Victorias secret playboy

Will Victoria's Secret Ever Learn?

Casting a red head doesn't solve their diversity problem

AP/Shutterstock

A teachable moment? Not on Victoria’s Secret’s watch. After 24 years of thin, cisgender models, the brand shows no signs of a cultural consciousness or the desire to change. With the announced casting of two new angels—Barbara Palvin on March 14 and Alexina Graham on March 21—the brand appears keen on the old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” The only problem: Last year’s ratings hitting an all-time low, steep declines in sales as well as ongoing store closures paint a brand deeply broken and in need of some fixing.

"Being an Angel is part of having that media outreach so that I can say to young red head kids, 'you can do anything you want! Nothing is impossible!'" Graham told Glamour UK  in earnest. But redheads, unlike plus-size and transgender individuals, weren’t the ones being told they weren’t part of the fantasy.

The clear pivot point for the brand began in November of 2018 when Victoria’s Secret’s parent company L Brand’s CMO Ed Razek gave a seemingly off-the-cuff interview with Vogue’s Nicole Phelps with an intention that appeared to be one of asserting brand dominance in the face of an increasingly diverse competitor landscape.

By keeping the gates locked on inclusive casting, Victoria's Secret only stands to lose revenue generated by those not part of their fantasy—revenue it’s clear the brand is in need of.
From the piece emerged two bites that have come to haunt the brand in the month’s since. First there was Razek’s attempt to justify the brand not casting a plus-size model in the then 24-year history of the show. “We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t,” he asserted. When it comes to the casting of transgender models, Razek was equally matter of (alternative) fact. “Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show?” he asked himself, using an outdated term that is often considered pejorative. “No. No, I don’t think we should,” he said. “Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy. It’s a 42-minute entertainment special. That’s what it is.”

This ignited a storm of backlash against the brand, which in one interview flipped perceived discrimination into overt in revealing Razek’s biases. “I’ve felt one of my childhood memories was being shattered,” transgender model Geena Rocero told me at the time.

"As a member of the LGBTQ+ community, I have no tolerance for a lack of inclusivity. Especially not one motivated by stereotype," singer Halsey, who performed at the pre-taped show before the Razek’s comments were made, wrote on her social media platforms.

“Is Anyone Surprised by Victoria's Secret's Latest Scandal?” Playboy asked at the time, calling the interview “a reminder that we should not give a single fuck about a brand that peaked in 2006.”
Razek apologized (about the trans comments, not the plus-size ones) and kept his job. CEO Jan Singer resigned but for reasons that appeared unrelated. And after the low-rated special aired, the news cycle moved on, giving the lingerie giant time and space for inflection.

When brands act this way and show a resistance to change with the world, we have a choice to uninvest
It seemed clear that something had to change given the scope of the outrage. Just look at Gucci, for instance. After the brand faced backlash in February over a sweater that was perceived by some as racist, the brand took immediate action, assembling a Changemakers Council and a scholarship program with a particular focus on the black community and communities of color at-large.

But now, four months out of the controversy and eight months until the show’s 25th anniversary runway, change remains a priority in waiting for Victoria’s Secret. Instead, what the casting of Palvin and Graham wordlessly conveys is a stubbornness. By keeping the gates locked on inclusive casting, Victoria's Secret only stands to lose revenue generated by those not part of their fantasy—revenue it’s clear the brand is in need of.

For transgender model Munroe Bergdorf, there’s nothing to be surprised about here given the brand’s set precedent. “Not everybody possesses the immediate language or know how when it comes to addressing issues of race and/or gender. And that's okay as long as there is the will to learn, improve or make amends. Season after season Victoria's Secret shows no intention to change how exclusionary the brand has become… This isn't a case of well-intentioned negligence, this is intentionally exclusionary marketing in action.”

Plus-size model Felicity Hayward agrees. “To be honest keep letting him make these mistakes. The world is moving on without him and his company. They lost so much money since his remarks; the company will be dated soon.”

“When brands act this way and show a resistance to change with the world, we have a choice to uninvest,” Bergdorf added. “When it comes to Victoria's Secret, find inclusive female-owned lingerie companies instead such as Bluebella, who don't discriminate against the people who buy their garments.”

It’s not altogether hopeless just yet. There’s eight months until the VS show, meaning ample time to scout for transgender and plus-size talent in an effort to course correct. In casting a more diverse roster, Victoria's Secret could showcase a rebuke of the earlier sentiments from its CMO as well as generate the buzz it’s lacking from a show that so heavily relies on celebrity talent. Or it could face its biggest roadblock to date: irrelevance, or worse, obscurity.

Related Topics