We’re not sure there’s a more delicate way to put this, but the world’s best known lingerie brand has really been showing its ass lately, all in an attempt to continue restricting the talent in its annual lingerie show—the largest in the world—to exclusively straight-sized, able-bodied, cis models.
While we’ve applauded the label in the past for its cultural diversity and inclusion of natural hairstyles, Victoria’s Secret inspired genuine and widespread outrage ahead of last Thursday’s fashion show. In an interview with Vogue attempting to defend the brand’s exclusivity, Chief Marketing Officer Ed Razek referred to the history-making diversity in Rihanna’s recent Savage x Fenty runway debut as “pandering,” and wrote off the increasing demand for body diversity on catwalk (as evidenced by any number of high fashion labels during New York Fashion Week) as something Victoria’s Secret had “invented” and ultimately abandoned, due to lack of interest.
“We invented the plus-size model show in what was our sister division, Lane Bryant,” Razek said. “Lane Bryant still sells plus-size lingerie, but it sells a specific range, just like every specialty retailer in the world sells a range of clothing. As do we. We market to who we sell to, and we don’t market to the whole world.”
“We attempted to do a television special for plus-sizes [in 2000]. No one had any interest in it, still don’t.”
Full disclosure: Not only am I a veteran plus-sized model, I’m also a former Lane Bryant spokesmodel who regularly walked in the brand’s shows, including the year Razek is referring to. But while we’re not sure who comprises the “no one” he referred to in that interview, he also rudely dismissed the idea of using trans models, understandably stoking the ire of that community, as well.
“It’s like, why doesn’t your show do this? Shouldn’t you have transsexuals in the show? No. No, I don’t think we should,” Razek complained. “Well, why not? Because the show is a fantasy.”
Presumably, trans women and models above a size 4 aren’t worth fantasizing about, in Razek’s opinion. And though he has since issued an apology, what he’s revealed is a brand woefully out of touch with an increasingly diverse industry—along with legions of women tired of being ignored and excluded.
“Razek’s comments do not just expose what happens when a white, cisgender man is the final decision maker for a global lingerie brand: They are the embodiment of everything that’s wrong with the company’s values in a society that has evolved beyond the patriarchy’s ideal representation of a woman,” wrote designer Becca McCharen-Tran in an op-ed for Out magazine. McCharen-Tran’s swimwear brand, Chromat, has built its following on diversity, including trans, plus-sized, and differently-abled models in not only its runway shows, but its campaigns. Concurrently, Teen Vogue published a list of transgender-friendly lingerie lines as alternatives to Victoria’s Secret.
And in its interview of Razek and VP of public relations Monica Mitro, even Vogue couldn’t help pointing out how ironically fashion backwards the brand is being, writing: “Victoria’s Secret gets credit for being a conversation starter, but the brand is not part of the evolving discussion around size diversity now.”
Razek claimed to “think about diversity,” but he’s clearly not thinking about positioning the now 41-year-old brand to maintain its appeal among a progressively shifting demographic—despite ongoing declines in revenue.
“I don’t think we can be all things to all customers,” he told Vogue. “It is a specialty business; it isn’t a department store. I’m always asking myself: If we do that, what is the reason we did it? Why did we include that person? And did we include them to shut up a reporter? Did we include them because it was the right thing to do or because it was the politically correct thing to do?”
Many might argue that equal opportunity objectification isn’t a battle even worth fighting. But if Razek can’t concede that it’s the right thing to do at this juncture, he should at least consider that it might be the smart thing.