When my girl friends say they want to stop by Victoria’s Secret, it’s never to check out the “clothing.” In the context of our conversations, the brand is synonymous with “sexy lingerie,” the kind you would buy to entice your significant other. The brand isn’t emblematic of the latest fashions Prada or Céline have on their runways; after all, underwear is, well, basic. Nobody sees it. Except for maybe the boyfriend.
So why, then, does Victoria’s Secret refer to its spectacular circus of a show as a fashion show? To most of the half-billion people tuning in next month to watch the broadcast on prime-time television, it’s certainly more entertainment than anything else — men and women aren’t there to admire the quality of VS “angel” Lily Aldridge’s $2 million fantasy bra; they’re there for the half-naked models and trendy musical acts.
But executives within the company see things a little differently. Leslie Wexner, owner of Victoria’s Secret and its parent company L Brands, first conceived the idea for the show back in 1995. Wexner argues that at its heart, Victoria’s Secret is a fashion brand and in order to mimic the practices of the top-tier houses, the company should put together legitimate fashion shows.
And truth be told, the show as it stands does bare quite a resemblance to the fashion shows curated by the traditional French houses. The show features buzzy collaborations and sponsorships with prominent figures in the industry like shoe designer Brian Atwood and Swarovski, and has various “It” models of the moment walk the runway. Pieces from the show are already on display at various flagship stores around the world to promote the new collections — a marketing tactic all the big names in fashion employ after each of their own respective shows.
This year’s VS fashion show featured six collections ranging from “boho psychedelic” to “exotic butterflies” with 75 outfits in all. The designs were essentially the same (because how many different ways can you wear underwear?) though each piece had “varying levels of encrustation and rainbow shades…from the ribbed sports looks of the PINK line to…jewel-encrusted nude bodysuits.”
And, as always, each number was drowned in a sea of extraneous accessories intended to showcase the “fantasy” aspect of each collection: swirling robes, motorcycle corsets, cutaway Marie Antoinette gowns and, of course, the traditional angel wings. But the show’s emphasis on maintaining the exaggerated, circus-like performance begets the question: can fashion and theater coexist on the same stage?
In theory, yes. Practically speaking? I’m not so sure. Lanvin’s now ex-creative director Alber Elbaz theorizes that today’s culture compels designers to wear multiple hats — designers aren’t just designers anymore; they’re “image-makers.” One of those roles is delivering clothes that not only look good on the body, but also on a phone or tablet. It’s not just about the artistry; social media plays a huge role in determining a designer’s influence in the industry at large, not to mention the success or failure of their individual collections and collaborations. (#HMBalmaination, anyone?)
Part of the theatrical zeal inevitably stems from the desire for relevancy in an age where “instantaneous” just isn’t fast enough. Five years ago, it was practically unheard of to see a cell phone in the front row of a prestigious show. This year, Burberry took the plunge and put their entire fall show on Snapchat. The company also plans to give its followers a peak at their Spring 2016 collection on the app as well, an industry first. Instagram is littered with models and designers giving their followers “behind the scenes” glimpses of upcoming collections and shows.
This obsession with immediacy has already changed the way fashion is consumed, both within the industry and for those who report on it. Josh Newis-Smith, a junior editor for Grazia (a weekly fashion magazine based in the United Kingdom), says everything from the actual process of designing to manufacturing is expedited in order to please consumers.
“People didn’t have camera phones, so they had to wait six months until they saw the February issue to see what was going on,” said Newis-Smith. “Now clothes have to be in stores in a matter of weeks. And that’s what customers want…they don’t want a trend six months down the line anymore, they want it at their finger tips.”
But in some ways, the theatricality of the Victoria’s Secret show in particular may actually be a good thing. The label’s emphasis on promoting the show through social media forced the brand to bring in a slew of social media savvy models like Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid, whom the label had previously rejected for the past two years. Plus the show really allows the brand’s designers to stretch their creative wings in terms of costuming and set design.
Even so, I still intend on watching the show for the actual garments. My male friends, however, will probably watch it strictly for the half naked models. And maybe for The Weeknd too.