How The New Victoria’s Secret Show Confronts Its Past

Ever since Victoria’s Secret canceled its fashion show following a series of controversies, many wondered whether the company would ever bring back the runway spectacle that it was once known for. Five years later, we have our answer with The Tour, a documentary-style film released on September 26 on Prime Video. 

The streaming iteration of the lingerie brand’s famed catwalk event — which first started in 1995 and saw models like Adriana Lima, Tyra Banks, and Gisele Bündchen strutting in elaborate wing costumes — is the latest step in Victoria’s Secret redemption tour. To make up for its past mistakes and keep up with the times that, in the last decade, have seen major strides in body positivity and inclusivity, the “angels” aren’t the focus of the show.

Instead, narrated by model Gigi Hadid, The Tour follows creatives in Lagos, London, Bogotá, and Tokyo as they design clothing for the show, as well as have sit-down discussions about gender identity, feminism, and body autonomy. There are some Victoria’s Secret veterans like Candice Swanepoel, Adriana Lima, and Naomi Campbell featured, but there are many more new faces such as Quannah Chasinghorse, Julia Fox, Devyn Garcia, and Paloma Elsesser. And, rather than showcase Victoria’s Secret’s wares exclusively, models appear in custom pieces, like the structural creations made by London-based designer Supriya Lele and the raffia-heavy collection, inspired by Yemọja mythology, by Lagos-based Bubu Ogisi.

Outside of veteran appearances and two performances by Doja Cat, The Tour looks nothing like the old Victoria’s Secret fashion show. In the place of elaborate sets and costumes, the documentary attempts to capture the complex reality of being a woman today (though not without selling push-up bras in the process; although the designer collections will not be sold, products inspired by their lineups are available for purchase).

The last time Victoria’s Secret celebrated one of its fashion shows — known for, at best, its over-the-top lingerie (see: Heidi Klum’s 2005 look which included a lit-up bra and panties set) and, at worst, unrealistic body standards and cultural appropriation — was in 2018. Soon after, plagued by scandals that ranged from transphobic comments made by its former executive Ed Razek to the lack of plus-size models featured, the show was canceled.

While the show was never a sales point for the brand (most of the costumes worn by the angels were never for sale), without it, Victoria’s Secret’s pop culture relevance quickly faded. Personally, as someone who sat around the TV to see supermodels-ambassadors like Lima, Alessandra Ambrosio, and Karlie Kloss walk every year, I battled between missing something that defined so much of my coming of age and the brand’s complicated history. 

London-based lingerie designer and model Michaela Stark felt the same way. She remembered the show as a must-see moment when she was a kid but also the “culture around it of not wanting to eat after you saw it,” as she says in the film. Stark, who is known for her subversive takes on corsetry, confronts that ambivalence head-on in The Tour. “I think, ultimately, I decided that as an artist there is no greater opportunity than attacking the source of your pain right from the heart of it,” Stark says. Using some of her signature designs, styled with archive Victoria’s Secret pieces, Stark dressed herself and models Jade O’Belle and Ceval Omar in outfits that reimagine the idea of the “angels,” specifically targeting Razek’s comments around trans and plus-size models. “I would never be allowed in the door 10 years ago, and my ideas would have been laughed at,” Stark tells Refinery29. “Today, they are celebrated by the same company, which to me seems like a big step forward.” 

Many of the designers similarly looked at mortals rather than angels for inspiration. 

Bogotá-based Melissa Valdés Duque based her collection on stretch marks and scars, using handmade crochet as a tool to portray the beauty left behind by life experiences that mark our bodies. “I grew up watching the women around me feel so ashamed of them, as if scars were meant to be hidden and put away, as if they were something to be embarrassed about,” Valdés says. “I explore scars and stretch marks from another perspective, as if they were routes on a map that make up a human, our stories that represent us and show up on our skin.” Tokyo-based designer Jen Fang, for her part, focused on the evolution of women’s bodies as they age. She molded pieces from her own body shape, creating voluminous, abstract garments that serve as a commentary on the shapeshifting experiences women go through. “I feel the most powerful way to show self-expression is by using my own body to tell this story which I believe was different from what Victoria’s Secret used to portray,” says Fang. 

It’s all quite deep for a brand whose ultimate goal is to sell lingerie. But that’s the point. For a long time, Victoria’s Secret’s show focused on the fantasies of the male gaze, rather than the women who bought and wore the lingerie and undergarments. To make up for that, The Tour tries to focus on the roles clothes and lingerie can have in identity expression, while showcasing creatives trying to subvert the very standards Victoria’s Secret once set. But should a lingerie company be the one having this conversation? Stark says yes. “I could recreate the idea of the angels on my own,” she says as an example. “But even if the images were beautiful, the message would not be nearly as powerful without Victoria’s Secret’s support and name attached to the project.” 

I guess it’s time it’s being put to good use.

Victoria’s Secret’s The Tour is available to stream now on Amazon Prime. (Editor’s note: The film is a production of Pulse Films, owned by Refinery29’s parent company Vice Media Group.)

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