Victoria’s Secret, which cancelled its famed fashion show in 2019, has just unveiled a new roster of stars who will represent the brand under its revamped marketing model. That’s right, Victoria’s Secret is back, with no Angels in sight this time. In their place, the brand launched two initiatives, dubbed ‘The VS Collective’ and ‘The Victoria’s Secret Global Fund for Women’s Cancers’, on Wednesday 16 June. What are these about exactly, and will this extreme turnaround work out for the brand?
Instead of its infamous Angels, the lingerie giant picked seven women “famous for their achievements and not their proportions,” writes The New York Times. They include Megan Rapinoe, the 35-year-old pink-haired soccer star and gender equity campaigner; Eileen Gu, a 17-year-old Chinese American freestyle skier and soon-to-be Olympian; the 29-year-old biracial model and inclusivity advocate Paloma Elsesser, who was the rare size 14 woman on the cover of American Vogue; and Priyanka Chopra Jonas, a 38-year-old Indian actor and tech investor.
It also includes Valentina Sampaio, a Brazilian trans model; Adut Akech, a model and South Sudanese refugee; and Amanda de Cadenet, the photographer and founder of @Girlgaze, the digital platform for female photographers.
For decades, Victoria’s Secret’s scantily clad supermodels with Barbie-esque bodies epitomised a certain widely accepted stereotype of femininity. Now, with that kind of imagery out of touch with the broader culture and what younger generations believe in, the brand has been facing increased competition and internal turmoil since at least 2019. Understandably, the company has had to not only accept to rebrand itself, but also everything it stands for. It needs to redefine its own version of what ‘sexy’ means, or it will quickly die.
And according to what Victoria’s Secret’s chief executive told The New York Times, “the company wants to become a leading global ‘advocate’ for female empowerment.” Let’s see about that, shall we? Let’s not forget that Leslie H. Wexner, chairman and CEO of the L Brands corporation, the parent company of brands including Victoria’s Secret, once praised Jeffrey Epstein as “a most loyal friend” with “excellent judgment and unusually high standards.”
Oh, and should we speak about the countless toxic views the lingerie company actually promoted? From unrealistic ideals and negative body image to sexism and racism, Victoria’s Secret promoted it all, and mostly to impressionable young women. “When the world was changing, we were too slow to respond,” said Martin Waters, the former head of Victoria’s Secret’s international business who was appointed chief executive of the brand in February. “We needed to stop being about what men want and to be about what women want.”
The seven women, now known as The VS Collective, will alternately advise the brand, appearing in ads and promoting Victoria’s Secret on Instagram. Meanwhile, the company has an entirely new executive team and is forming a board of directors in which all but one seat will be occupied by women. Though the company’s share of the US women’s underwear market dropped to 21 per cent in 2020 from 32 per cent in 2015, according to Euromonitor International, it is still a powerhouse.
That being said, it has taken years for Victoria’s Secret to acknowledge that its marketing was outdated. In that time, the value of the brand eroded and a slew of competitors grew, in part by positioning themselves as the anti-Victoria’s Secret, focused on inclusivity and diversity.
For its ‘second chance’, the new Victoria’s Secret will split from L Brands and Bath & Body Works to become its own public company this summer. The company will still sell products like thongs and lacy lingerie, but its scope will expand, especially in areas like sportswear. The brand, which did finally introduce a Mother’s Day campaign in May and even featured a pregnant model, will also soon begin selling nursing bras.
As for the dreaded Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show, the company told The New York Times it would most likely return in 2022 in a very different form. In the meantime, the brand will offer a podcast featuring the women in the collective, a medium that requires no visuals. Do I buy it? Not really. Will I keep an eye on the brand’s new identity? It certainly looks like I won’t have much of a choice.
Yulia Tsvetkova, a 27-year-old feminist and queer rights activist from Komsomolsk-on-Amur in East Russia, has been charged with violating the Russian “gay propaganda” law and distribution of “pornography” for sharing drawings of same-sex families and vaginas on social media.
Last month, the prosecutor’s office in charge of her case approved the indictment against Tsvetkova; if convicted, she could face up to six years in prison. Tsvetkova’s persecution by the Russian authorities reflects a broader campaign by the government to crackdown on members of the queer community and muzzle anyone advocating for their freedom and rights.
All Out, an international NGO fighting for LGBTQ rights, has teamed up with the Moscow Community Center and launched a petition calling for the elimination of the charges against Tsvetkova and for the abolition of Russia’s “gay propaganda” law.
The authorities’ persecution of Tsvetkova began in 2019, when she was preparing to stage a play titled ‘Blue and Pink’ which dealt with gender stereotypes and criticised the country’s culture of militarism. Following mounting pressure from the authorities, Tsvetkova cancelled the play.
“I don’t know which was worse for the authorities, the play about gender, which they don’t understand and are afraid of, or the other play, which was pretty political, very sharp. I guess it’s the combination of both that got me here,” Tsvetkova told CNN.
Following the play incident, Tsvetkova and her mother were summoned to the police station either on a weekly or bi-weekly recurrence as the authorities scoured for any shred of evidence that could help them press criminal charges against her. Finally, the police came across a blog titled ‘The Vagina Monologues’ that Tsvetkova had founded and managed, in which she featured drawings of female body parts created by herself and others.
Through her work, Tsvetkova sought to shatter stereotypes surrounding the vagina and promote body positivity. The text in one of her drawings, for instance, read “Women who are alive have body fat and this is fine!”
It was for posting these drawings that the authorities charged Tsvetkova with promoting pornography. Then, in January 2020, she was charged with violating the notorious “gay propaganda law” after she posted a drawing featuring same-sex families along with the caption “A family is where there is love. Support LGBT+ families!”
After being placed under house arrest, Tsvetkova was released in March 2020, but has since been prohibited from leaving the country or changing her address.
Tsvetkova’s arrest has drawn sharp criticism from human and LGBTQ rights activists and organisations around the world. Last year, Amnesty International, along with several other NGOs, had recognised Tsvetkova as a political prisoner and called for the charges against her to be dropped.
“Russian authorities have tried everything to intimidate Yulia: They searched her home, put her under house arrest for over three months, ordered her not to leave the country, fined her twice for violating the Russian ‘gay propaganda’ law, and brought trumped-up charges against her for ‘distributing pornography’,” said Matt Beard, Executive Director of All Out. “Now her trial can happen any time and she could go to jail for up to six years. And all of this just for sharing on social media innocent drawings of same-sex families and motives promoting inclusivity. Nobody should be prosecuted simply for expressing their wish for equality,” he added.
The controversy has also spread throughout Russia, where, despite the public’s deep-rooted conservatism, individuals and groups have nonetheless taken to social media and the streets to protest Tsvetkova’s arrest. On social media, women have been posting pictures of their bodies (often emphasising hair, curves and skin blemishes) along with the phrase “my body is not pornography” in solidarity with Tsvetkova.
Protests against Tsvetkova’s arrest have been taking place throughout Russia, and have even reached her hometown in the far Eastern region of the country. Numerous artists and media figures have also come out in support of her, something Tsvetkova claims has made her feel less alone in her struggle.
“Anonymity is the scariest thing,” she told DW, “and I know that because I was alone at the beginning. It meant that if I was at the police station, I knew that they could do whatever they want and no one would ever find out.”
“[Tsvetkova] is not the first person to be targeted under the ‘gay propaganda’ law. But with your help, she might be the last,” reads All Out’s petition, which has so far garnered over 165,000 signatures. Her trial could begin any day now.