The stories leading up to the 2018 Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show broadcast on Sunday night? Well, they likely didn’t thrill the company.
Instead of people focusing on high-profile models such as Kendall Jenner and Gigi Hadid or Adriana Lima’s retirement, there were lots of thinkpieces. Specifically, about why the annual lingerie runway show is problematic; whether it has a place in “an era of corporate wokeness”; how some viewers are boycotting the show; whether the brand is “over”; and more. The New York Times reported that while Victoria’s Secret is still the top lingerie brand in the country, sales are down and the stock recently dropped 41 percent.
Many headlines also surrounded the outcry over comments made by Ed Razek, the chief marketing officer for L Brands, Victoria’s Secret’s parent company. In an interview with Vogue last month, Razek was asked whether Victoria’s Secret felt “the need to address the way the market is shifting,” with other brands featuring plus-size or transgender women.
“If you’re asking if we’ve considered putting a transgender model in the show or looked at putting a plus-size model in the show, we have,” Razek said, noting that they “invented the plus-size model show” with Lane Bryant, although there was little interest in a plus-size lingerie TV special in 2000. Then he added that he didn’t think the company should include trans models in the show: “No, I don’t think we should. Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”
Razek later apologized, saying in part, “My remark regarding the inclusion of transgender models in the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show came across as insensitive. I apologize. To be clear, we absolutely would cast a transgender model for the show.” And while the company probably hoped that was the end of the controversy, it continued — all the way to the broadcast Sunday on ABC, when performer Halsey criticized Razek’s comments and “lack of inclusivity.”
Halsey sang “Without Me” and was one of the highly touted musical acts for the event, which taped in New York City on Nov. 8. Right as the show started airing on the East Coast at 10 p.m., Halsey posted a statement to her 10.2 million Instagram followers and 9.8 million Twitter followers, in which she (without naming names) denounced Razek’s remarks.
“I have adored the Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show since I was young. Performing this year alongside other amazing artists and hard-working models/friends was supposed to be the best night of my year. However, after I filmed the performance, some comments were made regarding the show that I simply cannot ignore,” she wrote.
Halsey, who is bisexual, continued: “As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have no tolerance for a lack of inclusivity. Especially not one motivated by stereotype,” she wrote. “If you’re on my page because you watched my performance tonight, please allow me instead to direct your attention to GLSEN: An organization that offers services aimed at protecting LGBTQ+ youth. And with respect to those youth targeted by these comments in a world where they have been made to feel ‘other,’ I have made a sizeable donation in their honor.”
“If you are a trans person reading this, and these comments have made you feel alienated or invalidated please know that you have allies. We stand in solidarity,” she concluded, ending with a pointed dig at Razek’s quote: “And complete and total acceptance is the only ‘fantasy’ that I support.”
The televised special — which also featured performances from Rita Ora, Bebe Rexha, Shawn Mendes, the Struts, the Chainsmokers and Kelsea Ballerini — didn’t bring up anything about the backlash. But in an introductory video, the brand made sure to emphasize the “female empowerment” theme.
Models spoke of Victoria’s Secret as a “sisterhood” and the “importance of helping each other out,” as well as being around “a group of girls that motivates and inspires you.”
And perhaps addressing criticism that Victoria’s Secret is about selling an image to men, one model added the goal is to “be sexy for ourselves and for who we want to be, not because a man says you have to be — it was never about that in the first place.”