The worst thing about Victoria’s Secret‘s repugnant “Perfect Body” ad campaign isn’t that it’s hurtful to women, it’s that the giant lingerie retailer refuses to participate in the worldwide conversation it has started.
It’s been NINE DAYS since a trio of UK college students launched an online petition asking Victoria’s Secret to remove ads showing the words “The Perfect Body” superimposed over a lineup of 10 slender, lookalike supermodels.
The ads show up on billboards and mall displays in both the UK and U.S. and promote a new bra style in the company’s Body by Victoria collection. The text on the ads refers specifically to the bra’s name, but the unavoidable double meaning has enflamed women everywhere.
The petition has so far gathered more than 15,000 signatures and sparked a social media squall around the hashtag #IAmPerfect, with most commenters slamming Victoria’s Secret for “body-shaming” anyone who doesn’t resemble the company’s Amazonian Angels.
The company’s response? Not a single word.
The campaign has received blanket media coverage in recent days and the online debate has metastasized wildly, bringing overlapping issues like body image, idealized beauty standards, fat shaming, racial diversity, photoshopped ads and other subjects into the conversation. (Predictably, it has also triggered a backlash from virulent, chauvinistic trolls too.)
If the company’s initial offence in creating the ‘Perfect Body’ ads was unintended (let’s give them the benefit of the doubt), its continuing silence on the issue is both perverse and inexplicably dumb. Especially since defusing the situation would have been so easy. Any PR intern could crank out a boilerplate corporate mea culpa and quell the controversy, like this:
“Victoria’s Secret has always supported women of all kinds and rejects any suggestion that one individual’s body shape or size is more worthy than any other. Our advertising is meant to promote healthy lifestyles and happy women regardless of their appearance. We sincerely apologize for any unintended offense caused by our recent campaign.”
It took me 20 seconds to write that — see how easy it is?
Instead, Victoria’s Secret clings to a public relations strategy that looks like it was borrowed from Hong Kong’s political leaders, who resolutely ignore protesters week after week in the delusional hope that one day they’ll just exhaust themselves, shut up and go home.
What makes this whole episode even more incomprehensible is the fact that body-positive messaging has become the default language of fashion marketing today. Brands have become cheerleaders for their customers and are quick to spread feel-good messages about personal empowerment, self-acceptance and positive self-image, whether it reflects an authentic corporate value system or just an effort to pacify customers for profit.
Victoria’s Secret‘s silence suggests it is digging in for a kind of trench warfare with its critics. Apparently, the opinions of those who are hostile toward its shallow, “thinspirational” marketing are irrelevant to a company that boasts having “the sexiest fans on Facebook.”
It pursues this course, though, at its own peril.
These days, companies that disregard the growing power of consumer activism made possible by social media risk being shunned, boycotted or worse. Smart, socially responsible companies react swiftly and with conviction to legitimate public concerns; those that try to ride out PR storms will feel an impact on their bottom line.
Last week, for example, Wal-Mart was outed online after its website was shown to be offering “Fat Girl Costumes” for Hallowe’en. Wal-Mart responded almost instantly, removing the offending items and offering a credible apology that probably appeased its critics.
But when your customers complain and you ignore them, it shows a fundamental lack of respect and a profound disconnect with the realities of commerce. Witness, for example, the recent outcry against a New Zealand fashion company whose CEO told critics to “get a life” when they complained about skinny mannequins in shop windows. “Clothes look better on skinny people,” she blithely retorted. How many current and future customers did they lose that day?
In some ways, we shouldn’t be surprised by Victoria’s Secret‘s non-reaction to its latest public relations disaster.
In recent years the company has endured a long, repetitive list of PR messes that show it is out of touch with contemporary values. In almost every instance, it has let controversies drag on (sometimes for weeks or months) before ultimately issuing an unconvincing press statement while refusing to discuss the matter further.
When parents complained in 2013 about the ‘Bright Young Things’ promotion that appeared to target teen girls, Victoria’s Secret let the issue reach crisis proportions before issuing a too-late-to-matter clarification. When women launched a petition asking the company to sell bras for mastectomy survivors, it collected more than 100,000 signatures before Victoria’s Secret responded — and said no. (There’s something both stupid and cruel about that.)
For most other tempests — whether they involve photoshopped ads, sexualized slogans on its underwear, lack of diversity in its models, or complaints about ethical sourcing and fair labour practices — Victoria’s Secret has nothing to say.
What can possibly explain such an ostrich-like approach to customer relations, especially in an age where crisis communications is a college credit and most corporations are quick to extinguish potentially damaging firestorms?
The obvious, and cynical, answer is that Victoria’s Secret only reacts when its stock price does (and it opened about $1 down today).
But there’s something deeper, and more worrisome, here. Although Victoria’s Secret supports many worthy charitable causes, it really doesn’t have a social activist bone in its Sexy Little Body™. And despite its enormous cultural influence in the lives of women around the world, including young girls, when it comes to speaking up for women it is stubbornly mute.
