Growing up in the UK in the 80s meant that the phenomenon that is Victoria’s Secret has largely passed me by. Even as my lingerie obsession deepened, the iconic US brand still failed to register on my radar until the opening of their first UK store in 2012. I went along to review it and was left none the wiser about just why the brand was so popular, but all that changed yesterday as I headed to Earl’s Court with milliner Anna Dominoes. Yes, I was lucky enough to be invited to join the students and staff from London College of Fashion’s BA (Hons) Fashion Contour course at the 2014 Victoria’s Secret fashion show, which has come to to London for the first time.
These students are not only at least ten times more lingerie obsessed than me, but they are all at least twenty years younger than me which means that they’ve grown up with the Victoria’s Secret fashion show as an annual highlight of their internet viewing. I, on the other hand, had absolutely no idea what to expect from the show as I’d never seen one. I’d only seen the still images of tall slender models – the Victoria’s Secret Angels – dressed in sparkly lingerie and impossibly large wings but I figured that, even though I’m not terribly keen on they type of underwear they sell, it’d probably be fun to go along and get a window into another world. The dress code was black tie, with black and white attire requested, so I selected something suitable and met up with Anna who had crafted a beautiful hat especially for the occasion.
After collecting our tickets, we walked into the unrecognisable interior of Earl’s Court exhibition centre. The production team had been extremely busy turning a large soulless hall into a luxury VIP experience and it certainly had wow-factor! We waited in an extremely elegant and rather gigantic bar area, filled with comfy seating and with orchids on every table, excitedly sharing photos on social media while the DJ played Elbow’s One Day Like This. Once we located the rest of our group – including lingerie designers Eva from eLai and Jade from Reckless Wolf – there was time for a spot of socialising before we headed in to the auditorium. Before the show started, we were asked to pretend a steadicam operator was an Angel as he captured a model’s eye view of the audience and I slowly started to become aware of just how many cameras there were in the room – there were some in the audience, some overhead, plus a couple whizzing up and down the edges of the catwalk, on rails. As I marvelled at just how shiny that immaculate catwalk was, it and the backdrop lit up like a firework display to herald the arrival of the models.
Striding down the runway like elegant and exotic show ponies in Nicholas Kirkwood and Sophia Webster heels, I was at first rather cynical about their seemingly homogenous look. I realise I’m no mega-fan, and am not exactly a Victoria’s Secret target customer, but I began to wonder how on earth anyone could tell these women apart from each other. All glossy hair and endless limbs, it all seemed a million miles away from the body positive diversity I like to champion. After the initial Gilded Angels section, the stage transformed into a church and Ed Sheeran appeared with his band. There was no denying just how slick the show production was but I was somewhat underwhelmed by the lingerie itself, and the culturally appropriative appearance of the outfits in the Exotic Traveller section did little to shift my lingering cynicism. However, that was about to change.
The lights dimmed and two gigantic chaises longues appeared in front of a backdrop which looked like a padded headboard in a decadent boudoir, ready for the Dream Girl themed section of the show. Bunches of helium balloons were dotted along the catwalk and models appeared in satin pyjamas to pose on the chaises as Girls Just Wanna Have Fun played. This was pushing all my Grease/Clueless/Mean Girls loving buttons, but nothing could have prepared me for the joy of seeing Taylor Swift swoosh onto the stage in a stunning pink and black peignoir. I didn’t think I was a fan but she was utterly mesmerising – the Angels all interacted with her as they walked past and she didn’t miss a note. This was when I started to really notice something I hadn’t expected from the show. The models may all have the same body type, but they were nowhere near as uniform in look as I’d first thought from my high vantage point. Not only was there an ethnic diversity rarely seen in twenty-first century catwalk shows, but these women were actually having fun.
As a child of the 80s, my first exposure to fashion shows were those with smiling, laughing, dancing models. Everyone looked like they were having an amazing time and it was one of the things that drew me to fashion. Fearless statuesque women sashaying down the catwalk to pounding music, winking at the cameras and making eye contact with the audience – what’s not to love? By the time the 90s drew to a close, the era of the skinny blonde unsmiling clone was upon us and fashion seemed to be taking itself far too seriously. So you can imagine my utter joy to see these models smiling with Ariana Grande – who was surrounded by neon signs and dancers in the University of Pink section of the show – waving to the cameras, laughing, and beckoning cheers from the audience. They emerged from an enchanted forest to swirl around singer Hozier in the Fairy Tale section before appearing in black and white for the Angel Ball, with a lace-clad Taylor Swift. As hundreds of giant balloons fell from the ceiling during the finale, I realised just how lucky I had been to experience all of this first hand.
Before I attended, I thought that the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was important because it is the only major lingerie catwalk show in the world. The only other time underwear takes centre stage is at New York’s Lingerie Fashion Week, and that’s tiny compared to the couture and ready-to-wear fashion shows held in Paris, New York, London and Milan each year. However, now I truly understand what all the fuss is about. This is a spectacle unlike anything I have seen before – except, perhaps, Kylie Minogue’s global ‘X’ tour in 2008 – and surely all but the most hardened cynic would fall under its spell. This show illustrated exactly why my 14-year-old niece wanted to visit the Victoria’s Secret store in Westfield Stratford last time she was in London, and boy will she be jealous when I tell her I got to watch it live.
All images in this post were snapped on lipsticklori’s phone. Rather more impressive press photography of the proceedings can be found at E! online and Hollywood Life . The entire show will be screened on 4Music in the UK, on Wednesday 10th December at 9pm.