Fashion Face Off: Victoria’s Secret vs. Savage X Fenty
In the world of American lingerie, Victoria’s Secret has long reigned supreme. The brand’s pervasive influence on this billion-dollar industry stems from a vision they masterfully created back in 1977: think skinny young white women with blond hair prancing around in skimpy undergarments. Despite its exclusive, narrow, and sexist message, the brand has resonated with young girls since its start (particularly young white girls), whose desire to exist within the impossible standard set forth by the company has propelled Victoria’s Secret to the seven-billion dollar behemoth it is today. For many, including Rihanna, this exclusionary vision no longer flies.
In May of last year, Rihanna created Savage X Fenty, a body-positive, size-inclusive lingerie line. The Savage X Fenty line gave way to a new vision, one that included women of many different body types and that had the ability to resonate with all young girls. Who better to prove the feasibility of diversity on the runway than a groundbreaking musician like Rihanna?
This new addition to the lingerie industry came at a necessary and fortunate time. Victoria Secret’s recently-fired CEO, Ed Razek, had been consistently making trans and fatphobic comments. He had also been excluding trans and plus-sized women from participating in fashion shows. Under his leadership, the brand had put forth an ad campaign entitled “the perfect body,” which was primarily comprised of skinny white women.
In direct contrast, Rihanna staged a fashion show this past September that disproved this notion of the perfect body. The models ranged from former Victoria’s Secret angel Gigi Hadid to transgender actress Laverne Cox to renowned plus-size model Paloma Elsesser. Performers at the event included Migos, Normani, Halsey, and A$AP Ferg. The show was the most talked about event at New York Fashion Week, receiving approval from fashion’s top critics, including the New York Times’ Vanessa Friedman, who described the show as “Rihanna’s Spectacular Sexy Underpants Variety Hour.”
Rihanna’s star-studded extravaganza dethroned Victoria’s Secret’s annual show, which has since been called off. The cancellation of the Victoria’s Secret show–an event that once attracted more than fifty million viewers–proved that inclusiveness could reach a greater audience of people and, hopefully, attract more customers. Investors appear to be convinced by the power of expanding beauty standards too; a few weeks ago, Savage X Fenty received almost seventy million dollars in various investments.
Clearly, many people, especially young ones, respond well to calls for diversity in the media and on social platforms. The question still remains, though: Will those same people become consumers of diverse brands? Will their liberal attitudes be reflected in their credit card bill or where they shop?
One can start to answer these questions right here, within the walls of Packer.
Lula Boyd (21’) offered her take on the issue, saying, “Rihanna’s line is targeting a wider, more diverse range of people, which makes it a lot more appealing. I wouldn’t want to support and give money to an organization like [Victoria’s Secret] after hearing stuff like that.”
An Upper Schooler who preferred to remain anonymous had a different opinion: “Personally, if I like a brand’s product, [their lack of inclusiveness] doesn’t prevent me from shopping there. Also, there are already a limited number of places to shop for bras.”
The student makes a good point. As it happens, the most popular and well-priced brands tend to be the least diverse, bringing the question of convenience and accessibility into play.
Another female junior shared her opinion: “I’d like to think that I always consider the ethics of a brand and what they support when shopping. Though I don’t think it’s honest to say that [a company’s ethics] is always on my mind.”
These opinions bring up questions not only about lingerie, but also shopping as a whole; they illustrate the difficulty of always being politically and ethically mindful when shopping. After all, it is not just Victoria’s Secret that is controversial. Think about Gucci, H&M, and even Chick-Fil-A, all of which have had their fair share of controversy. Gucci had a blackface scandal, H&M, a culturally insensitive photoshoot, and Chick-Fil-A, a virulently homophobic owner.
So, can Rihanna’s attempt at revolutionizing lingerie throw brands like Victoria’s Secret into the gutter? Will her efforts reach everyone—even those who don’t entirely fit into her company’s image? We will have to wait and find out.