Embattled fashion brand Victoria’s Secret has ignited yet another social media firestorm after news broke that the lingerie company is nixing its iconic runway Angels collective in favor of women who are “famous for their achievements and not their proportions,” according to the New York Times.
The label revealed to the publication that it has partnered with actress Priyanka Chopra Jonas, soccer star Megan Rapinoe, Chinese American freestyle skier Eileen Gu, photographer and #Girlgaze founder Amanda de Cadenet, trans model Valentina Sampaio, South Sudanese refugee turned fashion industry success story Adut Akech, biracial model Paloma Elsesser, who earned significant attention when she appeared on the cover of Vogue as a size 14, and more as part of its new, inclusive VS Collective initiative.
“When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said chief brand executive Martin Waters, addressing long-standing criticism against the brand for its lack of inclusion and specific catering to the male fantasy with its ad campaigns and runway show. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”
John Shearer/Getty Images; Harry How/Getty Images Priyanka Chopra Jonas and Megan Rapino are part of the new Victoria’s Secret Collective.
The VS Collective will take the place of the Angels – a lineage of curvy models like Heidi Klum and Tyra Banks, who helped propel the brand into the mainstream stratosphere – as they advise and promote the brand through ads and on Instagram, while the company shuffles its executive team to include positions filled primarily by women.
Rapinoe, who revealed she was initially curious as to why the brand would want to partner with her, given its track record for representation, said that the brand’s former identity was “really harmful” to women, and represented a “patriarchal, sexist” perspective, marketed at young women, “not just [in terms of] what it meant to be sexy but what the clothes were trying to accomplish through a male lens and through what men desired.” After the label recently launched a rare Mother’s Day campaign featuring a pregnant model – something it had rarely done in the past – Rapinoe and Chopra Jonas are working on expanding Victoria’s Secret’s product line to include new garments that will debut next spring.
Similarly, Elsesser added that she “didn’t start modeling to just do all the cool stuff,” but “to change the world” with “radical change.” She will start by lobbying for Victoria’s Secret to increase its sizing to XXXXXL from its current maximum of 42G in bras and XXL in nightwear.
Social media quickly responded to the brand’s renewed direction, with conservative pundits calling the move a bid at targeting the “commie” demographic, and others, like lingerie expert Cora Harrington pointing out that “any rebrand without a size expansion is DOA.”
Finance expert Lynnette Khalfani-Cox celebrated the announcement in general, however.
“If [Megan Rapinoe] can rock a swimsuit like this (photographed by Sports Illustrated) why in the world can’t she be a Victoria’s Secret model?” she tweeted. “She’s hot. Just look at her! Or do y’all just have a problem with strong, outspoken, empowered women?”
Writer Erin Ryan boiled it down to a matter of practicality: “A better way for victoria’s secret to revamp its brand would be to try changing it up by making high-quality bras that fit comfortably and look nice,” she wrote.
In addition to backlash against its prior marketing, the brand, which was founded in 1977 and purchased by retail billionaire Leslie H. Wexner in 1982, came under fire for Wexner’s connections to Jeffrey Epstein as well as an alleged company culture “entrenched” in “misogyny, bullying, and harassment,” per a New York Times investigation.
Wexner’s former chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, also drew public ire for his comments about inclusion in the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, telling Vogue in 2018 that the company wouldn’t consider including trans models in the program. Recording artist Halsey – who performed at the fashion show that year, prior to Razek’s comments – later spoke out against the project in a statement that said she had “no tolerance for a lack of inclusivity.”
At the time, chief executive Jan Singer resigned from the company, and the Times indicates that Wexner and Razek will not be part of the new Victoria’s Secret vision going forward, which is set to include a revamped version of the fashion show – currently on hiatus since 2018 – sometime in 2022.
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