Hot on the heels of the annual Victoria's Secret show in New York, images have flooded the web. And since two Victoria Secret stores landed in Hong Kong this year, local interest in the brand has picked up. Reports say that a paid front row ticket at the show would have set you back about US$14,000. Unless, of course, you're a celebrity such as Olivia Palermo and Julia Restoin-Roitfeld, both of whom sat up front.
It is the most expensive catwalk show ever staged, but it has almost nothing to do with fashion. They're not really into irony at Victoria's Secret, so the joke gets a little lost in the dazzle of white teeth, diamond-encrusted bras and paparazzi cameras, but when you think about it, it's quite funny.
All the signifiers of a fashion show are in place at the Victoria's Secret extravaganza. The model line-up always includes high-end names and the show is styled by Sophia Neophitou, who as stylist and collaborator to Roland Mouret and Antonio Berardi, and as British Fashion Council ambassador, is an undisputed powerhouse of high fashion taste. The six-inch high heels are created for the occasion by Nicholas Kirkwood, the talented young shoe designer who was just snapped up by LVMH.
But there's something missing. Call us old-fashioned, but we think that the absence of clothes is a deal-breaker as far as fashion goes. Here, instead of clothes, the models wear underwear and massive fluffy angel wings.
I know what you're thinking: it's about sex, stupid. Well, here's the thing: I don't see that Victoria's Secret is really about sex, either. The presentation of the Victoria's Secret Angels is look-but-don't-touch in the extreme. Like a very grand ballgown, or a bridal dress with a train, the wings form a kind of exclusion zone, making it physically difficult to get close. Even if you did find a woman dressed in an oversized Angel Gabriel costume sexy, which seems a little dubious, you'd have difficulty getting intimately acquainted. The wings Alessandra Ambrosio wore in the 2011 show were gold-plated antique copper and decorated with 105,000 Swarovski crystals. They weighed almost 10kg. There is as much neon, crystal, and metallic on this runway as there is satin and maribou.
This year it was Candice Swanepoel, the Angel chosen to wear this year's US$10 million Royal Fantasy Bra. Covered in diamonds, rubies and yellow sapphires it is the most valuable brassiere in the world. Swanepoel led a legion of high fashion favourites: Karlie Kloss, Lily Aldridge, Cara Delevingne, Jordun Dunn and Adriana Lima as the band Fall Out Boy performed, with Taylor Swift joining for a cameo.
Divided into themes such as "British Invasion", "Birds of Paradise", and "Parisian Nights", the show even had a bit of technology with a 3-D printed snowflake-patterned corset made to measure for model Lindsay Ellingson.
Their catwalk cipher might be look at me, but it's hard to argue that it is come and get me.
The name Victoria's Secret was chosen in 1977 to set a mood-music of sobriety and respectability, and that wholesomeness is still there, despite the acres of flesh on show. When you visit the stores, you notice how little of the product is sexy in the sense of being designed for sex. Much of the shopfloor is dominated by bras bulked up by gel or foam padding. In these, a woman may send a sexual signal when dressed, but she will need to undress alone. The vast "Pink" sub-brand of pyjamas, sweatshirts and logoed vests sells an aesthetic of the tween sleepover, not booty call. But there is no doubt it works: last year, sales at Victoria's Secret totalled almost £4 billion (HK$49.9 billion).
The Victoria Secret brand has very little to do with actual sex, and everything to do with sexiness as a status symbol. It has as much to do with women looking at other women, as it does with men looking at women. It deliberately emphasises the intense competition among models to appear on the catwalk; among the most "liked" posts of the endless Instagram photos of Angels-in-training are those which feature the models in boxing gloves, punching their way to a catwalk turn .
The Victoria's Secret show takes the cheerleader tradition, and removes the boring old football game. Sportsmanship is old hat; the 21st century is all about being hot. This is the Superbowl, for those gifted with lovely hair, beautiful bottoms and superhuman endurance for juice fasting. These days you can be a champion - an Angel, a higher being - just by being sexy. That's a trend, for sure. But it's got nothing to do with fashion.
Guardian News & MediaAdditional reporting by Jing Zhang