It appeared to be the end of an era when Victoria’s Secret canceled its legendary fashion show in 2019 and eventually its iconic Angel models in 2021. Many mourned the age of beautiful and aspirational marketing behind both the show and the brand, and there was a brief moment of hope when they announced they would be revamping their fashion show, but Victoria’s Secret: The Tour ‘23 was nothing like the original. The show is so confusing that it only confirms what many of us have been saying for the last couple of years: the Victoria's Secret we grew up coveting is in the midst of a severe identity crisis, and it's unclear if they will ever fully recover.
Branching out from the original fashion show that featured colorful lingerie and beautiful models strutting the runway in Angel wings, the show is part documentary, part “reimagined fashion show.” The marketing behind Victoria’s Secret: The Tour ‘23 is puzzling, to say the least. The Victoria’s Secret website says Victoria's Secret: The Tour '23 is “A global fashion event, film, and celebration that leads audiences through the behind-the-scenes artistic process and personal narratives of the VS20, a group of innovative creatives from around the world who represent four fashion curations from the vibrant cities of Bogotá, Lagos, London, and Tokyo. With the creative freedom to conceptualize, produce, and stage a collection that is all their own, the dynamic artistic forces from the fashion, film, design, music, and visual fields will converge to showcase their work that centers on the appreciation and beauty of womanhood.”
In short, the “reimagined fashion show” tells the story of twenty female creatives from four cities (with a total of 20) around the world, ranging from fashion designers, artists, musicians, writers, poets, and filmmakers. Each city is its own collection created by one designer and directed by one filmmaker, along with three other creatives who contribute to the project.
To put this in the same bucket as the straightforward, yet wildly entertaining fashion show that originally catapulted Victoria's Secret to worldwide fame should be criminal. Of course, this new concept sounds interesting, and while it certainly had potential, it failed to establish a new identity, creating unmet expectations and leaving viewers scratching their heads.
Social Media Criticism Before The Show
In typical 2023 fashion, the show garnered plenty of controversy and criticism on social media before it even aired.
The first photos advertising the show were of models and influencers like Julia Fox, Grace Elizabeth, and Amelia Gray Hamlin wearing old Victoria’s Secret Angel wings along with their street clothes in New York City. The photos lacked the glamour that the original fashion show had (which is what made it so iconic), and fans were unimpressed.
As more promotional photos were posted, this theme continued. Iconic models like Taylor Hill, Gigi Hadid, Candice Swanepoel, and Adriana Lima participated in the “My Wings, My Way” campaign by wearing wings that were worn in previous fashion shows while wearing current Victoria’s Secret garments. This could have been a beautiful campaign, but the models all wore casual garments that were either black, white, or other muted colors. The pictures were also taken in black and white, lacking the vibrancy, glamour, and happiness that fans remembered from the original show.
Aside from the promotional streetwear photos and the wings fiasco, a lot of the criticism from fans was towards the designs by London-based artist Michaela Stark. While many of the comments were simply rude and mocked the appearance of the models, some had genuine criticism about how the photos and designs weren’t as beautiful and aesthetically pleasing as they were in past shows. For a brand known for its aspirational beauty of the feminine ideal, Stark’s designs were a stark (pun intended) contrast from the lacy garments of Victoria’s Secret’s past. While fans were happy that there were plus-sized models, they wished that the lingerie was created to be more flattering on their bodies.
Both Stark and Victoria’s Secret took to Instagram to address the backlash. In part, Stark wrote, “My concept was to recreate the idea of the ‘Angels’, by dressing myself and two other models @ceval and @jade_o_belle in my Couture creations, styled with archive Victoria Secret garments from their past shows. The idea was to recreate this old idea of fantasy but to bring it into a modern context. As I said before, fantasy is not conventional, and fantasy is not limited to one kind of beauty. I wanted to prove that angels can represent ALL women, without losing the fantasy element.”
Stark continued, “It’s just such a shame that the backlash already has been so disgusting and intense, before the film is even out. Within about 12 hours of VS posting my work, the trolls quite literally managed to get my personal Instagram deleted. This happened after THOUSANDS of comments were left in disgust by the idea that angels can be anything other than conventional. I’m not new to controversy, and definitely not new to trolls. But this was an entire new level of crazy, where they quite literally acted as a collective to take down my socials, and effectively my voice as an artist, because they can’t handle my body. I am quite shook by the response, and felt it needed to be addressed because it proves why this kind of work is important. It’s horrendous to see people’s anger over our bodies, and it’s even more horrendous to see people backing up the old idea of the angel, as if that didn’t cause a generation of body issues and dysmorphia. People are uneducated and dumb af, so let’s educate them, and look like absolute angels while doing it.”
In the caption of one of the posts of Stark’s designs on the Victoria’s Secret Instagram account, the brand wrote, “To our community: it’s incredibly disheartening to hear the feedback on this post regarding the beautiful work of Michaela Stark. Stark, a member of the VS20 featured in the upcoming release of The Tour ’23, created designs based on her own experiences and feelings toward body inclusivity and size representation. We value her voice and work and will not tolerate hate speech that violates our brand standards.”
With so much backlash surrounding the show before its release, many were curious to see how it would play out on the big screen. Unfortunately, the show was just as disappointing as its marketing.
