By Madeleine Mamak
Famous for its ‘Angels’, Victoria’s Secret makes its branding message clear. It promotes a feminine ideal that they seem to encourage women to aspire to. Founded in 1977, the brand has made the not so subtle suggestion that their lingerie is designed for the ‘perfect figure’. But of course, there is no perfect figure, and people everywhere have come to realise the damage that such a mind-set can cause. Maybe this is the reason that Victoria’s Secret is rapidly losing relevance in today’s society. Or maybe it is the revelation that behind the scenes, the Angel’s themselves haven’t always had it easy. Sexual harassment claims in relation to Victoria’s Secret Chief marketing officer, Ed Razek, are rife, and have definitely tarnished the perfect image that the brand works so hard to create.
Victoria’s Secret is facing a dramatic downfall. That is undeniable. It’s parent company’s shares have fallen by over 75% since 2015. The fact that they are failing to keep in touch with the customers most certainly has a part to play in this. The brand seems to no longer promote what people want. Women don’t want to achieve the so-called ‘ideal’. We want more from our lingerie, and we are definitely entitled to demand it. The notorious Victoria’s Secret fashion show, which first came to fruition in 1999, was cancelled in 2019. This termination definitely reflects our loss of interest in being shown how we should look in our lingerie and is undoubtedly a result of more women taking interest in messages of empowerment, which challenge the show’s outdated ideology. It never seemed like a display of body positivity, or a celebration of women embracing their bodies and their sexuality. The parading of supermodels in their lingerie seemed more for the male gaze than anything else. The show, and the brand, seem stuck in the past. It has failed to progress and has not caught up with much of the world. No matter what your body type, an increasing amount of women seem to desire a more positive and celebratory form of promotion which VS hasn’t delivered.
We cannot ignore the correlation between the downfall of VS and the rise of Rihanna’s lingerie brand, Savage X Fenty. With the cancellation of the VS show, we saw Rihanna’s very own lingerie brand rise to the top. Her catwalk show was inclusive, diverse and a breath of fresh air in the previous, suffocating pressure thrown on us by Victoria’s Secret. It’s no wonder that VS didn’t want to follow the overwhelming success and reaction to Savage X Fenty’s show. When analysed side by side VS’s lack of diversity is apparent - and it’s embarrassing. Rihanna did exactly what VS wouldn’t; she praised all body types and found ways to flatter each and every figure using her line. Maybe Rihanna proves that women desire more female-centric lingerie promotion. Former VS Angel Bella Hadid seems to consolidate the idea that women want to feel powerful in their lingerie, and that Victoria’s Secret fails to do this. Talking at the Vogue Fashion Festival, Hadid said that modelling for Fenty X Savage was the first time she felt truly in control of herself and her portrayal of the underwear she’s modelling. This appears to be a dig towards her previous involvement with Victoria’s Secret. The lack of diversity is certainly an undeniable surface problem. However, the problems with Victoria’s Secret go far deeper…
This problem goes by the name of Ed Razek. As the former Chief Marketing Officer, the 71 year old appears to have made life hellish for the Angels. The views he promotes don’t just hinder, but actually seem to mock the very notion that women’s bodies should be celebrated. In an interview with Vogue, Razek said he would never cast a transgender model in the shows, insisting that this would conflict with the shows attempt at creating a ‘fantasy’. Not only this, but Razek claimed that the public have zero interest in seeing plus sized models. His beliefs about what the public wants expose the ignorance of the man who is said to be an expert in the industry - Razek’s opinions seem to be more demonic than angelic. The allegations that came out against him seem to solidify his misogynistic views. His gross misconduct completely dampens the shine and glamour of the lingerie. It begs the question, who is a man like that to dictate what a woman’s fantasy should be?
Model Andi Muise was only 19 when she suffered sexual harassment at the hands of Razek, as he repeatedly sent her suggestive emails. Not only this, but Razek is said to have tried to kiss models, ask for their mobile numbers and ask them to sit on his lap. After Muise complained she was asked to no longer return to the infamous catwalk show…
Lingerie lines should empower women, embracing their rights to their own sexuality. But Razek’s involvement appears to promote quite the antithesis. Indeed, Razek did jump to his own defence, attempting to say that all his comments are taken out of context. Yet it is difficult, impossible even, to comprehend a context which could be offered that excuses what he said. The culture he felt entitled to create, according to the allegations, seems inexcusable. Razek’s abuse seemed to extend even beyond the models, also making inappropriate comments to a public relations employee, telling her to lose weight. Surely no woman who has knowledge of this would want to put money in the pocket of such a man.
The future of Victoria’s Secret seems blurry. Hopefully the removal of Razek is just the start of much needed change from within the business. Maybe they will realise they need to adapt and progress with the rest of the world. If not, the time at the top is officially over for Victoria’s Secret.
Photo credit: NBC News