Style Check: Victoria's Secret

PUBLISHED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 15 April, 2013, 10:09am

Strolling through the IFC in Central or the New Town Plaza in Sha Tin you can't miss the boarded-up spaces preparing for the opening of American lingerie giant Victoria's Secret. The world's most famous mass lingerie label is finally gracing our shores. And with stores in Central's most prestigious shopping centre and one of the favourite haunts of mainland tourists, it's obvious the brand's is two-pronged.

But the arrival of Victoria's Secret also says a lot about how much progress Hong Kong has made in the lingerie department during the past 10 years. I remember when it was either trusty Marks & Spencer or brands such as Triumph or Wacoal - and all seemed to think that every bra sold in Asia had to have a kilo of rock-hard padding stuffed inside each cup. Market stall underwear shops and smaller local boutiques lacked stylish modern pieces.

There was, however, a lovely little store on Wyndham Street that was ahead of its time, stocking European brands such as Aubade and La Perla, but it moved online because of rising rents. Today, it's a different story with a range of luxury lingerie available at retailers, such as Lane Crawford, ranging from old Hollywood glamour to high-end kinky, like the New York-based Kiki De Montparnasse. La Perla's standalone store has been making headway, especially with its gorgeous collaboration with Jean Paul Gaultier. New smaller boutiques such as homegrown bespoke label Hailey & Sasha have also added to the mix.

Just as fashion in Hong Kong has diversified beyond the big-name luxury mainstays, so has lingerie, albeit at a slower pace. And with high street brands such as Gap, H&M, Cos and Forever 21 all rushing to Hong Kong, it's no surprise that high street lingerie labels will follow.

However, with the rush to the booming Asian market, there will no doubt be hiccups, especially when it comes to translating creative ideas with cultural sensitivity. No one should know this better than Victoria's Secret, who last year pre-Hong Kong expansion, caused controversy with its Go East collection.

Outfits such as the Sexy Little Geisha ensemble, which included hair chopsticks, a fan, and a miniature obi were particularly contentious. Although it was mainly the Western media that was offended. In Asia, the controversy was hardly covered.

The mounting claims of racism by fetishisation forced the label to remove the line from its website.

Personally, I'm in two minds about whether I'm offended by this cultural appropriation, since I've seen it many times before and not batted an eyelid. Where exactly is the line between creative borrowing and cultural fetishisation?