The annual Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Bra had a surprisingly modest public debut this week — a quick photoshoot, an appearance on a morning talk show, then back into the vault. Model Miranda Kerr didn’t even try it on for the cameras.
A bigger surprise, though, is that none of the gushing FOX-TV hosts asked Miranda the obvious question: “How can Victoria’s Secret justify such a pointlessly extravagant gesture now?”
It’s a question that has nagged the lingerie retailer every year since it introduced its first million-dollar “miracle bra” back in 1996, but it has never been more relevant than it is today. What does the Fantasy Bra say about Victoria’s Secret’s corporate values? Wouldn’t it have shown more sensitivity to retire this opulent bauble until Americans have crawled out of the economic wreckage of the past three years?
Of course, no one has ever bought one of company’s fantasy/dream/miracle bras, but that was never their point. It’s purely a marketing ploy that pays for itself each year with millions of dollars worth of free, fawning press coverage that promotes the upcoming Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show and the retailer’s annual Christmas collections.
And as an attention-getting device the jewel-encrusted bodice has served the company well. It was always fun to see something so ridiculously showy, with its over-the-top glamour and in-your-face price tag. The Europeans might have the market cornered on fashion lingerie, but no one can beat the Yanks when it came to pure showmanship. This wasn’t underwear; it was entertainment.
At its height, when everything was booming, the diamond bra became a symbol of the almost limitless rewards of American capitalism. $15 million … for a bra? Sure, why not? If you’ve got that kind of dough — or enough credit — who’s going to tell you how to spend it?
But that was more than a decade ago, back in the days when Tyra, Heidi and Gisele took turns hoisting the glittering hardware, and no extravagance seemed too extreme — or beyond our reach. Back in the days when aspirational marketing — enticing people to buy things they couldn’t afford — wasn’t a moral quagmire.
Today we are living in a post-Madoff world, where 25 million Americans have no job and protesters are camping out in front of banks and brokerage houses demanding more corporate responsibility. Entire nations — not to mention tens of millions of consumers — are foundering in a bottomless pit of debt.
Viewed in such a context, the VS Fantasy Bra has become the kind of let-them-eat-cake symbol of wealth and privilege that Marie Antoinette would have worn to her beheading. To borrow a phrase from the Occupy Wall Street gang, this is underwear for the 1%.
To give Victoria’s Secret some credit, the Fantasy Bra has been downsized over the past few years in deference to global hard times, from the record-setting $15-million contraption that Gisele wore in 2000 to the paltry $2-million piece that Adriana Lima showed off with obvious glee last year.
The 2011 version, called the Fantasy Treasure Bra, is likewise a modest affair — if you can call $2.5 million worth of bling modest. It’s also exquisitely pretty — one of the nicest ones they’ve ever done.
Even so, it’s still obscenely extravagant and hopelessly out of synch with the world we live in. Ostentatious displays of wealth and entitlement are out. Crass commercialism and frivolous splurging are out. And the Victoria’s Secret Fantasy Bra is no longer an aspirational touchstone — it’s just something else that is beyond everyone’s reach, an ironic commentary on America’s failing fortunes and a reminder of its blind hubris.
Once a source of awe and delight, the Fantasy Bra has become an awkward anachronism. It’s not sexy, it’s not practical and, finally this year, it is beyond all rationalization.
With all due respect to the talented craftsmen and marketing people who have worked so hard on these productions over the past 15 years, it’s time to send the Fantasy Bra back to the vault. For good.