The annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is coming back. The lingerie brand announced during its 2022 earnings call on Friday that it’s seeking to revamp its Angel wings-filled production, which was once one of the most anticipated (and watched) in the world. “We’re going to continue to lean into the marketing spend to invest in the business… and also to support the new version of our fashion show, which is to come later this year,” confirmed the brand’s CFO, Timothy Johnson. In a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, a spokesperson also emphasised that the show will “reinforce our commitment to championing women’s voices and their unique perspectives.”
The event – which once featured top models such as Adriana Lima, Gisele Bündchen, and Heidi Klum – was put on hiatus in November 2019 following VS’s declining sales, poor television ratings, and controversies surrounding the brand. Most notably, it was reported at the time that the company’s CEO, Les Wexner, had close ties to Jeffrey Epstein, who was charged with sex trafficking of minors and conspiracy to engage in sex trafficking. (A spokesperson for Mr and Mrs Wexner told the Washington Post in 2019 that they had severed all ties with Epstein in 2007 and condemned Epstein’s “abhorrent behaviour in the strongest possible terms”.) In 2020, a New York Times article accused Edward Razek – the former chief marketing officer of L Brands, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company – of creating a “culture of misogyny, bullying, and harassment.” (Razek told the NYT at the time that the claims were “categorically untrue, misconstrued or taken out of context”, while L Brands did not dispute the allegations made in the report.)
Around the time of its hiatus, there were also rising questions around whether the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show was still relevant or appropriate for the current fashion climate. In 2018, Razek was asked if the show needed an overhaul from its bombshells-only aesthetic – meaning if it would ever consider featuring a more diverse cast, including trans or plus-size models. He famously rejected this idea, telling Vogue’s Nicole Phelps, “I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”
Around the same time, Rihanna’s lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty, proved that it was possible to have a show that was sexy and diverse. From its first catwalk in 2018, Savage X Fenty has cast models of all sizes as well as those who are queer, trans, non-binary, and drag queens.
Victoria’s Secret aimed to reinvent itself in 2021 too, when it launched its VS Collective campaign featuring plus-size model Paloma Elsesser, LGBTQ+ activist Valentina Sampaio, and US soccer star Megan Rapinoe. The new look and feel of the brand, which shed its signature Angels in favour of products that reflected “what women want,” felt dramatically different and intentional – though perhaps a bit too performative. A Mother’s Day campaign, released shortly after its rebrand, went on to feature a pregnant model in a silky pink robe, a deliberate move to reflect a more inclusive range of body types.
It’s unclear what the new fashion show will entail, but the reactions online to the announcement were mixed. Some were quick to call the brand’s revamp, and its aim to “champion women’s voices,” a direct Savage X Fenty ripple effect. “Ms. Fenty really made them restrategize,” wrote one Twitter user. Others were more cautiously optimistic. “I’ll reserve my outrage until we see if they actually have become inclusive or all this is just merely performative,” wrote another. “Glad it’s coming back,” wrote yet another, “but doubt it will be as glamorous.”
Singer Lizzo, who has her own line of size-inclusive shapewear called Yitty, even weighed in on the news earlier this morning. “This is a win for inclusivity for inclusivity’s sake,” she wrote on Twitter. “But if brands start doing this only because they’ve received backlash, then what happens when the ‘trends’ change again? Do the CEOs of these companies value true inclusivity? Or do they just value money?” Only time – and the 2023 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show – will tell.