The Victoria’s Secret fashion show: a dangerous fixation?

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The Victoria’s Secret fashion show is a ‘throwback’ of sorts to couture extravaganza; the sets and the costumes worn by the models are opulent, to say the least. The creative directors slave over the process for the entire year preceding the show. Their labour includes picking section themes for the show and, of course, designing the costumes (most of these are hand crafted). The angels’ wings take months to engineer, and their intricate detail is baffling. The fantasy bras, of which there were two this year, cost $2 million each and took 1,380 hours to make. They even come with their own bodyguards.

 This obscene amount of effort risks being made redundant by viewers’ lack of regard for the fashion itself. The notable parts of the show, it seems, are the flawless bodies, faces, hair, skin – I could go on – of the ‘angels’.

I can hear the cries already: “But, this can be said about all fashion shows!” Perhaps. But the Victoria’s Secret show undeniably foregrounds the models’ bodies – notably because the ‘angels’ are virtually naked throughout. The use of size zero models by the fashion industry may be criticised year on year, but at least the clothes are still the primary focus in the shows of Chanel and Dior.

Ed Sheeran, Taylor Swift and Ariana Grande all performed at the spectacle this year. These are artists whose fan base lies predominantly within the teenage population. This is compounded by the segment dedicated to the ‘PINK’ line, which is specifically targeted at younger Victoria’s Secret fans. The sheer amount of people who watch this fashion show is baffling (9.71 million last year) – and there are a hell of a lot of teenagers amongst them. A hell of a lot of teenagers watching a hell of a lot of tiny models parading around in underwear.

In the intermission, the executive producer of the show, Monica Mitro, referred to Alessandra Ambrosio and Adriana Lima as “curvy”, a terrifyingly distorted perception which must have been designed to make us all feel bad – especially the impressionable, self-loathing, awkward teenage girls watching (we’ve all been there). Whilst these particular models’ bodies are more Amazonian than other models (bearing more of a resemblance to the supermodels of the 1980s than to the Kate Mossian waif-like physique), by no means does this make them “curvy” by normal standards. At least, I couldn’t spot the curves. What’s most frustrating, however, is that again and again the focus is on the models themselves and their bodies, rather than on the lingerie they are supposedly showcasing.

Most Twitter commentators mention the models’ physique in one way or another, whether they are jokingly complaining “they don’t know about pizza” or seriously bemoaning “they make me depressed, they’re all so perfect”. But the negativity of such commentary isn’t the primary issue here. The problem is simply that the models – rather than the fashion – are the central focus of the show, whether from an impartial critical or envying perspective. No one was talking about “the new Victoria’s Secret collection”; everyone was loving ‘angels’ instead. The incredible handcrafted costumes and the masterfully created wings stood in their models’ shadows. There is an actual Wikipedia page called ‘List of Victoria’s Secret models’, and anyone watching the show knows its content back to front. It is notoriously difficult to become an ‘angel.’ The ‘angels’ tend to be the industry’s highest paid models; being an ‘angel’ is like being part of a secret society that everyone wants to be in.

At least that’s what the Victoria’s Secret marketing team wants you to believe – and it’s working. We all invariably felt a little sorry for ourselves – and our actual ‘curves’ – throughout the show. It was like not being invited to the cool kids’ party at school. Even celebrities joined in the pity party. Actress Michelle Keegan, winner of ‘Sexiest Female’ at the 2014 British Soap Awards, stated how the models made her depressed. Given that most could barely distinguish her from a Victoria’s Secret model, such a statement made from such a position of influence is invariably dangerous.

Undeniably, the models are strikingly beautiful and it is not fair to lambaste them for doing their job. And looking the way they do is their job – their diet and exercise regimes are stringent to ensure that they maintain their shape and glowing skin. They work out 4 hours a day and go to ‘Angel School’ where they learn about the company’s history and how to represent the brand to the media. Those who criticize are really demonstrating their own fixation, reinforcing my point that the obsession with the bodies of the models is dangerous whatever direction the comments take. Is that fixation, however, actually created by the very existence of the models and the show? It’s a chicken and egg kind of story. All we know for sure, is that it’s a damn shame the costumes aren’t given more attention. Some of them are works of art in their own right.

Even in overlooking the body image issue, we can easily find other bones to pick with the show, like the enormous air of exclusivity surrounding it, confirmed by the reportedly extortionate ticket price of almost £10,000. It is a shame that the show cannot be enjoyed for what it purports to be. It truly is a beautiful spectacle, and the man-hours that go into the aesthetics make it a fashion show in its own right, not a guilt tripping parade. If only this was more obvious.

 

Image: Downtown Magazine

 

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