Sadly, that is its default position. Women’s ongoing struggle for equality, advancement, acceptance and acknowledgment is someone else’s battle to fight; they just sell bras.
So let me amend my opening sentence.
It’s not their silence that is so appalling, it’s what it implies — a shocking lack of empathy and a corporate ethos that perpetuates the stale chauvinist maxim that women should be seen and not heard. That they should avoid public debate and not trouble their pretty little heads with important issues of substance that involve the rights and values of the community they live in.
In other words, like Victoria’s Secret itself, they should just shut up and let their boobs do the talking.
[NOTE: We contacted Victoria’s Secret and invited them to comment on this issue. They did not reply.]
New York will feel a bit colder this fall, now that the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show has decamped for London, taking its army of supermodels and celebrity hangers-on with them.
But that didn’t stop Bradelis New York from offering its own mini-version at Lingerie Fashion Week, with a leggy parade of models in a glittering assortment of push-up bras and decorative fashion undies that would make Victoria’s girls blush.
Bradelis, now in its 20th year, used Friday’s runway event to showcase their latest styles, which bring together American expertise in bra construction with European styling and a Japanese fondness for ornamentation and lacy frills.
Here are some the best looks (and air kisses!) from Bradelis‘ standout show at LFW.
All photos by Gustavo Vilar.
Models of all shapes, sizes, colors and even genders kept crowds buzzing and cheering on the weekend as Lingerie Fashion Week returned to New York with two days of runway shows and fashion presentations.
Held for the first time outside of womenswear fashion week, the latest version of LFW was a cliché-busting triumph of diversity and (sometimes unexpected) style.
Models hit the stage on skateboards, posed with BDSM accessories and performed mini-burlesque stripteases. There were brides in bloomers, two brands sent men down the fashion runway and one newcomer, the fetish-themed Love Cage, brought along its own dungeonmaster. That is what he was there for, right?
This edition of Lingerie Fashion Week showcased styles from the participating brands’ upcoming SS15 collection, and included stand-alone previews from a host of emerging designers and British labels that are new to North America.
And the event was not without some social commentary. The most poignant, and relevant, moment was offered by gay-friendly brand Play Out, which sent one of its male models down the runway inked with a tattoo that read “No Pain Is Forever”.
Below is a sample of highlights from the event. Individual galleries for the participating brands will follow.
Top photo shows model from Andrée Ciccarelli. All photos by Gustavo Villar.
British fashion media impresario Nick Knight is renowned for his avante garde collaborations, but his latest shoot provided a unique challenge: finding a new perspective on some of the world’s most-photographed women.
The founder of SHOWstudio.com, a digital fashion media platform, teamed up with 10 Magazine last week to shoot 8 Victoria’s Secret Angels for a magazine spread that offers “a modern take on the pin-up”. Knight worked with !0 editor Sophie Neophitou, who has also been producing the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show for the past few seasons.
To get everyone excited about the results, SHOWstudio streamed Knight’s photo sessions live on three consecutive evenings. The final results will appear in 10‘s spring 2015 edition, which will hit newsstands in January.
Throughout the ultra-high-concept shoots, the magazine released a series of preview images, some of which we’ve included below.
Look for familiar VS models like Behati Prinsloo, Jourdan Dunn, Sui He, Cindy Bruna, Barbara Fialho, Devon Windsor, Lais Ribero and Ming Xi. You’ll see most or all of them next month when the annual Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show is filmed in London.
Credits: SHOWstudio, 10 Magazine
Is America ready for a Christian lingerie brand?
Suzy Black, a new designer label from New York, will make its debut next Friday during Lingerie Fashion Week with a sexy collection of boudoir apparel that is rooted in fundamental Christian values — specifically, the importance of keeping marriages and families together.
There’s nothing preachy about Suzy Black and nothing puritanical about its designs. Where the brand’s faith-based orientation reveals itself is in its marketing.
A “manifesto” on the company website declares the fictional Suzy character to be “the new face of the contemporary Christian wife … devoted to Christ [and] committed to honoring and esteeming my husband as my head.”
Founder/designer Diondra Julian makes no apologies for mixing secular and spiritual influences into one seductive package.
“I want to create a space where we can feel connected to who we are and who we desire to be, without shame, without doubt, without girl-on-girl hate,” she says on her website.
The brand’s self-appointed mission is to promote and celebrate the Christian paradigm of marriage — including the female’s traditional role as a homemaker who cares for her husband.
That theme is expressed in the company’s colorful lookbook (shot by renowned fashion photographer Keith Major), which showcases a “happy homemaker” in vintage-style images of women dressed in barely-there lingerie fashions while doing household chores.
“No, I don’t feel objectified,” reads one of the photo captions. “Why? Because I belong to you … but mostly you belong to me.”
The photoshoot is an attempt to redefine the familiar ‘Suzy Homemaker’ stereotype of the 1960s, mixing traditional images of domesticity with the kind of erotic assertiveness associated with modern-day feminism.
“I don’t think it diminishes me as a wife or a businesswoman to have a moment where am I a fantasy,” Julian told Lingerie Talk. “I should still be able to feel like someone’s dream, even if my body does not look like a Victoria’s Secret model.
