A Grand Unified Theory on Why the Victoria’s Secrets Show got Cancelled

Victoria’s Secret Model Shania Shaik

According to Victoria’s Secret Model Shania Shaik, the 23 year old lingerie institution – Victoria’s Secrets Fashion Show has been cancelled. The multi-racial Australian-Lithuanian Pakistani-Saudi angel confirmed industry rumours during an interview with Australian Daily Telegraph early August 2019.

According to CNBC, a memo sent by L Brands CEO Les Wexler to Victoria’s Secret employees in May this year, stated that “network television wasn’t the “right fit” for the annual runway show anymore” and that the corporation has “decided to rethink the traditional Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show.”

While there are many theories, the loudest one appears to be centred on a prevailing perception that Victoria’s Secrets has fallen victim to its own lack of inclusivity especially with regard to comments made over transgendered and plus-sized models. In fact, following the company’s signing of the brand’s first transgendered model Valentina Sampaio, the resignation of Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek, a week later seemed to confirm the theory that Victoria’s Secret is hopelessly out-of-touch in the era of #feminist #bodypositive #metoo #lgbt era.

“Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special,” Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek to Vogue

Critics often forget that Tyra Banks became the face and most recognisable Angel in 1999, Banks became the most bankable supermodel of the time.

Ed Razek has been with the brand since 1983 and earlier this year, the mastermind for the pre-social media phenom – the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, fell prey to classic “open mouth insert foot commentary when he told Vogue that Victoria’s Secrets would not hire transgender or plus-sized models. While Razak did apologise and clarify his statement saying, “To be clear, we absolutely would cast a transgender model for the show. We’ve had transgender models come to castings… And like many others, they didn’t make it…But it was never about gender. I admire and respect their journey to embrace who they really are,” the damage was done.

Razek is the reason the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has gone from local ballroom to international event with Hollywood celebrities and popstars wanting to share the runway with the Angels. But is he also responsible for Victoria’s Secret’s market share shrinking from 31.7% in 2013 to 24% in 2018 (according to Coresight Research)?

Traditional viewing has been in decline since 2011

Dissecting the Victoria’s Secret fantasy (hypothesis)

According to data from Magna, the media intelligence arm of IPG Mediabrands, National TV ad sales peaked in 2016, when they exceeded $43 billion, but as more viewers started to turn to streaming services like Netflix and Hulu, network television become less and less relevant and the ratings decline didn’t just happen for the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, it happened in even one of the most unexpected areas like the National Football League. So yes, while Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has declined to 3.3 million viewers in 2018 from a high of 6.7 million in 2016, its decline mirrors other once “must-watch” features thanks to growing competition from alternate media options. So no, Razek, might be a lightning rod, but he’s not the reason for the fashion show’s “growing irrelevance”.

“Our results indicate that comfort and fit are weighed more heavily than sexiness when making a decision,” -Oliver Chen, Cowen

Perhaps it’s Razek’s lack of inclusiveness? According to Coresight, Victoria’s Secret’s market share may have shrunk to 24% in 2018 from 31.7% in 2013, but it is still the number one women’s lingerie brand in the U.S., leading a market valued at $13.1 billion. That said, in fairness, Coresight also does offer that market forces reshaping the industry potentially include an emphasis on body positivity and inclusivity, particularly in the evolving definition of sexy. BUT… Cowen analysts led by Oliver Chen, while delivering similar findings similar to Coresight, yielded one particularly cogent tidbit – consumers were focusing on comfort and fit versus sexy that Victoria’s Secret is known for. Does this not make sense? Just how comfortable or empowered are you wearing a lacy piece of floss daily versus a full bottomed pair of panties? Does it not make sense that you’d don Victoria’s Secrets for a special occasion like Valentine’s Day or an anniversary rather than it a daily thing? Again, Razek isn’t exactly to blame for legions of women rejecting the notion that looking like an Angel beneath your workwear everyday is practical nor sensible; this, and the uptick of lunch time gym/yoga in athleisure, is supported by the fact that brands like Nike, Adidas, and Lululemon Athletica are taking segments of market share in women’s underwear as well thanks to their sports bra collections.

