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The Victoria’s Secret Fashion Show returns, but not as you knew it

NEW YORK – The last time Victoria’s Secret had a fashion show was 2018.

For more than 20 years, the show had been an annual event, an extravaganza of babes in thongland, like Barbie through the lens of Dutch director Paul Verhoeven.

Broadcast in more than 100 countries to millions of viewers, it got more absurdist until the #MeToo movement and social change finally brought the curtain down along with the profits, leaving the American lingerie company wrestling with just how out of step with women’s sense of self it had become.

It retired the signature Angels in their push-up bras and panties toting around ginormous 13kg wings and replaced them with the VS Collective: a group of 10 women of notable accomplishments and notably diverse body types.

It announced that it wanted to be “the world’s leading advocate for women”.

And then, on Wednesday, Victoria’s Secret finally brought back the show. Sort of.

There was a powder-pink carpet with a marquee outside Manhattan Center on 34th Street in Manhattan, with personalities Priyanka Chopra Jonas, Lourdes Leon, Alix Earle and assorted models in skimpy outfits posing for paparazzi.

There was British supermodel Naomi Campbell in a gold chain-mail minidress and American model Gigi Hadid in sunshine jersey, elevated above the crowd on VIP balconies.

There was American rapper Doechii, serenading the room and dancing in a lilac corset and matching thigh-high boots. There was even a glittering pair of wings.

So far, so familiar.

But there was no runway.

Campbell, it turned out, was there to recite a poem by Nigerian writer-artist Eloghosa Osunde. And Hadid was to introduce the evening’s main event: a 12-minute trailer for a 90-minute film that is intended to be the final piece of the VS reinvention pie.

The Victoria’s Secret World Tour, which will stream on Amazon Prime on Sept 26, is a putting-their-platform-where-their-mouth-is movie conceived to showcase the work of “a new generation of creatives” (all female, of course) from four major cities – Lagos, London, Bogota and Tokyo – the better to convince the world that this really is a new Victoria’s Secret.

Grounded by five mini fashion shows by five designers from around the world, whose collections were almost all brought to Spain and filmed in the Corbero building, the flick in its full incarnation features a diverse cast of models – Adut Akech, Lila Moss Hack, Honey Dijon, Julia Fox and Yseult among them – as well as some former Angels like Adriana Lima and Candice Swanepoel.

The fashion and musical segments are interspersed with short documentaries about projects from VS 20, yet another group of women: five from each featured city, including one designer (who made the clothes in the fashion shows from the Barcelona set), one film-maker (who made each city’s documentary) and three other “creatives”, like painters or poets or musicians, all of whom were handed a blank cheque by Victoria’s Secret to do whatever they wanted.

Which, it turns out, often had little to do with Victoria’s Secret in particular and more with what it means to be a woman and the meaning of the body in all its imperfect glory.

And, like the clothes in the fashion shows, which range from gossamer silver knits by London designer Supriya Lele to explosive raffia-fringed pieces sourced from across Africa by Bubu Ogisi, the projects are not being mass-produced.

The art will not be used by Victoria’s Secret for any purpose beyond the film. In other words, it will not be commercialised, thus underscoring the company’s altruistic desire to give the women as big a platform as possible while receiving nothing in return.

The most intriguing parts of the film come courtesy of Jenny Fax, designer for the Tokyo segment, and London artist Michaela Stark, a creator of corsetry that forces confrontation with body parts most people are conditioned to hide.

Both confront directly the history of Victoria’s Secret and then make it into something new.

And to coincide with the preview party, Victoria’s Secret posted a new campaign on Instagram featuring many of the models in the movie living life on the streets of New York – walking around, getting their nails done, standing outside the dry cleaner – while wearing vintage wings. It is awfully fun to watch. NYTIMES

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