The concept of watching hot babes trot through glitter wearing nothing but three inches of torn doily and angel wings made out of 30 lbs of peacock feathers is probably something that shouldn’t be questioned – for fear of it disappearing like a fading mirage, twinkling atop our hole-riddled, poly-blend horizon.
We’re going to do it anyway, though, because – come to think of it – we have literally no idea why the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show even exists.
Beyond causing casual self-loathing and boners – not always in that order mind you – the magnificent display of human strength and imagination that is the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show must have a deeply-rooted purpose. In fact, we insist it must be deeply-rooted, because the idea of blatant frivolity in the fashion industry is just foolishness, right? And because saying “deeply-rooted” while talking about chicks is funny, too, right? Rights, guys?
Besides its purpose, it’s also interesting to consider how the show is received and generally perceived. Through its lifetime, it has been described as an infomercial (true) and outright commercialism (also true) – but so is everything if you think about it for long enough. The show has also been described as pornographic, which is clearly not true, because if it were, all of those basics wouldn’t be carrying around VS totes at the airport so proudly.
Plus, despite numerous complaints to the Federal Communications Commission, no fines have ever been imposed, with the FCC always referring back to the First Amendment. It stated that the event has never included “sexual or excretory activities or organs in a patently offensive manner as measured by contemporary community standards for the broadcast medium.” Phewf.
So, if it’s not soft-core porn and assuming that it’s something a little more than basic marketing, what exactly is the show’s purpose? It could be an expensive grab at staying relevant: it has relatively huge exposure to both mainstream audiences and alternative viewers alike, and it supports the cooler side of chart-topping musicians and it-model casting decisions (despite its inability to embrace trends within the fashion world as quickly as it should – see: bralettes and more natural make-up, hair and styling, which only came into play in 2016).
But it could also be a mega demonstration of a punk attitude. What? Yep. Just hear this theory out.
Each season, one model is chosen to wear an incredibly expensive — like $15 mil expensive — piece, called the “Fantasy Bra.” It’s a product that was once advertised on the pages of the label’s catalog, but since 2001 has been used a centerpiece for each of the shows.
The production process involves Victoria’s Secret selecting and contracting a remarkable jeweler to design and craft the bra. It then hitches a ride down the runway on the chosen model and is sold afterwards as “the ultimate holiday gift.” If, after a year, the bra isn’t sold, it is dismantled, meaning that there’s no physical archive of their most intricate haute couture piece. Kind of punk, no?
The history of the show and its inception is also an interesting one, with as many calculated moves as there were DGAF ones. While the company itself was founded in 1977, it wasn’t until 1995 that the first Fashion Show happened. It should be noted that the ludicrously-sized wings, impossible hair and music acts did not exist at this time — they were to become part of the ordeal much later on, once things became decidedly less humble.
It seems obvious that the show’s existence is a marketing exercise – especially when you note that it was initially scheduled for the days preceding Valentines Day (and eventually the days preceding Christmas) – but there’s a little more to it. The first show happened two months before the brand’s parent company sold an initial public offering stake in the company; a considered strategy that eventuated into a yearly tradition.
(Side note: their mail-order catalog model Stephanie Seymour got to ring the closing bell at the New York Stock Exchange, which is pretty lol.)
By 1998, the show – and the gals – got wings. While still not the Super Bowl of T&A that it is today, the audience was growing. By 1999, when it was exclusively streaming online in the style of “watching a striptease through a keyhole,” according to a New York Times critic, it had over two million viewers — which, in those days, was basically the entire internet population.
In 2000, the show was more forward with its purpose. It was presented at the Cannes Film Festival as a part of the Cinema Against AIDS 2000 gala, and it raised $3.5 mil. That’s about $2 mil shy of what they spent on advertising the year before, though, so “purpose” might be too liberal a term here.
By 2014, the show’s budget had seen an increase from its original $12,000 to $12 mil – so, again, a lot more than your standard marketing campaign. The budget also makes Victoria’s Secret seem generous to those that are involved in the production – Victoria’s Secret models usually make up over half of Forbes‘ list of highest earning models – as well as the viewers who get to kick back and watch the sexiness unfold.
It’s rare, too, that not all of what we see is shop-able in general terms. It’s true that the show’s themes dictate the collections available for purchase, but only the bras and panties. The wings and sculptural garments – and even the “costume” pieces like capes, skirts and socks that are added for the sake of styling – aren’t made for the company to sell them in massive quantities. These pieces are made by commissioned artisans and their teams, often over the course of the year, just for you to be mesmerized by. It’s generous!
So, when The Onion writes headlines like “Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show A Hit Among People Who Don’t Know That Pornography Exists,” they’re not only being pretty funny, but they’re also missing the point a little bit. Granted, their job isn’t to get the point, but the popular idea that the show should be dismissed for its promiscuity and cheesiness veers on the shallow side.
That’s not to say that poking fun at the show or weaving fun plot lines and memes from blips that appear through the entire beau geste isn’t excellent fun, because it is. (What’s up Hadid/Tesfaye!) But it’s hard to argue that the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show isn’t quality entertainment.
Even as a never-customer, following the show is hugely fascinating: watching Gisele Bundchen’s hair flop is more hypnotic than a Leonardo DiCaprio monologue, admiring female form isn’t exclusively gratifying for couch masturbators and intellectuals, and singing along to Bruno Mars and Gaga shouldn’t be reserved for your little sister.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is for the people. It’s David Attenborough narrating outer space and deep sea at the exact same time. The show’s reason for existing may not be explicit, but it sure gives us one.
Speaking of sexy women, has the definition of beauty changed?
- Words: Hayley Morgan
- Lead image: Reuters