Would you really rather watch Reality (as opposed to Fantasy)?

In July 2019, the question of whether the public would rather watch reality as opposed to fantasy, was accidentally answered by Aquaman himself, Jason Momoa. Body shamed on social media for having a ‘dad bod’ – Momoa’s unflexed abs attracted a cacophony of voices, the loudest, in essence “fat shaming” him. Can you imagine the kind of social justice commentary and doxxing had the subject in question not been Momoa but a female celebrity instead? Even then, it points to one thing – many would rather admire a buff, impossibly sculpted, superhero-Khal Drogo Momoa, rather than vacationing father-of-two Momoa. The question is then one of whether the Aquaman physique impossible?

Is Aquaman’s body an impossible standard?

Having seen Momoa’s vacationing body and his “at work” Aquaman body, it stands to reason that a rippling physique is not an unattainable, impossible standard, we’ve seen Jason in both roles. If your full time job required you to spend 8 hours at the gym on a daily basis, this standard, however difficult, is attainable. Is this standard attainable for a regular person? Well, assuming we spend 8 hours in a day job, assuming you are fine with giving up hanging out with loved ones and friends, this would be an impractical rather than an impossible standard.

Is Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show as much a fantasy as Aquaman? 

Razek was right, with wings, pomp and splendour, the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is fantasy and spectacle. Furthermore, it is marketed as such. There are 34 million search results for “fat burner”, 433 million search results for “lose fat fast”, 373 million search results for “ways to look sexy when big” – suffice it to say, the numbers for people looking to get to slim versus those searching to look slim while they are plus sized, are essentially two sides of the same coin. Would you watch dad-bod Momoa as Aquaman?

Transgendered Angel Valentina Sampaio

Even Transgendered Angel Valentina Sampaio continues the Fantasy stereotype

It appears that whether Asian, Black, Brazilian, Lithuanian-Pakistan or transgendered, each Angel fits a Victoria’s Secret fantasy archetype – western perspectives of idealised beauty. This includes recently hired transgender model Valentina Sampaio, like it or not, Victoria’s Secrets is actually quite consistent in its core aesthetic. Should Victoria’s Secret be obligated to incorporate plus-sized models to represent “all women?

Well, it’s a business with a defined market, an aesthetic, and a marketing strategy designed to communicate its aesthetic to its defined, target consumer. Let’s compound this basic fact with another hit to inclusivity – that Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show itself shortlists only 60 out of 100s of models, out of the 1000s who have auditioned. Neither the brand or show is meant to be “inclusive” in the general sense of the word, anymore than the National Football League would hire a pro-baller who is anything but an elite athletic specimen. These are men and women, selected and chosen for a very specific skillset and body composition.

For sure, Victoria’s Secret can be a brand for social justice like Nike but it is not obligated to be one. For now, the market data shows correlation that inclusivity might be a factor in the brand’s diminished but still majority market share, even then, it is not necessarily causation. To force a brand to conform to standards other than the ones it defines for itself is antithetical to other liberal values like freedom of expression. Should you not agree with Victoria’s Secrets’ “expression”, we can express our disagreement through our wallets.

Indeed, the rise of brands like American Eagle’s Aerie, ThirdLove, Lively, Savage X Fenty, Adore Me and True & Co. have capitalised on messaging and brand values that place greater emphasis on comfort and body positivity. However, to claim that Victoria’s Secrets Angels are not equally empowered or somehow, because they have crafted their bodies into perfect physical specimens, they are disqualified symbols of female empowerment unlike their plus-sized counterparts is not just unjust but deeply ironic.

Yes, the lingerie extravaganza first broadcast dating back to the 1990s, is in decline and in 2019, ultimately cancelled but it is due to a variety of factors including digital disruption rather than some fantasy notion (e.g. lack of inclusion) that social justice warriors would have you believe.