“When you are doing something for the person you love, there’s no shame in that. Do I feel like (my husband) is trying to make me a whore or a slut because he likes it? No. He belongs to me and it’s important that he is cared for in every way.”
The photoshoot, she added, was meant as “a little bit of a laugh” to drive home the message that “underneath it all we are dream girls … we can buy these things that transformative.”
Julian’s husband Ronald is a pastor and one of the models featured in the lookbook is a worship leader in Julian’s Pentecostal congregation. Her church family, she says, is mostly enthusiastic about the new brand.
“The women love it, and the husbands give me a behind-the-back thumbs up,” she said. “I’m sure there are naysayers, but they’d never say it to my face.”
Because it is commonly associated with erotic pleasure, lingerie is the most secular of fashion products — and it can sometimes make devout Christians and followers of other religions uncomfortable. Three years ago, former Victoria’s Secret lingerie model Kylie Bisutti made international headlines by quitting her job, saying it conflicted with her religious faith and her marital obligations.
And one fashion industry insider says Suzy Black can anticipate some negative reaction — from other people of faith.
“I can see where she is going to have an uphill battle,” said Tyron Barrington, a veteran fashion producer and author of The Lord Is My Agent … And He Only Takes 10%, a memoir of his experiences as a Christian in the American fashion industry. “The judgment this young lady might encounter is from the Christian community. Christians can be very judgmental.”
Barrington, a former model agent and casting director, now speaks to teens and other groups about the challenges that people of faith often face in fashion careers. One of his early clients was supermodel Coco Mitchell, who sometimes struggled with conflicts between her work assignments and her Christian values. Even Barrington’s memoir was at first rejected by publishers who felt the fashion industry was in perpetual conflict with the Christian community.
“Being a sheep among wolves is a very common thing in the fashion industry,” he told Lingerie Talk. “Sometimes people sneer or question you. A lot of (fashion people) don’t talk about their faith because they are afraid people won’t work with them again.”
He applauds Julian for creating a brand that proudly wears its faith on its lacy sleeve.
“Power to her for standing before the world and saying she’s not afraid to say ‘I love God’,” he said. “She’s following her call.
“I would tell her that if this is what God has given her to do, keep her eyes focused on Him. We never know who she might empower through her business.”
And just because Suzy Black produces a product associated with sexuality doesn’t mean it contradicts Christian values, he pointed out.
“She’s done it the right way because she’s looking at marriage and keeping marriages alive. Sex is not the first and foremost thing, but it’s still a part of marriage,” he said. “She has been given this gift to help more women to feel beautiful before their husbands. More power to her.”
Ironically, Julian borrowed the name “Suzy Black” not from scripture but from a Court TV show.
In one episode, two competing boyfriends took a woman to court to make her choose which one she loved. She refused, saying ‘I love them both’.
“She was so unapologetic, so bold,” Julian recalls. “For me, Suzy Black was like a superhero name.”
Julian, 35, spent over two years developing the Suzy Black brand (she modified the court defendant’s name slightly) and has an impressive professional pedigree. Her first job after graduating from the Chicago Art Institute was interning for Anna Sui 13 years ago, followed by gigs with DKNY, Sean John, hot urban brand Public School and womenswear icon Diane Von Furstenberg, where she has been a technical designer since 2010.
The Michigan native grew up in a conservative household and was inspired by her mother, a pastor’s daughter with a fiery independent spirit and a taste for glamorous, flamboyant fashion.
The motivation behind Suzy Black, Julian says, came from her growing realization that married women are “underserved and excluded” by the fashion lingerie industry.
“We beat it into our own minds that lingerie is only for girls who are young and free,” she said. “You have this lingerie drawer when you’re single but it gets dusty after you are married.
“Let’s continue to celebrate this part of us. There’s still sex in the city after you get Mr. Big! Now you have a permanent date that you have to wow, night after night.”
And while it’s a Christian brand, Suzy Black‘s designs are anything but straight-laced: slinky see-through bodysuits and teddies, lace bralettes and gilt-embossed “flutter panties”.
“It’s definitely occasion wear,” Julian said, “with the hope that your occasions are more frequent than anniversaries and birthdays.”
The Suzy Black brand, she says, isn’t meant to be a throwback to pre-feminist roles and stereotypes, Julian says. Instead, it’s intended to appeal to modern career women who juggle numerous roles and responsibilities, including their marriages.
“Please don’t think I’m this champion of domestic life,” she said. “Just call me conflicted. I work a real job, I bring home real money, but I’m still a real girl. I’m not going to apologize for that.
“Who is the Suzy Black woman? She’s a hard-working go-getter who understands that fullness of life is the true balance, whether as a mom, as a worship leader at a church, as a CEO, as a priestess at her temple. She doesn’t need anybody ‘s permission to do or say how she feels. She’s grown.”
Watch for Suzy Black‘s online shop to open in early November. In the meantime, here are more images from the label’s debut lookbook, “The Happy Homemaker”.