Style Fashion

Monday 19 August 2019

Shhh, don't tell anyone, but the Victoria's Secret show is pants

The Victoria's Secret show is the most lavish lingerie ad around. But behind the facade of perfection, it's actually pretty unsexy

Stella Maxwell, who was born in Belgium to Northern Irish parents
Stella Maxwell, who was born in Belgium to Northern Irish parents
Kendall Jenner

Julia Molony

Have you been living in a bunker for the last week? If not, then you may have noticed that the public domain has been flooded with pictures of long-limbed, shiny-haired creatures, whittled, glossed and honed into a form that bears only a passing resemblance to an average human. They are the Victoria's Secret Angels. And they represent the apotheosis, we are led to believe, of sexual desirability in the modern age.

Victoria's Secret Angels are beasts as rare and legendary as unicorns, impeccable in dimension and form. As the official Victoria's Secret mythology builder, sorry, senior creative executive Edward Razek, says of his elite crew, carefully selected from model agencies all over the world: "These are physically gifted people, like athletes . . . When you think about it, they are really one in 35 million humans."

During the annual Victoria's Secret catwalk show, which took place last Tuesday, the Angels rule the radio waves. In the US, the fashion show is televised at prime time. Arguably, it is the most elaborate and lavish way to flog knickers ever conceived.

This year, there is an Irish Angel. Which is no small thing, because we are not an island best-known for growing specimens of aesthetic perfection. As a rule, we are a people who have, out of necessity, adapted to rely on our character and wit. We are a nation with a face for radio.

But the exception, apparently, is Stella Maxwell. So, okay, she's not Irish-born. But she was born in Belgium to two Northern Irish parents, and this year gained her "angel wings" which means she won't just walk in the show, but is one of a select few models contracted to the brand.

You couldn't call her an "Irish model" exactly, in the traditional sense either. She's unlikely to be seen wearing a bikini, hard-hat and a high-visibility vest on Grafton Street in February, for example. But since she grew up pretty much all over the world (her father Maurice Maxwell was a diplomat), why shouldn't we be the first to claim her as our own? Especially since, not only is she an angel, but she boasts a further sliver of street-cred thanks to the fact that the 24-year-old-blonde is also said to be dating Miley Cyrus. A place on the arm of a Victoria's Secret model, you see, is a rare privilege, mostly reserved for elite sports stars and A-list celebrities.

A Victoria's Secret Angel is both born and made. A beautiful woman might inherit a certain genetic advantage, but to become a Victoria's Secret Angel, she must hone, polish and perfect that advantage until it gleams like shiny dollar signs.

In preparation for the annual outing on the catwalk every year for the Victoria's Secret show, an Angel must submit to a rigorous process of perfecting her body, which involves a punishing regime of exercise, protein shakes and juice fasts. It takes an obsessive determination to achieve this level of beauty. To be a Victoria's Secret Angel is a triumph of will. "The most fun part is treating it like a project and seeing how far I can push myself in that time…" veteran Angel Candice Swanepoel has been heard to say. "The best part of training for the show is the amount of hard work, blood, sweat and tears you put into something you've always dreamed of doing."

Yes, this sounds like fun indeed. In the way, perhaps, that eating bugs on I'm A Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, currently returning to our screens, is fun. Which to say, it's actually pretty masochistic and unpleasant, but guaranteed, if you can stomach it, to boost one's profile, career prospects and pay cheque. Selection into the Victoria's Secret squad is incredibly lucrative - the girls become instant superstars.

But look a little closer and behind the hair-flicking and sorority-spirit, and a lot about the Victoria's Secret Angels mandate of physical perfection at all times sounds decidedly unfun. Razek, again, was recently quoted explaining why he initially turned one well-known model down. "She wanted to know why," he said. "I said 'I follow you on Instagram. And every night you are posting pictures of yourself in a club. Meanwhile, the others are jumping rope'." Angels, it seems, must be seen skipping, not partying. Rumours abound that written into an Angel's contract is a morality clause, which means, presumably that they must be on best behaviour at all time.

Because Victoria's Secret Angels are marketed to be aspirational rather than desirable. It's why their millions of Instagram followers are women, rather than men. Despite the fact the Angels are most often pictured in their smalls, sex is largely stripped from the branding exercise. After all, there's nothing sexy about a juice fast. And nothing sexy about the industrial quantities of lip-gloss, glitter and rhinestones that go into creating the Victoria's Secret show. It may be a platform that focuses on collecting the world's best-looking women together, but, make no mistake, we are not talking about the Pirelli calendar, here. All suggestion of sensuality is lost.

It is no coincidence that the highlight of the show is the Fantasy Bra - a specially designed jewel-encrusted piece of lingerie worth millions of dollars, which one specially chosen Angel is invited to model on the catwalk each year. It's worth a fortune, sure, but looks like an instrument of torture to wear.

Sunday Independent

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