched the last show in 2018, so the streaming numbers will speak volumes about what the new gen think of its 2023 fantasy.