From Its Humble Beginnings, Victoria’s Secret Runway Show Continues to Rise to New Heights, Showcasing New Faces and Celebrating Its Gloriousness

VS doesn’t need the show to sell apparel.  It needs the show to simply reinforce its supremacy as the leading brand in women’s intimate apparel.”—Arun Nevader

From its intended purpose of creating a comfortable shopping environment for men to purchase lingerie for their wives, Victoria’s Secret certainly has evolved.  In 1977, Roy Raymond, an alumnus from Stanford Graduate School of Business, opened the first store in Palo Alto and soon after followed it with a mail order catalog.  Thirty-three years later, Victoria’s Secret is not only a household name, but is also the most coveted stock in retail.  If only its founder had had the foresight to hold out from selling, he might be traveling annually to New York to watch the top models in the world walk down the runway to close out the end of each year.  But sadly, Raymond’s haste and untimely (self-inflicted) demise prevents him from seeing just how far his clothing idea has come.

Victoria’s Secret is like the fashion’s Hall of Fame.  Every model dreams about being featured in its catalog, walking in the runway show, and wearing the infamous “wings,” which incidentally came about from a lingerie ad campaign back in 1997—The Angels.  The list of celebrity models reads like the Academy Awards list of nominees.  The original models featured in that campaign are as follows:  Helena Christensen, Karen Mulder, Daniela Pestova, Stephanie Seymour, and Tyra Banks. Victoria’s Secret spokesmodels throughout the years have included Claudia Schiffer, Eva Herzigova, Ana Hickmann, Oluchi Onweagba, Ana Beatriz Barros, Jessica Stam, and Emanuela de Paula.  In 1998, the first runway show featuring Victoria’s Secret Angels was a smashing success and has been gaining momentum ever since.  Why, I’d venture to say that being a Victoria’s Secret model is a little like winning the lottery in the fashion model world.  Victoria’s Secret Angels were chosen to be part of People magazine’s annual “100 Most Beautiful People in the World” issue in 2007 and became the first trademark to be awarded a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on November 13, 2007.

Now, it’s interesting to understand how VS has evolved over the years from its humble beginnings to where it is today—untouchable goddess-like amazons in frilly underthings.  Spotlights, platinum-selling recording artists, the world’s best stylists and runway show producers, and some of the best live event photographers crammed on the riser with their keys to the city.  Aren’t they the lucky ones!  They get to shoot those winged angels exclusively on the runway.  Arun Nevader has photographed four out of the last five Victoria’s Secret runway shows and has made some very interesting observations.

“I’ve noticed the gradual shift away from body models toward the top 20 runway models. Each year seems to feature the latest and hottest runway model talent.  Chanel Iman appeared last year in 2009 and again this year, for example. I’ve seen the likes of Lara Stone, Karmen Kass, and Natasha Poly on the runway in previous years. These models are great faces, but it would be a stretch to call them superb body models in the mode of a Marisa Miller, a Giselle Bundchen or a Tyra Banks. Those were body models. Jessica Stam for all her stunning beauty or Abbey Lee Kershaw or Lily Donaldson or Anja Rubik or Sessilee Lopez, to name a few, are iconic contemporary faces on the A-list of commercial runway modeling.  But they have made their names with their clothes on, not off.

The VS show has made the choice of appealing to a middle ground of viewers, where the show is far less about the lingerie it used to feature, and far more about the new fashion model in VS costumes across various themes.  This is not a criticism, just an observation.  Perhaps it has to do with the justifiable, if puritanical, reaction following the Janet Jackson nipple show on Super Bowl Sunday.  We like our naked violence, but we are quick to cover our naked female bodies.  This show is all about TV and branding the vanilla ubiquity of the VS label than it is about hot bodies in hot undies. Gone are the see-through bedroom outfits; here are the sportier, far more public apparel now center stage.  This, too, is just an observation.

The VS show, granted, has always been about angels and wings, but in the past, consumers could find these outfits in stores.  It would be hard to find any of the looks in the 2010 show in any store.  Once again, not a bad thing, just a development in the show’s history.  VS doesn’t need the show to sell apparel.  It needs the show to simply reinforce its supremacy as the leading brand in women’s intimate apparel, whether or not that apparel ever makes it to the runway.  In fact, most of the pieces are the products of several designers retained by VS to create a particular look for the show in order to showcase the model talent.  This is exactly what does not happen in most runways for most designers during most fashion weeks.  It’s all about the clothes, and the model is just the vehicle for delivering the outfit to public view.  At a given point in any female model’s career, she needs the public recognition that acknowledges that she has made it to the top.  The VS show provides that stage. The old—Giselle, Heidi, Marissa—makes way for the newChanel, Abbey Lee, and Candice.  There’s an industry truth to that fact, and the VS show is one conspicuous place where that fact gets played out year after year.

As a photographer, I remember the VS show as a more casual event backstage with an emphasis on dynamite bodies in the world’s most seductive apparel. It’s not my job to lament that those days seem to have given way to a more public, harder to access event.  It’s my job to take each year as it presents itself and to showcase the beauty that will always be there in all the forms it seeks to appear.  It doesn’t matter that no one could possibly wear any given costume seen on CBS November 30.  It matters now that the newest and freshest face is wearing it.” –Arun Nevader

So the big show aired on television November 30, 2010.  I asked Arun how it looked, compared to shooting it live.  Seeing it through the tunnel of his camera lens to the flat screen of his television set, he thought it was spectacular.  He recalled how he stood next to the CBS camera on the riser and how during his performance recording artist AKON kept blocking his view.  Then those balloons . . . they, too, presented a problem.  However, after looking at his gorgeous documentation of the show, it’s clear he worked it out.

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24 Comments to “From Its Humble Beginnings, Victoria’s Secret Runway Show Continues to Rise to New Heights, Showcasing New Faces and Celebrating Its Gloriousness”

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