By Timothy Dwyer
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 5, 2005
Tongues were wagging. E-mails were flying around PTA message groups and church listservs. People who heard about it came by to take a look for themselves. The issue was tiny underwear -- women's fine lingerie, to be exact-- and how it should be displayed on lifelike mannequins in the newest wing of one of America's biggest malls.
"Little Shop of Whores," huffed one woman standing outside the new Victoria's Secret in Tysons Corner Center. "Slut wear," declared the father of a teenage girl, looking at a feathery-thong-clad mannequin bent over as if she were adjusting her spike heels.
"I love it," said another woman with a bag of fresh purchases.
The store was doing a brisk business yesterday as shoppers walked by, some nearly snapping their necks as they caught a glimpse of what the mannequins were wearing and their suggestive poses.
"Well," said Steina Rubin of Bethesda, "I find it just totally disgusting." And, no, she would not be shopping there. "I'm not entering a whorehouse," she said. "I come to the mall with my daughter. It's disgusting. And I'm from Europe !"
Last week, a 362,000-square-foot expansion opened at Tysons Corner with 24 stores, five restaurants and a 16-screen movie theater. The new wing is jammed with stores targeted at teenage customers, and among them, between Free People and Guess jeans, is the new Victoria's Secret. Yesterday, it was parents of teenagers who were flocking to the mall.
"I'm anxious to see for myself what the buzz is all about," John Zolldan wrote in an e-mail to the mall management, "and if it is really true that Victoria no longer has any secrets . . . maybe your intent is to provide consumers in Northern Virginia with our first erotic boutique."
Inside the store was a display of one scantily clad female mannequin crawling toward another who reclined on a left hip and leaned back on both hands.
A woman inside the store who said she was the manager declined to comment, referring questions to a corporate public relations person.
Anthony Hebron, a spokesman for Limited Brands Inc., the parent company of Victoria's Secret, said in a telephone interview from his office in Columbus, Ohio, that the Tysons display is not a special design for the store opening but is part of a national marketing campaign in the chain's approximately 1,000 stores. He said that "a few" complaints have come in from Tysons and from one other market.
"What we do with all of our marketing is to display the products that we sell, which is lingerie, and that is done on a national basis," Hebron said. "What we do from time to time is take into consideration feedback we receive as we decide what our future marketing will look like."
A spokesman for the mall management company said "many" complaints had been received. "The comments we receive from our customers are valued and appreciated," a spokesman said in a statement, adding that the mall management had shared the comments with Victoria's Secret.
Shoppers were certainly sharing their comments with one another outside the store.
"I've shopped here for 10 years, and I won't come back until they change the window," said Joe Cowden of Vienna.
"I walk the mall. I've been walking the mall for nine years," said Jana Spencer, 53, of Vienna, who said she has three grown children. "This is shocking. This is semi-pornographic. This is insulting."
Some shoppers said they have an issue not with what the store was selling but with the proximity of the displays to the mall's public areas.
Iyon Rosario made the trip to the mall from the District with her friend Betty Jackson. They both adored the new store.
"I love it," Rosario said, "I like the dark side of Vicky's. Every woman has a little bit of the dark side in her. They can do this. The mannequins aren't real. I have a husband, and I know he would love this. This is what keeps you happily married."
Some parents said they would not allow their teenagers to go to the mall.
"My 13-year-old daughter is going to come here and shop for a bra?" said Mary Lynne Carraway, 40, of McLean. "Come on. I'm appalled. That's like sending her to a street with a strip joint. Is this the kind of message we want to send to our children, that this is what they should look like?"