Let’s Start With The Positive
If Victoria’s Secret wanted to make a documentary about female creatives around the world, they succeeded. The main problem is that the marketing behind it was misleading. In a perfect world, they would have created two separate events, aired on different days: the traditional fashion show and the documentary. Despite the many negatives though, let's discuss some of the positive aspects of the show.
One thing Victoria’s Secret has always been good at is celebrating the beauty of women around the world and it was interesting to see them tell the stories of women from diverse backgrounds. The collections from Lagos and Bogotá were particularly beautiful, but they felt more like high-end fashion week shows rather than Victoria’s Secret. It was also fun to see iconic models like Adriana Lima, Naomi Campbell, and Taylor Hill in these creations.
The best part of the documentary was the impromptu fashion show in the middle, where models like Candice Swanepoel, Adriana Lima, Gigi Hadid, Naomi Campbell, and Lily Aldridge modeled lingerie and lingerie-inspired items that fans can purchase at Victoria’s Secret. The looks were beautiful, and the only things that felt different from the original fashion show were that there were a couple of plus-sized models in the mix, and most of the items were in darker colors. It felt like an edgier version of the original show, but it only lasted a few minutes. If this had been the main focus of Victoria’s Secret: The Tour ‘23, it likely would have pleased more of their fanbase.
What Went Wrong
Going over all of the negative aspects of the show would make this article as long as a dissertation, so instead I'm just going to hone in on a few of the most prominent fails.
First and foremost, the documentary was hard to follow due to its lack of direction. It was divided into four sections for each city, but they all felt unorganized. Each city had a fashion designer and filmmaker who had a clear role in the show, but some of the other creatives felt out of place. Some had active roles, like artist and lingerie designer Michaela Stark (more on her later), but some were seemingly thrown in without thought, like dancer Piscis and artist Phoebe Collings. Both Piscis and Collings had a few minutes to display their artwork, but it had nothing to do with the collection of their perspective cities. Their stories were interesting, but it didn’t make sense to have them in a Victoria’s Secret documentary. It felt random, out-of-place, and disorganized, which is a perfect way to describe the show at large.
Another frustrating aspect was that the show featured 20 creatives in a 95-minute documentary. This left little room to go below the surface with each woman, making most of the stories forgettable because they were so brief. While taking notes as fast as I could, I had a hard time organizing my thoughts because it not only went by so quickly, but so little information was shared that I forgot them within thirty seconds.
While some of the creatives felt out of place, London-based artist Michaela Stark and Japanese fashion designer Jenny Fax based their creations around the Victoria’s Secret brand. Stark took old Victoria’s Secret items and items from past fashion shows and sewed them together to create garments for plus-sized bodies, and Fax did something similar by creating new garments out of old Victoria’s Secret items like bras, panties, and lingerie. While both of the ideas were creative, the finished garments looked messy and unfinished.
The garments were not only disappointing but left me wondering what the message of the show and the rebrand as a whole meant. While Victoria’s Secret is relying on some sense of nostalgia by bringing back a few of their iconic models like Adriana Lima and Candice Swanepoel, they’re also featuring artists like Stark and Fax, who seem to despise the brand.
If Victoria's Secret is trying to appeal to the younger generation, the comments and reactions on TikTok alone show that they have failed miserably with this show. With countless laughing and crying emojis and comments like, "i'm just confused like are they selling the wings? the gowns? like what are they trying to sell" and others mocking them saying, "I'm scared this can't be VS". Others commented, "Literally fast forwarded and gave us!! We went on YouTube and watched the 2017 show". Victoria's Secret is becoming a spectacle online...but not in a good way.
What Does This Mean For The Future of Victoria’s Secret?
Back in August, Victoria’s Secret launched the Icon Collection, which featured lingerie modeled by Gisele Bundchen, Naomi Campbell, Candice Swanepoel, and Adriana Lima. Many fans (myself included) were excited to see this collection because it looked like the brand was returning to its roots through nostalgia and celebrating some of its most iconic models. This led many to believe that there would be hope for the revamped fashion show, but the excitement was short-lived.
The best way to describe the current state of Victoria’s Secret is that it appears to be having an identity crisis. They like to lean on nostalgia by bringing back some of the iconic Angels, but they also want to rebrand and distance themselves from their original messaging, featuring artists who hate everything about what made it so popular in the first place. It’s certainly possible for them to find a middle ground, but this wasn't it. Relaunching their traditional fashion show with some of the old Angels and a more diverse group of models will likely generate some controversy, but fans would be happy just to see the glitz and glamour of the original event again.
The problem with Victoria's Secret is that they want to be everything to everyone. They want to rebrand to be what they think our progressive society wants to see while clutching onto the aspirational past that made them iconic in the first place. Their inability to make a decision is not only confusing for everyone involved but is also alienating the loyal fans and customers who have stuck with them for years. If they continue on this path, it won't be long until they are simply a nostalgic pastime.
The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show used to be an iconic fashion event that displayed beautiful lingerie, models, and set designs. It was the aspirational feminine ideal that made women around the world want to buy Victoria’s Secret products, but their attempt to revamp the fashion show failed miserably. The magic of the original show is gone, and the once iconic brand appears to be having a severe identity crisis, leading the future of Victoria’s Secret to be a mystery that very few want to solve.