On Wednesday, Victoria’s Secret teased its forthcoming fashion show, which will debut as a film on Amazon Prime later this month. It’s the ‘ultimate expression’ of its rebrand, says brand president Gregory Unis.
The Victoria’s Secret fashion show is coming back after a four-year hiatus. This time, it’s a film — part-documentary, part-fashion show — that centres the international cast of women featured in the hour-twenty-five-minute-long Victoria’s Secret World Tour, premiering 26 September on Amazon Prime. Can the show solidify Victoria’s Secret’s new image as a company that represents all women?
World Tour is the “ultimate expression” of the transformation that began in 2021, says brand president Gregory Unis. “Visually, strategically, everything about it is the incarnation of where the brand is going.” In a sharp departure from the brand’s past shows, the film won’t solely feature slim, mostly white feather- and wing-clad models sauntering down a hot pink runway. Instead, it will shift between the stories of international designers, musicians and artists, and, of course, a runway show.
Victoria’s Secret tested the waters last night in New York City, just ahead of New York Fashion Week. At the event, the brand shared a 15-minute sneak preview — to an audience of over 600 — of the new fashion-show-meets-movie. Many of the cast were in attendance, including Gigi Hadid, Adwoa Aboah and Lila Moss as well as Doja Cat, who also performs in the film. The looks from the film, which were on display at last night’s debut event, will be moved to Victoria’s Secret’s Fifth Avenue store today.
“It’s really about reinforcing our place in fashion and culture,” says Unis of the event.
It’s also about driving sales. The show will be shoppable via an Amazon partnership: viewers can shop the Victoria’s Secret-designed collection while viewing the show on 26 September, via Amazon or the brand’s own channel. While Victoria’s Secret has experimented with live shopping in the past, it’s the first time it is doing so in partnership with an external retailer, in a bid to further broaden the brand’s reach — and engagement.
With the show’s return, the stakes are high. In the late 2010s, the Victoria’s Secret fashion show came under increasing scrutiny as it neglected to progress beyond the exclusively thin supermodels known for walking its runway, instead deferring to the outdated — and unrealistic — beauty standards upon which it built its brand. Its shortcomings were made plain with Rihanna’s 2018 Savage x Fenty launch. In 2019, Fenty’s show was praised in contrast to VS, with its diverse casting leading reviewers to conclude that “Rihanna’s Fenty show was everything Victoria’s Secret wishes it could be”. That same year, backlash came to a head when then-owner Leslie Wexner’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein were brought to the fore in the media. So, amid increasing calls to do so, VS nixed the show.
It’s still drawing Fenty comparisons — though this time, they’ve shifted to copycat accusations. Online, consumers are highlighting the similarities between the arched windows featured in the trailer for World Tour trailer and the set of the 2019 Fenty show. To this, Unis responds: “The Tour was filmed in a variety of different sets, including the Xavier Corberó Center for Artistic Activities and Research, which features architectural arches created by famed Catalan sculptor Xavier Corberó. Victoria’s Secret chose this artistically designed space, to showcase and celebrate the artistry of the creatives featured in The Tour.”
When the Victoria’s Secret fashion show was pulled in 2019, the goal was always to bring it back in a new form, says Unis, who was promoted to his role in June of this year after joining from Coach in 2016. “It’s one of the most iconic parts of our brand. The biggest question we thought about is: how is it going to evolve?”
The answer lay in blending its old, top-model glam reputation with its newer, more inclusive front, and providing a platform to many of those featured in the film to speak about both themselves and their work, rather than simply flaunt lingerie. The film’s cast — including VS alumni Candice Swanepoel, Naomi Campbell and Adriana Lima — is an extension of its marketing strategy since Victoria’s Secret began its switch-up. Just as the brand’s recent ads feature VS collective member Bella Hadid as well as fellow members football player and LGBTQ+ activist Megan Rapinoe and transgender actor and model Valentina Sampaio, the film and Wednesday’s event feature models who have walked the pink carpet in many years past.
At the centre of the show is the VS20, a group of global creators (one designer, one filmmaker and three artists) from four cities: Bogotá, Lagos, London and Tokyo. “It’s different from where we were because this is really about them — it’s their platform,” Unis says, in reference to the contrast between this approach from year’s past.
The VS20 includes four designers: London’s Supriya Lele, Tokyo’s Jenny Fax, Bogotá’s Melissa Valdés Duque and Lagos’s Bubu Ogisi. A filmmaker from each city produced segments for the film featuring the designers and artists from each locale, and each designer created a collection for the film. These pieces won’t be sold to customers. When asked why, Unis says: “We wanted to allow the designers complete creative freedom to fully express themselves and keep the focus fully on the creation of their looks and artistry this year. That said, we are excited about potential possibilities with these amazing designers in the future.”
It’s important for the brand to find ways to incorporate and nod to its past — in show and in product, Unis says. “You can expect to see celebrated elements of our past throughout this film; from artists being inspired by our archives, to the reinterpretation of wings, to iconic women we’ve previously worked with,” he says.
By numbers, it seems to be working. Since beginning to tease the film — with a trailer released on 27 July, and Instagram Reels snippets from models including Hadid and Moss — the brand has raked in about 6.5 billion brand impressions, Unis says. And, this was before the slew of pink carpet photos inundated Twitter feeds following last night’s event. From the trailer release date until 6 September, general conversations about The Tour have generated a media impact value (MIV) of $4.5 million, according to tech and social data analytics provider Launchmetrics. Swanepoel’s post about The Tour generated the highest MIV at $400,000. In a note from investment banking company TD Cowen following Victoria’s Secret’s latest earnings report last week, analysts said they expect World Tour to drive higher brand engagement.
Sentiment so far is mixed, with commenters divided as to whether or not Victoria’s Secret is deserving of a comeback, or if it should have been forced to so drastically rebrand at all. Consumers are curious, and Wednesday night’s star-studded teaser premiere helped to build buzz.
Victoria’s Secret is ultimately betting on nailing the combination of storytelling, entertainment and selling. “It’s about our commitment to raising the VS platform, our brand platform, to champion women’s voices and their experiences and their perspectives,” Unis says.
This article was originally published on Vogue Business.