When you tell someone — a friend, colleague, a fellow parent waiting at the school gate — that you are going to the Victoria’s Secret show to look at the clothes, you are liable to get pretty much the same response: “Clothes?”
To most of the half-billion people who will watch the show when it is broadcast on prime-time television in 192 countries next month, and many of the men who bought tickets to benefit different charities (minimum bid: $25,000 for two seats) doing shout-outs to their favorite models from the audience, the clothes are probably the least of it — the half-naked famous women and musical acts like the Weeknd and Ellie Goulding being the main attraction.
But, as Monica Mitro, executive vice president for brand communications, said the day before the runway, it, like any fashion show, is “90 percent product” that ends up on store shelves. Indeed, it was originally conceived 20 years ago by Leslie Wexner, the chairman of Victoria’s Secret, because, Ms. Mitro remembered, he said, “We’re a fashion brand, we should be doing fashion shows.” And in many ways, it shares all the attributes of the most established ready-to-wear shows:
1. Buzzy collaborators: This year, the shoe maestro Brian Atwood, a red carpet favorite of names such as Taylor Swift and Melissa McCarthy; and the jeweler Eddie Borgo, who has done runway jewels for Joseph Altuzarra, Marchesa and Derek Lam.
2. Swarovski sponsorship (Swarovski also having sponsored, in the past, names like Alexander McQueen, Christopher Kane, Proenza Schouler and so on).
3. A hip stylist: Sophia Neophitou-Apostolou, editor in chief of the haute indie glossy 10 magazine.
4. The model names of the moment Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid.
5. And afterward, showpieces that are featured in the windows of flagship stores around the world and then archived for posterity.
Plus, this year they got the one front-row guest that every ready-to-wear brand wanted last season but that no one else managed to snag: Caitlyn Jenner (she was hooting and catcalling every time Kendall appeared).
So if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, maybe we should treat it like a duck. Especially because it involves a lot of feathers.
And because this season lingerie was one of the predominant trends of the women’s wear collections from New York to Paris, Calvin Klein to Givenchy to Céline. Could this be the source?
Divided into six sections with names like “boho psychedelic” and “exotic butterflies,” the show featured 75 outfits, all built on a base of, well, basics. There were bras and panties in varying levels of encrustation and rainbow shades, from the ribbed sports looks of the Pink line to the lace-’n’-diamante luxe and jewel-encrusted nude bodysuits of the highest end.
Many of which were very nice, most of which were pretty familiar (this didn’t exactly reshape my ideas of how we define underwear, though I confess that the concept of high-waisted pinstriped big pants had never occurred to me) but all of which were quite hard to see, drowned as they were in an ocean of extras: golden wings! and swirling robes! and velvet marching bad jackets! and firefighter pants! and motorcycle corsets! and cutaway Marie Antoinette gowns! And so on.
Lingerie, at least on the runway, tends to reflect a minimal mood (you strip, literally, the layers away), but this was maximal in the extreme. We all know fashion is the costume we don for everyday life, and there’s no reason that kind of consideration shouldn’t extend all the way down to what goes underneath (it absolutely should), but the role play here was less idiosyncratic than campy. The vibe is overwhelmingly naughty maid.
That doesn’t do much to move female identity forward, even if taking charge of your body and sexuality and celebrating it is a feminist thing, but it does make sense if the goal is to grab attention through a small screen. Indeed, a clue was dangled at the opening, when a P. T. Barnum-like voice-over welcomed the audience to the “the greatest fashion event on earth” — not, as it happens, “the greatest show.”
And it’s worth noting that Ari Emanuel, the co-chief executive of WME/IMG, and Mark Shapiro, the chief content officer of IMG, were both front row this year, taking notes. WME/IMG owns or operates New York, London and Milan fashion weeks (among others), and Mr. Shapiro and Mr. Emanuel have been pretty vocal about their belief in the power of fashion as entertainment. Which suggests they may think the industry writ large has something to learn from Victoria’s Secret.
So perhaps the real question is not “can we take this seriously as fashion?” but more “is this the future of fashion, or at least fashion shows?”
I have a niggling feeling the answer may be yes.